Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Across the mousepad with leather and steam

The usual technique on the body of the mouse: a coat or two of gold, then a quick spritz of another color, quickly smudged with a paper towel or sponge. I used black for the USB gear drive, but brown for this one. Black is good for a dirty industrial look, but I like brown for elegantly aged brass. After drying, it got several coats of polyurethane for durability.

Wood veneer was cut to fit the mouse buttons, stained, and epoxied on. Close, but not quite there yet, I think. The epoxy is too thick, so there are noticeable gaps around the edges. Next time, I'll try superglue. The facing side of the mouse, where the thumb rests, is covered with leather, cut to fit and superglued on. It's actually very comfortable.

The smokestack on the far side is a bendy straw, filled with epoxy to stiffen it and sprayed with a thick "aged iron" paint. OK, but I can do better. After the bend, it goes through a hole drilled in the side, just far enough forward not to interfere with the grip on the mouse.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

USB Gear

Saturday, we went to see Stephanie's parents near Asheville. They were having a garage sale, selling off the bits and pieces their next door neighbor had left behind when she moved into a nursing home. What they didn't sell, we could pick through to see if there was anything that interested us which, given our retro tastes, was considerable.

In addition to a few tiny old books (like a history of the US up to its pub date in 1824), Stephanie grabbed a lot of glassware, and I got my hands on about a dozen old wind-up clocks and a couple of old cameras. One of the clocks has already been broken up for parts, some of which I used.

This was pretty easy. The functional part is a cheap USB drive liberated from its case. The bulk of the new casing is a pair of cheap plastic gears. A little careful work with the Dremmel routed out a space for the thumb drive.

The gears got a coat of gold spray paint, then a very light coat of black followed immediately by rubbing with a sponge to give it that rough, tarnished look. After that, a spritz of polyurethane to make it all a bit more durable.

Then, assembly: the two gears like a clamshell around the drive, then a gear liberated from a broken clock atop that. Several squirts of superglue and bob's your uncle.

This went well enough, but I'm a little dubious about durability. For my next project, I'm looking to start working with epoxy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eye in the Pyramid

A series of arty projects has gotten me here:

This is an etching on a thin sheet of brass done almost entirely with things found around the house. I adapted the basic technique from some pages at the terribly interesting Steampunk Workshop.

The metal is 0.015" brass I got at the local hobby supply store. It had no protective coatings requiring special cleaning, so it was pretty much ready to use out of the box. My first experiments were with even thinner metal, essentially thick brass foil. OK for some proof of concept, but not nearly durable enough to stand up to any punishment. First important lesson: use metal you can't easily bend with two fingers.

A few minutes work with any good image manipulation program can turn just about any black-and-white image (or any image which looks OK converted into black and white; but it has to be B&W, not greyscale) into something suitable for ironing onto the work piece. Because I only wanted etching on the front, I covered the back with packing tape. A coat of spray polyurethane would have worked just as well, but might have been annoying to scrape off down the line if I decided to etch the other side. The weird part here is that when I got the paper peeled and rubbed off of the toner, the residue turned white when it dried. Still, it stuck to the metal admirably. (Oh, second important lesson: glossy injket paper through a laser printer. Regular paper doesn't work.)

An old laptop power adapter provided the power source. The plug for the computer end had become uselessly frayed. I simply cut it off and stripped the cable down to separate the positive and negative wires. The inner wire attaches to the work piece, the outer wire to something that sticks into the etching solution.

Speaking of which, I used salt water for the etching solution rather than more expensive, more toxic, and more not-in-my-house-that-day copper sulphate. The size and shape of the piece allowed me to use a gallon milk jug with the top cut off. Once it went in the saline and the power was plugged in, it started bubbling away, and the solution became tinged noticeably blue after an hour or so. Third important lesson: it takes a long time to etch. This piece took about eight hours. Fortunately, I'm in no hurry.

After drying it off, I tried a number of things to clean off the corroded bits of exposed brass and the toner. The wire brush attachment on my Dremmel tool was marvelous, but it pretty much destroyed the brush. Sandpaper...just don't. The winner is, as the Steampunk Workshop suggests, steel wool and a lot of vigorous scrubbing.