Fab – Materials


This week’s prompt (making something with two different materials) was challenging for its lack of constraints. I had two initial ideas: make a miniature of the lightning field, a piece where metal rods are placed in the desert and lightning occasionally strikes ; make a self portrait using metal rods at varying heights. In both cases I thought about using cork and tracked down some really well priced pieces at big reuse. But gowanus was a bit far (and the f has been undergoing service changes), so I started with the metal rods. I made a trip to metaliferous and picked out a handful of rods and tubes to start working with. Three foot aluminium tubes were the cheapest, so I got a bunch of those, plus some brass rods and tubes. I really wanted to do all brass but at least to start it was too risky buying all that material.

I researched tesla coils and other ways of generating a “lightning” effect, but they were all too intimidating for me to pull off for this project. So I got to work on the self portrait idea. But still, my metal tubes were too pricey to experiment with, so I went to blick and bought foamcore and some wooden dowels. Of course they did not have the small size I wanted, so I got 3′ long pieces in 1/8th and 1/4in diameters.

My first experiment was just laying out 2″ sections of wood on to the foamcore. I was able to easily snap my rods into correctly sized pieces but I quickly realized that this experiment would require waaay too much material. My initial layout called for 6 x 6 rods and that was not going to be enough for fidelity…

measuring the ‘cuts’ for my dowels


Cutting foam board with a box knife = no good.


It was much easier to use a nail to poke holes in the foam board.

So I got to tracking down toothpicks! And of course, no one sells wooden toothpicks any more! So I put in an amazon order and waited a day. I also started playing around with wire.

The next day, I found a metal fronted cork board on the street. I brought it back to the shop to play around with. I tested its resistance and cut a hole in the back of it to see how light would look.

It was a cool effect and I might return to it. But toothpicks!

Ok I needed a real plan with the tooth picks, so I set up a 10×10 grid and used a nail to make the holes.

I sketched out a face across the grid (I wanted the elevation to make a face) and cut the toothpicks to size with a wire cutter. so for example, the shape of the heads would be higher up, and the eyes a bit recessed from there, the nose higher, etc….It was a huge failure!

Ok I needed a break from my toothpicks… I started playing around with the brass rods and wire.

I didn’t know what the heck to do from here, but I kept playing with different arrangements… time to sleep on it.

The next and final day, I started trying to fit strips of leds behind the metal corkboard. I’d cut holes in the cork where each led would emit light from, preventing broader diffusion. I measured it out the best I could, and started going at it with a 3/4″ spade bit.

Probably not the best drill bit to choose – something that could eat more material would’ve been nice. But I went back over with a dremel to clear more material from each hole….but I accidentally ate in to the metal a few times.


Finally, I used the dremel to make space for the strip to be set in and gave it a whirl.

Wow was I uneven. Unfortunately I ran out of time… my prototyping/ideation process was incredibly messy and often frustrating. But it showed me that I could persist through these experiments based around materials and eventually land on something compelling to work on. But it all takes time and a strong will…. Overall I’m invigorated to keep exploring, and hopefully finish this final led/corkboard concept.

One thought on “Fab – Materials

  1. Well, a lot of material experiments, but I feel like you didn’t take one far enough. Did one of the experiments speak to you? Did you find something you liked that you would want to explore further?

    Do the toothpicks fit in the metal cork board? That might make for an interesting look. If not toothpicks, maybe small nails?

    It’s ok that these are just experiments, but I’d like to hear what your final thoughts on them are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *