Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Make A Forge

Somewhere there is a list of all the things we hope to make, that we want to make, that we are compelled to make, and it includes build a forge. The list isn't exactly 'written down,' and we may not always agree on what's at the the top of the list, but the list does exist, and we do aspire to address every line of it, sooner or later. Alex was probably the first one to dream of a home forge, and I am sure Geoff agreed it would be good, William, too. No doubt Max has been on board since his freshmen year metals class. It's certainly something the children have dabbled with for many years. Well, some things on our make list happen right away, and some develop over time, organically. Last September we acquired an anvil, which is a good first step toward building a metal heating hearth. Then at a Viking Festival Alex was recruited as blacksmithing apprentice, and this only fueled the fire. Then, as though it were suddenly, Alex brought build a forge to the top of the list; he called his good friend James to come over, then he collected and gathered all the parts to make a soup can forge.

The Parts To Build It:

Propane torch
Steel soup can
Plaster of Paris
Steel pipe

The Parts To Use It:

Scrap metal... copper coins, iron nails, clock springs
Closed toed shoes
Boric acid
Bucket of water
Spark lighter

The iron nail was a fun one to heat up. Iron's melting point (2,800 degrees fahrenheit) is too high for this mini-forge, which was probably topping off at about 1,800 degrees fahrenheit. The soup can forge is sufficiently hot enough to soften the iron nails, so they can be hammered and shaped.

Copper has a much lower melting point, so we scrounged for some copper pennies, and put them in a steel pipe... the steel pipe turned out to be less effective than just sitting the pennies directly in the forge. Alex prepared some sand with the impression of a sea shell to pour the molten copper into. They were able to get the copper very hot, but it would cool as soon as the heat was removed, and it wasn't possible to pour the copper into the mold before it hardened. No surprise, since they knew the forge was almost 200 degrees cooler than necessary to really heat the copper up.

So... what next? Aluminum! Aluminum, with a melting point of only 1,221 degrees fahrenheit! A perfect match for the heat of the soup can forge.

The aluminum melted quickly...

and poured easily into the sand. Ideally this would not be "playground" sand, but a special sand combination called green sand: "...there are many recipes for the proportion of clay, but they all strike different balances between moldability, surface finish, and ability of the hot molten metal to degas."

We have a homemade aluminum sea shell blob. Which is really cool.

Things have come a long way from those first fire lessons, and it's wonderful to know that all of their experiences, at home, at Maker Faire, in the school metal shop... it builds, evolves, and inspires next steps, new paths, more confidence, bigger ideas.

Alex called this experiment "Good fun, but we need the big one."

The Parts on The Wish List:
Green sand
Leather aprons
Fire bricks
Refractory cement
A steel tube
A burner
Bellows, or forge blower

And the iron nail? They made it into a mini hook! I'd like about ten more of these, for hanging art on the porch, please!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sewing Makes Me Happy

This is a cheap flour cloth dish towel thing. Very big, but very thin. It's almost a waste to add so much time and effort to it, but I love cheap flour cloth dish towel things, and I love sewing. While Maria was was in her Java class, I passed the time by either adding rows to a thing I am crocheting, or embroidering dish towels. I try to stay in the habit of carrying a basket, or bag, keeping it well stocked with works in progress, and supplies, like threads, needles, floss, a hoop, a pencil, fabric, hooks, and yarn... all handy for the ten minutes or two hours when I don't have much else to do. My down time bag saves me... it occupies my hands and thoughts, it gives me purpose, it makes me happy. Strangely, sadly, I never feel like this is an adequate excuse or explanation for my pastimes. So much of what we learn to value or praise is meant to have a higher purpose, to have a net worth, or an ultimate significance, and I struggle to justify sitting in a corner pulling colored threads through cheap flour cloth.

When someone asks about the lilac yarn I am crocheting, I know it's not good to answer apologetically, "I don't know... it's a thing I started, and I'm not sure how much yarn I have, so I guess I'll know what it is when I run out... " and I probably add: "It's nothing." It's not good to be embarrassed, to feel desperate for a solid rationale for wanting to sew, for spending time doing something that has no deep meaning, or patron, that isn't going to a gallery, or Regretsy. I am not with Etsy. Heck, I haven't even mustered the confidence to believe I make Etsy-worthy stuff. I only know, I like to sew. I want to have fabric nearby, and too many shades of floss to choose from, and a new idea to try out, a sketch to stitch. And I want to not feel silly-goofy-apologetic about it.

