Building the BoilerBall Speakers!

This was a pretty challenging build for me. I had designed these speakers to go along with the SteamAmp II, and I was fairly certain I could pull it off, but there were a bunch of things I was doing for the first time, and I was a bit nervous. In the end, persistence and patience paid off and they came out better than I could have hoped. The sound really good too, honestly better than I’d expected them to. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, they were designed using bass box pro to be the correct enclosure and port size for the drivers, but as I’ve found before, what looks good in the speaker modeling software, doesn’t always result in great sounding speakers.

 

The two big uncertainties were the brass ring the speakers mount to, which itself mounts to the copper ball, and the copper ball itself. On a side note, I didn’t build the copper balls, I bought them online from the place where all things copper ball related come from: New England Copperworks. If you’re ever in need, they are super friendly, and their work is the highest quality.

The Base

The base was made from 1×2 inch walnut cut in sequence so the grain wraps around the bases. This was a fun exercise in mitre-saw calibration, as any small variation in the accuracy of the angle compounds by every joint. It took a little doing, but eventually I got it all squared away.

I glued the walnut pieces together with a jerry-rigged jig-thingy (technical term) since I don’t have the proper strap-clamps to do stuff like this, then glued bracing around the inside to attach the brass plate. The Ball Stand for lack of a better word is made up of a 3″ copper pipe cap and a 1″ copper port running through the base to a walnut port flair underneath. The port allows the enclosure to be tuned to a much lower resonant frequency than would be allowed with just a sealed box, resulting in a much larger sound.

The flares were made with a plunge router out of solid walnut. Nothing terribly challenging going on for this part of the build, it just took a lot of time and patience. The salt air from the ocean under my balcony made working with the copper tough, but I learned pretty quick to keep everything covered when I wasn’t working on it.

 

The Ring

Unless I was going to shell out huge bucks for a couple cnc-machined solid brass rings (something I didn’t have the budget for), I was going to have to come up with something a bit more economical. I decided to use cold-cast brass, which is finely ground brass powder mixed in a resin, like epoxy or polyester. I used West Marine epoxy because it’s rock hard and very easy to work with to get consistent results (plus I had some left over from a previous, hellish project repairing my boat).

First I cut the blank from a piece of poplar with my plunge router. I primed and sanded it until it was perfectly smooth and then made a mold of it using silicone rubber with a fiberglass outer mold. When the mold was all set up, it was dusted inside with brass power then filled up with a mixture of brass power and epoxy resin. I put a layer of chopped-strand mat fiberglass cloth in there for good measure; I didn’t want the thing cracking, although I doubt it would have. When the epoxy set up, the ring was de-molded and sanded, then lightly buffed with steel wool and coated with protecta-clear to keep it from tarnishing.

They came out really well, I was very happy with the results from the cold-cast brass. It doesn’t look exactly like solid polished brass, but it was darned close. I think if I build another pair of these in the future I will cast the rings out of resin and then electro-plate them.

 

The Balls

Yep. I said it.

This was all made up as I went along. I needed to have a hole with a flat surface really well attached to the ball so I could bolt the ring and then the speaker to the thing. These little speaker drivers were really heavy, and the weight of them combined with the vibration they would have to put up with made for a tricky design. I originally thought I would solder a thick copper plate to the opening, but the balls were made up of two hemispheres soldered together themselves, and if the heat of soldering the face plate to the ball decoupled the sphere halves I’d be screwed. So I decided to use fiberglass – the cure-all.

I started by making a double ply buildup of biaxial fiberglass matt and epoxy resin. I laid the matt down between two sheets of wax paper and pressed that between two flat boards while the resin set up. Then I cut my round shapes out, and affixed them to the balls from the inside with more fiberglass cloth and resin. Then I coated the entire inside surface of the ball with resin and cloth. These things are rock-solid at this point, very heavy and strong. The copper ball itself isn’t even really structural anymore, it’s just a covering for the fiberglass inside it.

Once that was done, the balls were polished and coated, the rings attached, and the whole thing was bolted to the base with 1/4″ nuts and bolts. I wired up the drivers, bolted the speakers in, and bobs’s yer uncle!

