Dimensional Analysis Engine Base

Here are a few shots of the base construction for my latest steampunk albatross, the Dimensional Analysis Engine. As is typical of the way I do things, I made this as complicated as possible for myself, and what I thought would be an easy weekend project turned out to be a month-long pain in the arse, but I think the result was worth all the effort. I wanted something that would look like it was made out of cast iron, and I think it came pretty close.

Each of the the three ‘legs’ is made of a sandwich of 1/2″ plywood surrounded by 1/2″ MDF. I actually went out and bought a real jig saw for this project because the one I had was an old cheap one, and it just sucked. Let me tell you.. that wound up being one of the best tool investments I’ve ever made. The pure joy of using a real jig saw is something that you only understand if you’ve actually laid hands on one. There is a world of difference between a 25.00 tool and a 150.00 tool. Money very well spent!

After gluing the pieces together, I filled the corners inside with wood putty to give them a beveled look, and primed, sanded, primed, sanded, primed, sanded, ad nauseum until all of the wood grain was gone and them painted them with this cool rust-oleum hammered black paint. They actually look as if they might be cast iron!

I made brackets out of steel, and used 1/4-20 threaded rods and brass bolts to connect them at the center. The sculpture this thing has to hold up weighs quite a bit, and I definitely didn’t want it wobbling or coming apart, so I probably over-designed it, but better safe than sorry!

Dimensional Analysis Engine WIP

Steampunk Art Sculpture made with copper brass and skullsA quick peek into the lab…

Here’s a sneak peek at the latest dementia to come from the lab of Ævil Mike… (Oh great, I’m talking about myself in the third person, that’s never good) The Dimensional Analysis Engine. Following in the footsteps of “The Dream”, this creepy piece of steampunk art explores the fusion of biology and machinery.

I really wanted to have this piece finished in time to send to Dr. Grymm for the Steampunk Bizarre last year, but things just weren’t going my way time-wise, so I decided not to rush it and just finish it at a more natural pace. Well, now I’ve got another show coming up in Vermont in a few months at the Shelburne Museum, and I want to send this along for that show, so it’s time to get cranking!

This photo just shows the top in a semi-finished state. The major soldering is done, and now it’s time to replace the ‘stunt’ skulls with the really-nice-far-more-realistic ones I bought recently, and begin to add the smaller pipes, wires, and such that will bring the piece to life. This piece will have it’s own base, which in itself will be very elaborate, with lots of tubing, etc.. Overall the piece stands almost 6 feet tall. I believe I will build it so the top can be removed to make moving and shipping easier.

The green glass globe on the top is a plasma ball, and when it’s turned on, it glows with a creepy orange glow.. I’m super-excited to see this piece come to life over the next couple months, and I’m sure I’ll be posting more photos as it progresses!

Stay Ævil…

The Steam Amp WIP


A Steampunk Amplifier? Why Not!

This is my latest project; a steampunk tube amplifier (or valve amp if you’re a brit). I’ve always wanted to build a tube amp, and it’s been a long road to get here. I think I began this obsession almost two years ago, but just haven’t had the chance to get to it until now. What I really want to do is build a HUUUUUGE direct-wired tube amp, but I figured it’s probably wise to start small with new things.

This is a simple kit to build that I bought from Tube Depot. It’s an 8 watt stereo job, the K-12G model. It wasn’t too terribly expensive either, and considering how freaking amazing it sounds, I’d say it’s well worth the money. Of course the kit didn’t come with a case, so I built my own.. that’s half the fun right!?

I won’t bore everyone with too many details, I think the photos are pretty self explanatory, but a few little notes:

It took perhaps an hour to construct the kit, anyone with a little soldering experience could build this thing. I mounted all the components other than the tube sockets on the underside of the board so I could mount it to the underside of the 1/8″ copper plate.

