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

Building a Copper Flared Port

 

Well, halfway through the construction of my Æthereal One Speakers project, I decided it would be really cool to have copper ports instead of the store-bought black plastic ones. This is of course one of those times when I should just say to myself.. no.. really Mike.. you don’t want to do this… just get the plastic ones… it’ll be so much easier.

Apparently I have no internal dialog because I went ahead with this idea.

So I ran down the copper-flared-port road, hands waving in the air squealing like a little schoolgirl about how cool it was going to be. That was when the harsh-reality bear dragged me into the woods and had it’s way with me. It will take years of therapy to get over this experience, BUT.. I come out the other end with some good experience, a rather bad case of carpel-tunnel, and a couple of kick-ass flared ports.

I actually went out and bought a slip-roll to pull this off, it’s something I’ve always wanted, and I just couldn’t see any way of doing this project properly without it. It took me a couple weekends to just get to the point where my wooden form was ready to use, then it was a painstaking and tedious process of shaping each section of copper to mate perfectly with the one next to it, then soldering the joint.

After all of the sections were together, I soldered a second layer on the underside of the flange to add strength to the lip, and to prevent the solder joints from separating along the outside edges.

Building the Æthereal One Speakers

After finishing up the DEUXamp, it was time to get moving on some matching speakers. It has been quite a many years (probably close to 18) since I’ve built a proper pair of speakers. The last pair I built were a small bookshelf pair with some Dynaudio 6″ woofers in them. Those were less than a foot tall, and didn’t take a whole lot of effort. This new pair I had in mind were almost the exact opposite of those.. tall, ported and clad in solid wood veneer. I started by choosing a driver; the Tang Band 18-1808. I originally wanted to build these speakers without boxes, and suspend the drivers in some sort of funky brass swivel-type mount reminiscent of those old microphones, but after I’d finished the amps, I started having a hankering to see more wood in my system, so I decided upon ported boxes. I fired up Bass Box Pro and plugged in the driver specs, and came up with a tall ported box design that had the same footprint as my amps, so at least for kicks, they could be stacked. That’s probably not the most sonically prudent course because tube amps are microphonic, and thus sensitive to vibration. But hey, they look super cool that way.. Anyway. Long Story short, I decided to cover them with the same wood I used with the amps, and added some maple stripes on the front to add some spice. A design decision that I may not have made had I known what a pain in the ass it was going to be to execute.

DEUXamp WIP Shots

 

There’s been quite a bit of exciting work going on on the lab lately! I’ve been working on my second tube-amp project, which I call The DEUXamp.

I thought I’d post a few shots of the progress so far for the DIY’ers out there that enjoy this sort of thing.

A quick note about the amp circuit I’m using, and why I’m building another tube amp project instead of plowing forward with more creepy steampunk-skull pieces.

My original Steam Amp created quite a stir, and I had quite a few folks that were interested in perhaps purchasing it… Interested that was until they found out it was based upon a relatively inexpensive ($250.00) kit. When they found out about that, they promptly lost interest and were never to be heard from again.

If that had happened once, I’d shrug it off, but it happened more than a few times. I guess they thought for 1200 bucks it was going to be a McIntosh tube amp on the inside or something… and I get that, 1200 bucks is a lot of dough, but if you want a high-end tube amp.. go buy one! The steam Amp is first-and-formost an art piece, and the fact that it actually functions (and sounds really, really good) is an added bonus in my book.

Well, never being one to be dissuaded by a slight or a challenge (wether real, or most likely in this case, imaginary), I began scheming another steampunk-ish tube amp project, but this time it would be a decidedly much more high-end tube amplifier project. Thus The DEUXamp was born. Or hatched. Or popped into existence through a rip in the space-time continuum.. whatever.

“I’ll show those doubting Thomases!” I cackled at the rafters in my lab as I wrung my hands in evil defiance. Thunder arced across the sky, the wind blew, and somewhere a child cried a single, solemn tear.

ANYWAY

This project is actually a pair of mono amplifiers; wheras most amplifiers are stereo, (two channels in one box), this one completely separates the two channels into tow discreet circuits, giving a much better audio soundstage. It also looks cooler, dude.

These tube amps are based upon the Dynaco MKIII kit amps of DIY lore. I bought the amp kits minus the driver boards and chassis from a wonderful place online called Vacuum Tube Audio. VTA sells a wide array of cool amplifier kits, as well as modified driver circuitry kits to bring these old amp circuits into the modern realm of high-end audio.

I opted for their Octal Driver Kits for my MKIII’s, mostly because of the way people spoke about the upgrade to the sound over the original driver boards, and partly because I prefer the look of Octal tubes over some of the other types. Hey, this may be a kick-ass amp, but it’s still an ART project, so aesthetics are important.

In the end I did away with the VTA PC board that came with the driver kit, and direct-wired the circuit into the amp. I didn’t want to have a PC board cluttering up the underside because I wanted to use clear-acrylic bottoms under the bases so people could “look under the hood” if they were so inclined. (Hey, it took forever to wire that thing up, I wanna be able to see it!) I also plan to have some UV LED’s inside there so the amps will have a purple glow under them. Not that I’d recommend trying to just pick these things up and flip them over.. they weigh a TON.

On to the Building

I started with a 12″x12″x.125 sheet of copper and laid out all of my holes on the top with a fine-point sharpie and began drilling! The large octal tube socket holes were made with a 1-1/8″ knockout punch. What a godsend these little babies are, they make life working with sheet metal almost pleasant!

After getting all of my holes taken care of, I wet-sanded the crap out of the top of the copper sheet with 400 grit sandpaper, then 800, then 1200, then finished with 2000 grit. After that I buffed the surface with jeweler’s rouge to get it as close to mirror-finish as I could. This was a real pain in the arse, and I wasn’t able to get it quite perfect, but I think I did a respectable job.

After polishing I cleaned it carefully with lacquer thinner, being careful not to touch the surface with my hands for fear of fingerprints. I then sprayed it with a few coats of a special lacquer called Permalac, which is formulated to seal metals like copper and brass so they won’t tarnish.

Most of my pieces I’ve finished using Renaissance Wax, but for these amps, I wanted to have a finish that wouldn’t need any maintenance, so I went with the lacquer. I have to say that I’m very impressed with the  Permalac, it dries to a very smooth finish, and doesn’t have the annoying plastic look of most clear store-bought spray cans.

The next step was to attach all of the tube sockets and transformers attach the copper plate to the wooden base and begin wiring! The wooden base in these photos is red oak, and after finishing two of them, I decided I was sick of looking at red oak, and I decided to rebuild them using some nice Walnut. Talk about picky… I’m glad I don’t have people working for me, I’d be dead by now.

At any rate, the next set of photos will show the newer version of the bases, and will hopefully also show the transformer covers in some sort of finished state. I have designed a pair of matching speakers that I will of course share in the coming months, but first I have to finish these amps..

Until next time…

AEvil

DAE Construction Shots

Here are a few shots from the construction of the Dimensional Analysis Engine.. I jumped around quite a bit when I built this thing, but I tried to put them into some sort of chronological order. I’m not going to go through any sort of step-by step on this one, I doubt I could without going insane, and you most likely wouldn’t enjoy reading all that anyhow!

I hope you get a kick out of these, and feel free to comment or email if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer!

Cheers
Mike

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