 

All in all this project, like most of my undertakings was a colossal pain in the arse! That being said, I’m very glad that I did it because the results were out of this world. Unfortunately, these were a commission job, so I don’t get to enjoy them, but I’m determined to build myself a pair when I have the time. They’d look great on my computer desk!

Cheers!
Mike

Floor Standing Horn Torch Lamp

HornTorchDraft03

It’s pretty safe to say that I have an obsession with high-end audio as well as steampunk design. I especially like some of the more exotic speaker configurations out there like horn drivers. It only stands to reason then, that when I sat down to design a standing lamp, that eventually I’d wind up with something along these lines, only instead of a speaker in the horn, we have a light! The diameter at the top of this thing is 18″, and I’m thinking it stands about 6 feet or so tall. 

The stand will be a wooden tripod with brass hardware, and the top horn will be made from sectioned copper sheets similar to (but much larger than) the copper flares I made for the Æthereal speakers. Should be quite challenging, and god knows I love a good challenge!

I think I may actually start on this piece this week. My living room could definitely use some extra light!

 

Cheers
Mike

Boiler Wall Sconce Concept

Boiler Wall Sconce

Is your airship a little gloomy? Mine too. Who couldn’t use a little more ambient light in those dark corridors. I’ve got just the thing!

The Boiler Wall Sconce measure in at 11″ diameter overall, and makes use of a 3″ fresnel lens to gently light your way. Can be oriented either up or down. Made from solid brass and copper of course, and the wooden base can be any wood that suits your fancy. Personally, I’m partial to Black Walnut, but hey, that’s just me. Lighting is low-wattage incandescent or LED due to heat issues, higher wattage bulbs would require vent holes, and I’m not sure I want to mar the surface with holes.

This is of course a concept rendering, I haven’t actually built one of these yet, but it’s on the list for the not-so-distant future. You can bet I’ll be hanging a couple of these in my studio. I’m pretty sure the wife won’t allow them in the living room, as I’ve been told it’s getting too geeky in there as it is. Sigh.

I used to have a BIO.

Honeymoon Beach Water Island

If you’re one of the people who actually visit CopperSteam and read the blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been giving the site some much-needed attention over the last couple of weeks. There are a few of reasons for this, but most notably is that I’m excited to be able to start construction on some of my more ambitious designs now that I’m back where I have the work space to pull them off. Island life is fantastic, but it’s really not suited to fabrication. There’s only so far you can go with coconuts and palm fronds… that and it’s hard to focus on work when you live a drunken golf cart ride away from the beach.

You may have noticed I added a store to the site. Now that I’m situated with enough shop space to build pieces comfortably, I plan on building more amplifiers, speakers, lamps, and other miscellaneous gizmos that I think are worth reproducing on a limited scale. It was difficult to build things on a remote island without a proper shop, so I spent quite a bit of time designing, and dreaming, and now it’s time to drag those things into the light.

Among the things I changed on the site was the BIO page. It’s now an ABOUT page. It was a bio page for a long time. I think I put it up there back when I had a bunch of pieces in art shows, and the site was focused on the theme of all of those old works. It was one of those “I’m an artist, let me sing you the song of my people, and share my pain with you” things. Bleh. So corny. It’s so painful writing those things about yourself, but just try to get someone else to write one about you, I promise you it’ll be even more dumb sounding. I always hated it and felt uncomfortable about it, but it’s what artists do, right? Part of the schtick.

Well screw that I thought, and I set out to write a page about CopperSteam the brand. The first version I wrote came out with the same ridiculous “art born out of angst” diatribe, that while it may be true to an extent, is utter cliche. I let it sit overnight, and re-read it in the morning. Crap. Total crap. It was so depressing. So I rewrote it to start with the angst thing and chronicle the journey to happiness and enlightenment through beaches and rum, thinking that if it ends on a high note, then it won’t bring people down. Still crap. This time even my wife told me it was crap, and since she’s usually the one who’s right in our household, I sat down to re-write it again. And then again.