I actually broke down and bought a full set of forstner wood bits for this project. They are pure bliss, I highly recommend them if you like clean holes in your wood. Also I bought metal knock-out punches for making nice holes in metal, no way you’re getting holes that large in metal that thick without them.. well worth the money.

The glowey-rods in the round glass window are 1/4″ blue ultra violet acrylic. I bought a 6 foot length of the stuff on line for about 10 bucks I think, it really lights up with the UV LED’s I put under each one. It’s a very cool effect. God I love black light.

The LED’s run off a separate transformer attached underneath. It was a sony power brick type, and a very stable 12 volts I might have to pick up a few more of those, as most 12v wall warts actually put out between 13 and 15 volts.. you can seriously tax your LED’s unless you adjust your resistance accordingly. My LED’s had the resisters and leads pre-soldered, so I needed to make sure I wasn’t over 12v.

I’m building speakers to go with this, they hopefully will be done soon, and of course I’ll post pix here when they are.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop a line!


The Skull Fender Lamp


It’s not really Steampunk… But it’s cool so I figured I’d post it here anyways. Maybe it’s Dieselpunk.. who knows. At any rate almost a year and a half ago my friend John asked me if I would sculpt a skull onto his motorcycle fender for him. Sure! No problem! Of course like most things I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.

It’s was a long, long journey, but I have to admit it was close to 9 months before I actually started on this project from the time he gave me the fender, so all in all I’d say I spent 6 months start to finish on this thing. I’m happy it’s done now because it means I can go back to creating my evil steampunk creations, which is where my true bliss lies.

It all started with a mold of the fender

I started by building a plaster positive of the fender to sculpt the skull on. I wrapped the fender in saran wrap and built up a few layers of plaster bandages. When they set up, I popped it off the fender and used more bandages to close off the open back side of the mold, then filled the mold with Plaster of Paris. I built it up to a thickness of about an inch and a half. When it was all set up, I peeled the bandages off and gave it a light scuff with some sandpaper to clean it up a bit. A couple of coats of clear lacquer to seal it and it was ready for the clay!

The next stage involved lots of cussing and drinking as the form of the skull took shape in the clay. I used Roma Plastilina clay #2 because it never dries out, and good thing too.. I think I spent close to three months total before I was happy with the sculpture. I’d work on it.. let it sit for a week or so, then change it.. let it sit.. then change it again..

When I finally had the sculpture where I wanted it, I built up a mold wall around it and poured silicone mold material all over it. Fun stuff silicone.. and well worth the investment if you need to pull a rigid final positive.

When the silicone was set up the next day, I covered it with a layer of fiberglass. When that was set up, I popped the whole shebang off the plaster fender and dug the clay out of the mold.. voila! Almost done! NOT!

Finally I was getting somewhere.. I broke out the fiberglass again and poured a couple gell coats into the mold before building up about 4 layers of fiberglass cloth inside the mold. After that long, tedious, messy process I finally pulled a finished fiberglass positive from the mold.. now on to the fitting phase.

I sanded, trimmed, and sanded some more until the fiberglass matched the curve of the fender as good as it was going to, then covered the fender with saran wrap once again and put a layer of fiberglass cloth over it to ‘seat’ the skull to the curvature. I wanted as much ‘purchase’ area as possible when I glued the skull to the fender, and setting the skull into a layer of fiberglass wrapped around the fender allowed me to build a good inch of surface area under the skull to get a good glue joint. I trimmed and sanded some more, and built up the fiberglass inside the skull to mate it to the new base. Then came the moment of truth.. time to really attach it.

I got out the fiberglass for what I hoped would be the last time, and slathered it on the fender, then plopped the skull home and held it in place ’till it set up. Then it was time for sanding, sanding, sanding. I used an automotive high-build sanding primer, and spot putty to finish out the transition between the fiberglass and the fender. I ran a small wire through the hole in the fender and through one eye hole on the skull before gluing it down, so I could pull an electrical wire through for the lights later on.

After days of sanding, puttying, sanding, priming, sanding, ad nauseum, it was finished. I fished a wire through the skull, wired the LED’s for the lights and popped them into their holes! AHHHHH… finally done. Now I’ll ship it to John and he’ll take it to someone to get painted. I can’t wait to see the final product. I’ll post a photo or two here when I get some.

This was a really fun project, but I have to say never again.. haha. The next post will be more steampunk, I promise!


The SteamHat Project WIP

This was kind of a departure from my normal steampunk direction..

I’d never built anything meant to be worn before. But Halloween was on it’s way and I had a grand vision of a costume in my head. A steampunk airship pirate! ARRRRRrrr!  The costume in my head is far more involved than just a hat, and I knew it would probably take me a few years to get all the pieces together, but you have to start somewhere, right? Might as well start at the top..

I began with a victorian top hat from the village hat shop, a cool online store that sells all sorts of neat hats. My head is rather large (7 1/2 hat size) and I wanted to be able to wear a bandanna on my head under this thing so I bought the 7 5/8 size hat. After seeing how big it was on my head when I got it in the mail, I probably should have just ordered the correct size, but eh.. it was too late to send it back and get another in time to finish this project before Halloween, so I just forged on.

I removed the satin band from around the hat and wrapped a strip of paper around the hat so I could get the correct curvature and shape for the copper band. After a lot of fussing about, measuring, trimming, etc.. I had a paper shape that fit snugly around the hat, and conformed to the slight rise around the brim from front to back. I traced this shape onto my copper sheet and cut it out with my trusty tin-snips.

After hammering flat and filing down the edges to smooth them out a bit, I began shaping the copper band into  a circle. When I had it to the correct shape I built a clasp out of some more copper sheet that would let me snug the band to the hat with a couple 1/4-20 brass bolts. I soldered this clasp to the ends of the band, and had a small victory jig since I had managed to NOT burn the hat or myself with the blow torch!

Once that phase was finished it was time to build the little portholes that I wanted to rim the hat. I decided on 6 of them, but in hindsight I should have stuck with just two in front considering the tight timeframe I had to put this thing together. I wound up having to skimp a bit on details just to get the thing done, and I hate doing that.

For the portholes I applied the same principle as I did for the hat band, I used paper that I shaped into a 2″ pipe and taped together. I then went about the fussy business of finding the right curvature so that the back edge of the tube would follow the multiple contours of the hat band.. what a pain, but it worked. I laid the template out on my copper sheet, traced it and trimmed out 6 of these porthole shapes.

I formed the flat pieces into tubes, and soldered an overlap at the bottom, then soldered them to the hat band. At this point I should have pre-drilled holes in the band for the LED’s, but I wasn’t thinking and moved straight to filling my portholes with gears.

I’d bought a box of 12 little battery powered flickering tea lights online for about a 18 bucks. I figured I’d ruin a few in the process, and I was right.. out of the 12 original lights, I wound up with just 6 that worked. Between trying to solder directly to the PC board and frying the IC, and wrestling these assemblies into place, I killed 6 of them. I was getting a bit nervous there at the end that I was going to have to scrap the lights altogether. But.. perseverance and patience paid off and I was able to attach a LED to the backside of each gear assembly inside the portholes. I ran the wires through the band and wired them all together on the backside.

As I said, I should have planned better and made better accommodations for the lights, as I had quite a time trying to drill the holes from the back side of the assembled band. Oh well.. next time I’ll know better.

I soldered the 2″ lenses in place and ran the wires through a small hole in the hat to a 2x AA battery pack glued to the inside top. I added a small switch to the circuit, and voila! Flickery Steampunk Top Hat! It really does look like there’s a small fire inside the hat.. all the LED’s flicker at different intervals, so it looks like a flame dancing about in there.. I got lucky for sure on much of this project. I was hurried and there are a great many things I’d rather have done differently, but all in all I’m pretty happy with this one. I think at some point in the future I’ll do another variation on this and really take my time and do it right.

I’ll post finished pix in the next post.


