Girl’s First Build: Unleashing the Hidden Gadgeteer Within Created by ProfHoppingood on 10/3/2011 10:48:52 AM
Girl’s First Build: Unleashing the Hidden Gadgeteer Within
For as long as I can recall, I’ve been interested in costuming, and historical costuming in particular. I watched my mother sew and learned to sew when I was old enough to operate the machine by myself. For nearly 20 years I was an avid costumer in another historical recreation group and even managed to attain a high degree of recognition for my tailoring skills and costume research. And although I have a lifelong love of science fiction and Victoriana of all kinds, I must admit that it was the costuming that first called me like a Siren to the Steampunk community. Oh, the splendor of Victorian-inspired fashion to which no one could point an accusatory finger and snarl disapprovingly, “NOT PERIOD”! Among the creative community of Steam, I was free to let my sartorial imagination run wild with only my own crafting abilities to limit the possibilities!
And that was when I realized I had a problem…
It doesn’t take too many trips through internet image searches before you realize that pretty clothes, mini top hats and goggles may say, “Nice costuming!”, but they don’t scream “Wow, now THAT’s Steampunk!”. For that, you need gadgets, and preferably gadgets that look like they might actually do something interesting and purposeful. Furthermore, these gadgets should involve any or all of the following components: brass, leather, wood, copper, blinking lights, sound, soldering, smoke, steam, switches, gauges, bubblers, and basically anything that your creative heart desires. And of course, I had absolutely no experience in working with any of those materials or processes. I could make magic out of fabric, but the art of fabrication was a complete mystery to me. As such, I remained nattily-dressed, but sadly gadgetless.
This simply would not do. Obviously, I needed a jetpack (indeed, who doesn’t need a jetpack?), and I needed it before Dragon*Con 2011. Click images for larger view.
I’ve heard many people say that the art of modding, making and crafting is the art of being able to look at something mundane sideways and envision it as something extraordinary. This story begins with a decorative box, found at a local craft supply and decorating store. I was immediately drawn to this box for two reasons. First, it was wonderfully shaped like a tank, with lovely wooden textures and details such as leather straps and buckles which gave it a very Steampunk feel, and second, it was marked down to half-price, making it a super-reasonable $12. It was the kind of creative find that leaps out at the artist and says, “this box wants
to be a jetpack”. Right away I could envision it with cones for the jets and strapped to my back. All systems were go for jetpack!
I showed the unassuming case to a close friend of mine with crafting experience and we brainstormed for a bit over the as-yet-ordinary box. Over the next week or so, we both set out to collect various parts and
pieces that could be used to augment the box. Belts and buckles were found at a local thrift store along with a wide collection of brass candlesticks, and a small ambered glass oil lamp. A trip to the hardware and auto parts section of a megamart culminated in the purchase of rubber door-knob stoppers, inexpensive plastic toggle switches, a cheap dashboard clock, a tire pressure gauge, two plastic funnels and some pimp-your-ride
accent lights. With all these items laid out before me, I
began the process of experimentation with placement until a more definite picture of the jetpack began to emerge. Once the placement decisions were more or less determined, parts were masked for painting. The black plastic toggle switches were painted silver to coordinate with the clock face, while the funnels, door stops and the back of the tire gauge were painted in brass tones. While these pieces were set aside to dry, alterations on the box itself began.
At some point in the creative design process, it was decided that, if we were going to the trouble of using actual electrical toggle switches, it only made sense that they would be used to actually power the lights! This fact let to many of the following design considerations, particularly with regards to running the wiring to the power sources and between the lights and the switches. I was very fortunate to have turned to my friend who had experience with electrical wiring and soldering as he was able to help me turn my ideas into functioning special effects.
It was first determined that the handle from the top of the box needed to be removed so that the top could be utilized as a design surface. With that small action, the box forever lost its previous hatbox identity.
Because I wanted the batteries for the lights to be hidden inside the box, once the placement of the exterior lights was settled, small holes were drilled. I passed the wires through the holes and the lights were glued on using 5-minute epoxy. Although these lights came with self-adhesive strips, I didn’t want the lights popping off at an inopportune moment or in the jostle of the Dragon*Con crowd, and throughout this process I learned a valuable lesson about myself as a nascent maker: if I can glue it down and secure it forever, that’s how I want it done. No rattling bits around. No wires running loosely. Everything in its place. Hot glue and 5-minute epoxy were my new favorite needle and thread.
Next it was decided that more three-dimensional aspects needed to be added to the jetpack, and I had a vision of copper coils coming off the sides. As it turns out, copper coils are harder to affect than first considered. We placed a half-inch metal dowel in a vice and attemted to coil the copper tubing around the dowel, only to have the tubing collapse and create a flattened coil that was somewhat disappointing. Then my friend recalled a technique that filled the copper tubing with water and froze the water to give the tubing more structure and support during the coiling process. We tried that next and were greeted with greater success. We also created three smaller coils out of copper wire recovered by stripping the plastic sheathing off of common household electrical wire which were used on the front of the jetpack. The tire gauge was the perfect terminal for the coils.