Finally I threw it all out and just wrote the one that’s up there right now. The story of the Lab. It’s funny some times how long it takes as an artist to pull your head out of your own ass and just stop trying to make everything have more meaning than it does. I read so many ABOUT pages and VISION pages on web sites belonging to artists and architects and makers, and they are all so utterly full of their own rhetoric as they bloviate endlessly on and on about this and that. Meh. I don’t know. Maybe it helps people relate to their brand or something.

Personally, I want CopperSteam to be about cool art, dark rum, and building shit. Oh, and sandy Caribbean beaches. I know the beach thing is utterly the elephant-in-the-room when you first look at it in the context of the work on this site, but trust me.. it’s there behind the scenes.

Cheers!
Mike

The New Command Desk for the Ævil Lair

Industrial Steampunk Desk

 

Upon returning to the mainland after 6 years running away from reality, I found myself with no furniture. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a pretty good feeling to find yourself without physical baggage. You get to start over.. re-invision your world with a fresh eye, and do things the way you wish you had the first time.

I’ve always built my own work benches and desks, but I never really put any thought into them beyond functionality. They served their purpose, but they never really created a cohesive image. Starting out with basically a blank slate, I decided that this time I wanted my work tables to represent a bit more of the feel of the world I lived in in my head.

I googled industrial and steampunk desks for days, and of all the myriad designs out there, I kept coming back to these huge cast-iron machine tables. They were so cool, but very much out of my price-range. The interior design industry has discovered them, and is re-purposing to their hearts content, selling them for thousands. They are really cool, but not five grand cool. Well at least not for someone with my paltry income.

So I decided to build my own.

I reverse-engineered elements from a few different tables that I liked and built a 3D model in Maya. I then took that model into Illustrator and drew up some plans. I took a trip to Lowes to buy some plywood and I was off!

The entire desk is built from one 4’x8′ sheet of 3/4″ furniture-grade plywood, and one 2’x4′ sheet of 1/2″ ply. The top is a hospital-grade solid core 36″x84″ door. Add yerself a few 3/4″ stainless nuts and threaded rod and bob’s yer uncle.

The legs are sandwiched pieces of ply. I rounded the edges, filled in the corners with bondo and sanded it all smooth. The finish is just that “stone” spray paint from Lowes, covered over with “cast iron” engine enamel. Easy peasy. It really does look like real cast iron. Even without the top, it’s a heavy beast. You could probably park a car on this thing without too much worry. All in all I’m super thrilled with the way it came out!

Cheers!
Mike

Halloween is Nigh!

Halloween-2015

Fall. there’s really nothing like it. The air turns colder, the nights get longer. Halloween looms in the distance, and I start getting itchy.

To say that I have an obsession with Halloween would be a gross understatement. Typically October at my house is filled with painting, decorating, building sets and props, cleaning out fog machines, and checking the blacklight fixtures for shorts and broken tubes.

Before leaving Orlando for key West in 2009, I had a yearly Halloween party with attendance upwards of 150 people or more. I had a committee of sponsors, and we’d get together early every October to start scheming. We pooled our money to buy black visqueen, fluorescent paint, blacklight tubes, and fog machines to turn the back yard into a macabre horror show. The last year that I hosted it at my house, we had so many fog machines the entire neighborhood was under a cloud for the entire night. After that we moved the party to a downtown night club because it was getting too big and unwieldy.

When I moved to Key West I unloaded most of my party supplies that I’d always kept in storage. Some of my friends now have pretty intense yard decorations on Halloween night! I was so bereft in Key West for lack of something to do on Halloween, that I began volunteering for the Haunting of Fort Taylor, a yearly haunted-house held in the historic fort down there. It was a blast, and it was almost as good as having my own party. We left Key West after four years and spent an addional two years in the Virgin Islands.  They have NO halloween down there. They think it’s satanic. *Snort* I was devastated. But now I’m back…

And I’m feeling itchy again.

Which probably accounts for the new color scheme on the site right now haha.

On that note, I’ve been slowly but surely getting the Lab put back together, and I’m gearing up to start some builds, so I’m showing the site some much needed love. I really have been ignoring this poor blog for too long in favor of quick posts on FaceBook. Which I hate. I hate FaceBook. There, I said it. But I digress.

Anyway, I have some new material to post up here soon, so stay tuned!

Cheers!
Mike