Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tauruscat: Crest Lenses

Why does the crest have lenses? you might be asking yourself, and a good question it is. While Professor Tauruscat's central processing engine is working, I felt it would be convenient to have some physical manifestation of its inner workings, and so I will be hooking up some lights which will make the lenses glow as the wearer's thoughts are processed.

From left to right above, I fabricated the lens model out of clear acrylic sheet and clay, molded it in rubber (behind) then cast it in the pinkish resin. This piece I reworked, smoothing and shaping to better fit the spaces in the crest awaiting the three lenses. I molded it yet again (behind on right), then cast the final part in a translucent amber colored resin. Sanding off the gate gave me the finished lens on the far right.

I cast three such lenses, then inserted them into the crest, as shown above. The photo shows them illuminated.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sentinel Portrait

I'm still working away at making movie props for After The Fall, and have made some progress on the Tauruscat crest lenses. Meanwhile, my old friend Lew came over last night and was kind enough to try on the Sentinel helmet and gorget for a photo.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tauruscat: Crest Casting

Here is the crest cast as one piece. I'm happy with the ornateness of it, but I may change the colors. I haven't decided yet.

Next I'll be building the lenses that fit between the crest wings.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Making a Microphone Prop

I've been working on making seven headsets as props for the upcoming film After The Fall by Randolph Scott. After futzing around with different approaches to fabricating a microphone, none of which were working, I stepped back and took a different approach.

I looked for a simple turning of the right size, in this case a rook chess piece, and paired it with a brass concho.

With a little plasticene I stuck them together, molded them in silicone rubber and cast it in urethane resin. After laser engraving some texture onto the top, voilà, I had my finished mic, shown on the right.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Making of the Underground Explorer

I thought some of you might like to read one of my builds all the way through from start to end. Here is the blow by blow on the creation of the Underground Explorer helmet.
Today, Sunday, my wife and I went to some yard sales. Now sometimes you find nothing, and other times you find one gem. Just as we were about to leave one sale emptyhanded, I spotted a plastic astronaut's helmet. When I inquired about the price, the seller said $1--uh, 50¢--fearing I wouldn't cough up a whole dollar for this plastic helmet that was missing the visor. Of course, I saw much more in it. I knew I could pull a pattern off of it and remake it as a steampunk leather helmet!

Here is the plastic helmet as I bought it.

After thinking about how to break it up into separate leather pieces, I taped it all over with duct tape to make the patterns, and marked the divisions.

Here I've cut off the duct tape using an Xacto knife, and laid it down on heavy paper.

Next I've smoothed out the lines, removed the duct tape, and cut out the heavy paper patterns.

Next using the patterns I cut out the leather pieces, and punched the stitching holes, along with snap and buckle holes. I am leaving the front piece that covers the mouth removable so that the wearer can take it off for eating, etc.

Here I've stitched together the left center piece and the left side piece to see if it will work. I used a seam that exposes the edges, but after seeing it I think I'll remove the thread and do it over with an overlapping seam so that it will lie flat.
I will post more later as I progress on this project.


I have now cut and stitched together the four main parts of the helmet, and then shaped the wet leather over the yard sale plastic original. The toy astronaut helmet serves not only as a pattern source, but also as a shaping form. It reminds me of the underwater helmets worn by the crew of the Nautilus, with its roundedness.

At the end of yesterday's blog I decided that the plain exposed seam I had tried (and was planning for the entire helmet) wasn't the best choice, so I ripped out the one seam that I had done, and restitched it.

I replaced the side seams with overlapping seams, and for the center seam I chose a butt seam (since an overlapping seam has to favor one side or the other, and won't be symmetrical).
There are three different types of handsewn seams that I use in my leatherwork: Overlap, butt and plain. Below are the three types illustrated.

The plain seam can add structural strength and really emphasize the seam line, as can be seen on my firemaster's helmet. It is the historically traditional seam for firefighter's helmets, but it requires more effort to shape. On my steampunk gas mask you can see examples of the butt seam and the overlap seam.
Once the wet-formed helmet has dried, I will figure out the removable front piece that will cover the mouth, and also design a piece with a lense to cover the eyes.

When I tried on the plastic child's astronaut helmet, I could barely squeeze my head into it, and it touched my nose, so I decided early on to make a removable "snout" to give room for the nose, and to allow the wearer access to the mouth and nose without having to remove the helmet. Today I worked on designing that piece, working with green paper to figure out the patterns.

Once I was satisfied with the pattern I cut it out in leather, wet it and sewed it together with waxed thread. The snout will have two matching cold cast respirators on either side (where the two holes are), and one small something on the front. I have mostly built the respirator model out of acrylic sheet, and will mold it in rubber and cast it in resin.
The snout attaches to the helmet with four snaps on each corner, plus a buckle on each side (notice the protruding rivet where the buckle will attach on a short strap).

Next up will be making a visor which will completely cover the eye opening, and a collar to hold the helmet up off of the head, and to help keep its shape.


I'm pretty much making up the design of this piece as I go along. When I found the helmet at the yard sale, I knew I wanted to copy the basic shape in leather, but beyond that I had no plans. Once I had stitched the leather pieces together and removed them from the helmet, I knew that I would have to reinforce all raw edges to keep it from being too floppy.

So today—besides antiquing the helmet and snout, and adding the required snaps—I made a trim piece to go around the eye opening. I gussied it up a bit to make it interesting, adding some cut outs, dyed it black and riveted it onto the helm. Sure enough, it reduces the flop factor.

When I add on the collar it should significantly help the helmet hold its shape.
I have just cut out and sewn on the collar. Next I will cut out the collar trim to match the eye opening trim.

The Spaceman Helmet
Above are several views of the collar that I wanted for the spaceman helmet. For the helmet itself I had the toy helmet to tape and pull a pattern from, but how do I come up with a pattern for the collar?

The illustrations above show the theory of attaching two flat pieces of leather together to form a three dimensional object. The silver objects are tubes which represent the helmet (or the crown of a hat). The gold objects represent the collar (or brim of a hat).
If we cut the collar in a donut shape with the inside hole having the same diameter as the tube, when attached the collar will be horizontal. If we cut the collar in a rectangle, when attached the collar will be vertical, ie. continue the lines of the tube.
Since the shape we want is somewhere in between these two extremes, we need to cut the collar in a large curve, as illustrated in the bottom drawing.

However, we don't want a collar that is uniformly angled down. Looking back at the first set of drawings we see that over the shoulders the angle needs to be closer to horizontal than vertical, whereas over the chest and back the angle needs to be closer to vertical than horizontal.
This final drawing shows the compromise made. Since the seams fall at the front and the back of the helmet wearer, the center of the pattern will be over the shoulders. And so, the middle is quite rounded (to make it more horizontal), while the two pattern ends are almost straight (to make them more vertical).


I've done a lot of little things since the last post. The black trim is riveted onto the collar, the resin respirators have been cast, painted and mounted. I put trim around the nose area with a buried wire that has been shaped to fit better. I've attached the two side buckles holding the snout straps. I've added a snap fastener to the front of the collar to hold it in place. And I've antiqued the entire helmet, darkening it up and giving it more character. I am very happy with how it's turning out, and now await the result of the poll to see which accessories I will be adding.


The poll is over, and Underground Explorer won with exactly 50% of the vote. So I must prepare our courageous traveler for whatever conditions might await. Darkness of course, and probably heat, maybe pressure, foul air, unknown creatures, etc. Thanks to everyone who voted.


Our underground explorer is certainly going to need a light to see where he's going. Last year at a yard sale I acquired an old physician's head lamp. Nowadays these head lamps have LED's for the light source, but this one has a bulb, and three multi-jointed arms which allow it to crazily point in any direction. Very mad scientist looking. I've decided to mount this lamp on a comb (also called a crest) which is on the top of the helmet.