The Vector Amp


I actually built this box some time ago for another piece and never used it. It’s perfect for this project though. The wood is 3/4″ white oak that I scavanged from an old bookshelf I got back when I was in High School (That’s old). The lens on the front is an old Bell and Howell camera lens from some sort of arcane camera. If I had to guess I’d say it was from an old aerial photography camera. My Friend Jeff League was kind enough to hand it it off to me one day because he thought I could do something cool with it. Let’s see about that!

The front optic is 4″, and the rear is 2″ which is perfect because I plan on placing a small LCD screen inside (3.5″). The LCD screen will overlap the back optic just enough to give me a full circle of view from the front. I dug around on the internet quite a bit looking for small LCD displays. I would have thought that they’d be abundantly available these days, but it seems the trend of bigger-better-faster-more is overtaking LCD tech and it’s difficult finding them below 7″. I was however able to find a back-up camera kit for an automobile that had a small camera and a 3.5″ screen that runs about 100 bucks that will work out perfect. The camera I won’t need for this project, but the next piece I have planned will make good use of it!

For the video and audio playback I turned to the wonderful world of digital signage. I needed a solid-state device that would play a digital video file (.avi) on a loop when powered on, and stay playing without needing any button-pressing. There are quite a few very fancy units out there that will do just that and much more. Unfortunately most of them ranged in the 400 dollar and up category. Far too much for my meager budget. I finally, after about a month of fruitless search, was able to find a unit for 150 bucks that was just perfect. No HDMI, no multiple outputs, no ethernet linking, etc, etc, ad-nauseum. It seems these days that since something CAN be done, we feel it must be done.. in my search to find small, simple, inexpensive devices I realized that it’s getting harder and harder to find things like that. Everything must be all things to all people. I’m not sure I like this trend! Anyways, I digress. Back to the story. Alternately I suppose I could use any number of the digital picture frames out there that play video and audio. I’ll probably do some research into that and make that decision before jumping off in any one direction.

For the Audio amp side I was originally going to use a bona-fide tube amplifier kit from Tube-Depot. However, after a month of reading books on tube-amp design and electronics theory (my head hurts), I came to the conclusion that any tubes I could use in an inexpensive tube-amp would be far too small and more to the point, uncool looking for the top of this box. Tube amps are all about the marriage of a electron tubes to suitable transformers, and as most things go.. the bigger and more cool-looking your tubes are, the bigger (and more expensive) your transformers have to be. Now, while tubes are somewhat inexpensive (15 to 100 bucks on avg.), transformers for big, cool-looking tubes run in the multiple hundreds of dollars range.

It seemed silly to drop 600 dollars on a tube amp that was just going to be used to play some ambient audio from 3″ speakers on a loop. So I stepped back from the kool-aid.. I would buy the big, cool tubes, and just wire them up to glow. This way I can chose tubes based solely on their aesthetics. This of course means now I needed to have some other small, solid-state amp to power the speakers with. Enter Parts Express! For 30 bucks they have a small kit that runs off a simple transformer, and will power those 3″ speakers without any problem at all. Have I ever extolled the virtues of Parts Express? Man I love that place. The catalog is like Playboy to me.. I read it endlessly.

The speakers will just be some 3″ full range jobbies from parts express. The don’t need to be anything fancy or cool looking since they will be hidden in the 4″ copper tubes, they just need to work.

The copper elbows I found online. 4″ copper elbows are NOT cheap (Remind me again why I decided to work in copper?) they run about 60.00 each. I’ll need 4 of them for this project, as well as a foot or so of 4″ copper pipe which runs 65.00/foot. All in all the copper pipe will be the most expensive aspect of this piece. But I think it’s absolutely the most important as well. PVC pipe painted to look like copper would be.. well.. unsuitable at best.

So anyways, I have all my ducks lined up. The plan is set, and some of the parts are already on their way to me, so I’m off and running! I’ll post back soon when I have something interesting to look at!