The following night, all the painted parts and coils were once again laid out for a final round of placement decisions. Holes were drilled into the front for the toggle switches, and the clock was then affixed in its place. Next, smaller holes were drilled into the front under the clock for
the placement of the small copper coils, while a larger hole was drilled on the right side for the insertion of the larger copper coil with the pressure gauge. Once all the coils were in place, we used masking tape to hold them in place on the outside, and used hot-melt glue to secure them permanently on the interior of the pack.
To balance the pack on the left side, two copper plumbing elbows were glued to the middle section of a candlestick holder. Next, wooden dowel plugs were cut and glued into the ends of the copper elbows, with pilot holes drilled, and the whole assembly was attached to the side of the jetpack with screws into the wooden dowels from the interior of the pack.
Before we could work on the top of the box, we needed to put the funnels on the bottom. Wooden disks were cut out of plywood, spray-painted black, and inserted into the painted funnels and glued into place. Next, holes were drilled through the wooden disks and through the bottom of the jetpack, and the screws were inserted and bolted on the inside of the box. A much smaller hole was was also drilled through which the wires were run up into the box to attach to the battery that would power the lights and its corresponding the toggle switch. The lights I wanted to run along the base of the funnels came with a strong adhesive backing, and so I positioned the lights and stuck them firmly onto the painted funnels. BIG MISTAKE. Within minutes the paint started to peel away from the plastic funnels and the lights were no longer attached at all, as you can see in the photo. I had to peel them completely away from the funnels and then remove all the paint from the plastic in order to glue them back on using hot-melt wax. Surprisingly, however, the red plastic showing through the gold gave the funnels a red, glowing effect when the lights were lit, so I consider this to be a serendipitous mistake.
Now that the funnels were firmly attached to the bottom of the jetpack, we could put the final decorative touches on the top of the case. For this, I determined to use the amber glass oil lamp upside down and in the middle of the box, with a small LED light inside to serve as a “pilot light” for the jetpack. I broke the plastic flame-shaped top off of a flickering LED votive candle and inserted a small red LED light to give it a red glow. Next, a hole was drilled in the middle of the top of the jetpack and the oil lamp was glued in place upside down.
The plastic “flame” was glued with epoxy to a 1.5 inch length of copper tubing, which was then glued to run up through the hole in the case and position the flame at an appropriate position inside the glass oil-lamp. The LED was placed inside the “flame” and secured with hot-melt glue, and all the wiring was then securely glued to run down the inside of the box. <pilot light interior.jpg> Finally, the rubber door stops were glued onto the top using hot-melt glue, just to give it some extra architectural interest.
Once all the lights and wiring were in place, the final wiring was completed, with all the lights connected to their appropriate toggle switch. The “pilot light” and the blue lights on the front of the box are powered using a four-battery pack of AA batteries, while the lights in the funnels came with their own small battery source. Finally, a small amplified speaker that ran off an internal 9v battery was attached to the bottom of the jetpack using Velcro so that the battery could be replaced as needed. A small mp3 player was plugged into the speaker that allowed a continuous sound-loop of “jet noise” to be heard emanating from the bottom of the jetpack, thanks to a free sound file archive found on the internet.
Now the jetpack really came alive, with all the lights working, the ticking of the clock on the front, and the sound of jet engines roaring to life! The only thing left to do was to affix the straps so that it could be worn on my back. Because I’m a stickler for symmetry, I really wanted matching straps, so I found two belts in the men’s section of the megamart that had the right “feel”. From the thrift store I bought two other belts, one to be cut into leather straps to attach onto the box directly, and the other to use as a horizontal strap around my midsection to keep the whole thing from bouncing around too much.
I cut the two leather belts that would serve as the shoulder straps to an appropriate length and used brass rivets to create loops in the lower ends. Next, we carefully marked the placement of the straps onto the back of the pack, crossing them to make them more secure on the shoulders. Sections of one of the thrift store belts were then attached to the back of the jetpack using pop-rivets in order to form “loops” through which to run the shoulder straps. The other belt was then threaded through the four looped ends of the shoulder straps and the whole contraption was now complete and ready for action at Dragon*Con!
Of course, no man, or maker (regardless of gender) is an island, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my friend, Deadline, of the Maker’s Workshop
, for his helpful guidance, experience, and the use of his workshop space and tools. It was a big change from working with fabrics to working with drills, wood, copper, and wiring, and having him there to show me and keep me from making any major blunders gave me the courage to try new things and begin to dream big.
For four glorious days at Dragon*Con 2011 I jetted my way around, pleased beyond words to have my own gadget at last, and beaming proudly whenever anyone asked to take my picture. I was thrilled when asked to participate in the Steampunk Expo and gladly showed off my jetpack to anyone who would stop and look. In the same way that a simple decorative box was transformed into an artistic Steampunk jetpack, this seamstress was transformed into a burgeoning maker. I’m already planning my next builds with two or three piles of odds-and-ends already starting to take on a life of their own as the next-big-project.