Today I designed it and cut out the pieces of the comb in ¼" thick plastic, and then glued them all together. Above you can see the individual parts.

And here is the assembled comb bolted to the top of the plastic astronaut's helmet. I will be covering the comb in molded leather, and the lamp will attach to the front vertical surface.
I constructed the helmet comb out of leather and it has some problems, the major one being it is too small once the wet leather shrank.

Although I will have to remake it this picture gives a pretty good idea of how it will look. Of course once the lamp is mounted onto the front it will change again.


After focusing on the whale tooth for awhile I have returned my attentions to the Underground Explorer's helmet. Yesterday I reworked the comb pattern and remade it to fit properly, then I cut out the leather and hand-stitched it over the acrylic comb form. Today I painted it black, and antiqued it brown to give it that old look. After drying, I bolted and riveted the comb to the leather helm, and attached the lamp to the front.

I have decided on all of the design elements of the helmet, and have just two more to complete: The eyecover/goggles, and the oxygen canister which will hook up to the snout. With this equipment our intrepid explorer will be protected from extremes in pressure and temperature, as well as falling rocks. They will also have a bright light to see what lies before them, and have a fresh supply of oxygen to weather the pockets of foul air. Hopefully this will protect them from all unforseen dangers that might lurk ahead.
These giant sized paper glasses are my beginning attempt to work out the pattern for the goggles. This is going to take a lot of trial and error to get it right.


With every additional piece (snout, comb, lamp and goggles) added to the helmet the weight increases, and along with it the pressure applied from gravity. At this late stage of construction I know of no way to stiffen the leather itself to better support this weight, and so I decided to build a fiberglass inner shell.

Since the original plastic astronaut helmet is made out of poyethylene--a rather slippery synthetic--I figured I could make the fiberglass directly over it. I took a piece of 5" wide nylon stockinette and it just stretched over the plastic helmet. Then I saturated it with polyester resin and after curing I had a thin strong form that matched the inside of the Explorer's helmet.

I cut the fiberglass shell in half, removed it from the form, and trimmed it down to fit my leather helmet. Above you can see it being contact cemented into the helmet.

Next I attached the recently completed goggles, which can easily be removed. The photos show it with the optional snout removed, so that we can see the face inside.


I am holding a competition to write the back story that will accompany my Underground Explorer helmet. I am looking for an original and creative tale of a steampunk genre that explains who the owner of the helmet is, and how the helmet came to be. Most if not all of the helmet’s features should be touched upon: The goggles, the respirator (snout), the comb with attached headlamp, and the attached breathing device.

The helmet as pictured is almost but not quite complete. The explorer will have an oxygen canister which connects to the respirator with a black corrugated rubber hose. The canister can be worn on the back or over the shoulder.

This story will be used to promote the sale of the helmet, and will be seen on Etsy, Flickr, and DeviantArt as well as being posted on my blog. The one element that must be adhered to is that the helmet is for underground exploration. It is made almost entirely of leather. The lamp is positionally adjustable. The goggles have dark lenses. The respirator has two side faux metal pieces in addition to the hose that connects to the oxygen canister. Both the goggles and the respirator are detachable.

The competition will run from now until May 31. I alone will be the judge and will determine the winner, who will be announced on June 1. The winner will receive a prize which consists of a $39 credit at my Etsy store, plus shipping. Most all of my cut out masks sell for $39, so think of it as your choice of a mask, although the winner can apply it anyway they want.

Please make your story between 300 and 500 words. You may submit more than one entry. Have fun and start writing! Get as crazy as you like. If you have any questions post them here on this blog. For your finished entry please email it to tom (at) tombanwell (dot) com.
I have had a good response to my writing competition. Seems like there are a lot of writers happy for an excuse to create a short steampunk story.


The final piece of the undeground explorer helmet is the oxygen canister which connects to the leather snout. Pictured below is the antiqued canister with rubber tubing and the connection at the other end.

Still to construct is the leather strapping which will allow the canister to be worn on the back or over the shoulder. Brownie points to anyone who can identify the original item from which the canister was made.

