Friends, makers, cosplayers, lend me your ears! (Or eyes as the case would be) I attended several different sessions during my awesome convention experience in Lincoln in 2014. At the time, I was most interested the sessions about making the cool props, costumes, widgets and gadgets that can add that extra zing to your Steampunkery.
I have taken many art classes in my time, and I was a fine arts major in college before I injured my drawing hand. I still minored in Art History, and to qualify I took one of my favorite classes of all time, Intro to Sculpture. We worked with a variety of materials over the summer, but my absolute favorite was metal. I love it for two reasons: under the right conditions it is totally malleable, and when you are done it is incredibly strong. And shiny of course, let’s not forget shiny 🙂
At Weekend at the Asylum there was a session called “Taming Metal” run by a panel consisting of “Herr Doktor“, Trevor Frank and “Dr Quack.” They started with the easiest ways to join two metal pieces together and moved to the more involved techniques. Plus, they also touched on some important tools, safety tips, and etching advice. I took notes during the session, and I’ve broken them into easy-to-digest blog posts.
Metal can be joined in many ways ranging from “glues and screws” to welding. The stronger the joint you are looking for, the more sophisticated the equipment and the more safety precautions you need to take. There are serious safety concerns when working with torches, both for burns to your skin and to your retina which can result in temporary blindness and serious long-term effects on vision, so NEVER cut corners when it comes to safety. “Metal doesn’t care how old you are, or how experienced you are.”
The Easiest Ways to Connect Metal
Epoxy and other Glues
But let’s start with the easier stuff. Epoxy is more effective than other types of glue for adhering metal to other metal, or metal to other materials. “And what is epoxy?” you ask. It is usually a combination of two resins that are only mixed at the time you are using them and any extra must be discarded. This is different than glue that can sit on your shelf forever and more or less stays the same.
Any time you are going to use an adhesive rather an a screw, solder or welded connection, make sure that you rough up your surface. The little scratches left behind by sand paper or steel wool will give your glue more to grip and create a better seal.
And to give your glue its best shot, try to find a way to clamp or weigh down the connection point for at least a day or two while the adhesive sets. To protect your surface from the clamp, put a cloth between your material and the shoes (AKA “the holdy-onny part”) or use a clamp with rubber covering the shoe.
Nuts and Bolts
Nuts and bolts are a great way to hold metal together, but you will probably need to drill holes before you start. Dremels and other small, handheld drills can get through most thin sheets of metal. Watch out! The shavings can be very small and sharp.
It can be hard to find nuts and bolts that are the right color or type of metal (most are shiny, stainless steel like those at the right) to go with steampunk designs, so you may want to pre-rough them up if you are planning to add paint or use rivets instead. We’ll explore how to distress metal in another post.
Another popular alternative is rivets, which are both cool and very steampunk. Unlike screws and nuts ‘n’ bolts, rivets are more or less meant to be permanent fasteners. The look a bit like a screw, but the shaft is smooth. The shaft is put through a pre-drilled (or pre-existing) hole and the tail end get smooshed to create a little barbell that holds your materials in place. If you like the look of rivets but don’t want to take the time or find the right tools for the job, I will give you some advice about how to fake rivets for cheap in another post, so check back for more tips for makers.