Ah, cheese wiz, it's even silly to feel goofy about being silly... time to watch Adam Savage's Maker Faire address, the one when he implores us to make what we can't not make! He adds the Art in STEM: "Art is where it begins! Make what you want. It starts with what you want to have."

I want to put a bird on it. I want to have a little red work creation from my own hands, with my own design,

I want to build on picture books I've seen, stories I have imagined, and I want to make another part of a whimsical place, where mice trek with knapsacks, and carry charts.

I want to feel calm, and content, to be occupied with the feel of cotton, colors, even tangled floss.

I want to be amused.

I want to have an escape from the everyday, from worries, from stress, from things I cannot manage, but must live with. I want to see what I can do with what I have in my bag.

I want to be one of the makers who demonstrates that it's good to play, to tinker, to mess up, and try again, to teach, to inspire. I want to share a skill, encourage silliness, and feel good about enjoying the feel of crocheted rows, wool sheep, pointless things, like hen's teeth.

Time and materials are riches, luxuries, some of the best resources in my life, and it may very well be disrespectful, a squandering waste, to not enjoy them heartily.

Sewing makes me happy. My needles, and hooks, threads, and fabric make me happy. Sharing makes me happy.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Make A CNC Router and Make It Big

Fridays at Chickenblog are usually about a Moment during the week, a special moment. Today, it's about the moment Frankenrouter came to life, a moment we've anticipated for quite some time. Frankenrouter is the very large CNC router that Geoff imagined, designed, and built from the concrete and up. For a couple of years, between many other duties and obligations, Geoff's taken time to tinker, experiment, research, cut, weld, wire, rummage, salvage, and create. He's had long breaks, time away for work, and other projects. Geoff's been challenged and stumped, taken some do-overs, and endured some long days. William has been a frequent assistant and supporter, and we've all been waiting to see, and hear, Frankenrouter come to life...

One more part is on order, and may take a month to arrive... a spindle. With it, and router bits, the three axis router will be carving cool things, making what we can design and envision in wood and foam, aluminum, too. In the meantime, Geoff and William made an ingenious little pvc tool to hold a sharpie, so we could give Frankenrouter his first assignment: Draw something pretty, Frank!

Video, right?

I know. I'll get on it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Make Code Now

First day in JAVA.

And... she's hooked.

World Domination

It's a JAVA smile. She is a programmer, now.

{Thank you, Fab Lab, San Diego, and League of Amazing Programmers}

This morning Maria was at the computer developing a game with Scratch. {Do you Scratch? It's programming made accessible for young/beginning programmers, from MIT.} Maria illustrates, animates, and writes programs for games, puzzles, and fun animations. This has been going on for about three months, ever since Amira shared the site with her, and Maria loves it! She shares it. And she's added programming to her list of things she wants to do when she grows up. Anyway... enough background. This morning she made a fish catching game, with a hungry cat who catches fish falling from the sky, before they hit the water and swim away. It's clever and hilarious. And evidently, it's challenging. Geoff cannot beat her high score... not yet!

Turns out, you don't have to "grow up" to do what you love. When Maria tells us about a new interest, a new "I want to be a ______, when I grow up," my response is: "Cool. You'll need to learn about that, and practice it." And then I look for ways for her to begin, now, like cooking with her, and taking care of the garden with her so she can open her own restaurant, and sharing the joys, and heartaches, of keeping chickens and goats, because she wants to be a farmer. Maybe it stems from our home schooling days, but mostly I think it's just our family's irrepressible curiosity and need to make, tinker, play, explore, build, take apart, fail-try-again, and share that pushes us to do the things that spark our imaginations, to jump into the projects and ideas that form in our heads, our hearts. So, we make things, and go to Maker Faire, and dabble in crafts, with lasers and routers, and epoxy. You never know when something begins, like an interest in robots that may lead to passing along interests and skills, that could eventually take you to competitions, and championship events. And it doesn't really matter if that interest ever leads you to the "job," to being "that thing when you grow-up," because the real point, the actual gift, is in the journey, in the doing and tinkering, and failing, and trying again, and following another idea, new interest, doing more, and sharing it.

Maria is programming with Scratch, and in JAVA. She's begun. And she loves it. It's inspiring Geoff and me to host another tinkering day with Arduinos, soldering, code writing... we don't want to wait until we've grown-up to follow our interests, either.