I leave for Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA exactly one week from today, and the finished helmet will be the centerpiece of my display.
The steampunk writing competition is closed. I am still recovering from exhibiting at the Carnivale Mechanique encampment at Maker Faire, and will need a day or two to choose the winner. I received eight entries, from Brazil, the UK, Singapore, Canada and the US. Many thanks to all who participated.
All of the eight entries I received were wonderfully creative and deserving, and it was a difficult choice for me to select the winner. However I feel that the story of an alien subterranean invasion submitted by Terry Sofian from St. Louis, Missouri reached the highest level. Many thanks again to all who participated.

I will be posting all of the stories in my blog within the next few days, so that everyone can enjoy them. Below is the winning entry.


Here is the winning story by Terry Sofian:

It was a scene even Dante could not have imagined. The sound of explosions was a continuous roar, not discrete individual blasts but a hot ocean of noise pounding over the Cornish hills. Dust and smoke blotted out the blue sky and vast banks of deadly fog hugged the ground, pouring from cylinders, draining into the deep wounds carved into the earth. Occasionally an alien arthropod would scuttle above ground, desperately trying to escape the subterranean trap The Hive had become. Field artillery or machineguns would bark and the alien’s carapace would shatter. More chitinous fragments would be strewn across the nightmare landscape. Even through the periscope in the armored railcar the panorama was horrific.

Major Barnes and his Company had the terrible task of finishing this war. The end would not come until every inch of alien tunnel under the soil of England had been searched and each last maggot and egg destroyed. Paramount was determining if any mated couples had survived the bombardment or worse yet had escaped to start the horror all over again. That was a job for the PBI, the Poor Bloody Infantry.

Barnes enjoyed a final puff on his pipe before handing it off to his batman. Odd, he’d gladly inhaled the sweet tobacco smoke but would need to protect himself from even a tiny hint of the gases now filling the enemy Hive. Even a single breath of that stew would kill a man. To allow him and his men to breathe Woolwich had provided the new Mark IV Respirator Helmets; a vast improvement over the ones he had worn as a young subaltern during the disastrous Christmas Assault eight months earlier. With built in goggles to give a wide angle of vision and prevent the debilitating blindness of chemical burns, he’d not risk having his glasses jolted from his face. The backpack tanks held septoxygen a dense liquid form of the life-giving element which would be made breathable by catalysts within the mask’s snout-like face-piece. Finally a bright headlamp would keep the soldiers’ hands free. They would have more deadly things to carry than torches.

Leather vests with pockets holding bombs, gas canisters and ammunition kitted out each soldier as they stood waiting for the signal to go “on air” and leave the safe confines of their armored railcar. Barnes stood by while his experienced NCOs did a final inspection. He knew that for many, perhaps for all of them, it would be a final inspection indeed. He drove the thought from his mind as being un-English. “England expects” and all that. With a smile pasted on his face he nodded to his color sergeant. The batman fitted the helmet over his head and turned on the supply of breathing gas. Shortly the last barrier between his men and hell would be opened. He checked his double rifle and howdah pistol. All four barrels were loaded. He stepped off leading his troops towards the nearest tunnel.


To finish off the underground explorer's outfit for his formal photograph I put together a down and dirty "rock blaster" raygun.

You can cut through solid rock likes it's butter with this puppy!

Anybody recognize what I made this from?


Photos have been recently uncovered of our intrepid hero—the underground explorer—at the beginning of a harrowing journey into the bowels of the earth.

Properly outfitted, our hero naturally returned to much public admiration and acclaim. I have no idea if the raygun was actually utilized.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tauruscat: Engaving the Crest

Just to let you know I haven't been totally ignoring the Tauruscat helmet, here is a picture of the engraving that I've been doing on the crest.

These various parts make up the master, from which I will mold and cast the finished crest.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Zchel Meets the Black Rabbit Mask....

...and this is the result. For more of Rachel's photos see her website. This mask is available at my Etsy store.