Friday, September 6, 2013

The Flying Anvil

At work there is this open common area that our offices surround.  We wanted to turn it into a comfortable, fun lounge area.  We decided to decorate it with a "backstage" theme.  One thing we were going to do is run several ropes up one wall to pulleys on the ceiling.  So we got some rope.  We planned on building a smoothie bar that would sit in front of the rope wall.  Someone came up with the idea of having a heavy object hanging from one of the ropes like a counter weight.

The obvious choice was a piano.

The problem is, that it couldn't be a real piano, because that wouldn't be very safe. Anyway, the folks down the hall got themselves an antique player piano and we didn't want to seem like copycats. So the next obvious choice was an anvil. And we would call the bar (and lounge) "The Flying Anvil".

We wanted the anvil to be unrealistically big.  The problem with that is that "unrealistically" means "not real".  You can't find things that are not real - I've tried.  So the obvious solution is to make a not-real anvil.  It would probably be safer too, which would please our facilities guys - and the lawyers.

People always ask me how I did things, so I'm putting the explanation here:

The first thing I did was some research.  I found pictures of real anvils and drew up orthographic diagrams to use as a template.

I was going to make it out of pink foam - the kind that is used for insulation.  It's the same stuff I used for tombstones.  So I took about 12 pieces of 2 inch foam and glued them all together to make a rectangular cube about 4 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet.

I used my template to draw the shape on a few sides of the foam. Using a number of tools:  a sawzall, bread knife, hacksaw, and drywall saw, I cut out the shape of the anvil.

In order for it to be believable as metal, the surface had to be very smooth.  The process of hacking out the shape, and the glued layers left lots of  cracks, dents, and holes.  The first thing I did was sand the whole thing.  I used an orbital sander, a dremmel tool, a multitool, and my hand with a sheet of sandpaper.

To fill the cracks and holes, I used joint compound.  If you are not familiar with this stuff, it's a type of plaster that is used for hiding the joints in drywall.  It has the consistency of peanut butter, so it can be spread very easily.  When it dries, it is very light, unlike heavier plaster of paris.

Once that dries (overnight), I sand it again.  The joint compound shrinks a bit when it dries, so I put another coat where needed to smooth out the surface.  Then I let it dry again, then sand again.

It's time to start painting. The pink foam can get pretty smooth, but there is always a bit of fuzziness to it. To smooth it even more, I prime the whole thing with a thick coat of latex-based house paint.  The color doesn't matter.  This paint will do a number of things to prepare it for the real paint.  It smooths the fuzzy surface, it fills micro cracks that may still remain, and it protects the foam from spray paint. Spray paint will eat away the foam.

So I paint the whole thing, let it dry, and then sand it.  Then I paint another coat and sand it again.  Now I've got a nice smooth surface that can take whatever paint I need to do next.

I thought it might be nice if there were some distress on the top surface that made it look well used.  I figured some hammer dents would do the trick.  So I hammered it with a rubber mallet.  If I were to hammer the pink, unpainted foam, it might tear or crack.  The layer of house paint adds some strength to it so you get dents without tears - pronounced like 'pairs' (but tears - like 'ears' would also apply).

Now its time to do the real painting.  I'll start with a base coat of silver spray paint.  This stuff is nice, but it never looks like real metal by itself.  For the look of old steel or iron, though, it's an important place to start.

After it dries and I sand it smooth, it's time to add some character.  I want to fill and dents or cracks with dark color.  I do this by making a black wash by simply adding water to some black acrylic paint in a bowl so that it has the consistency of milk.  Then I use a soft, damp rag, and sip it into the paint then rub and dab the black paint all over the surface.  I immediately wipe it off with a dry rag.  This leaves behind a nice patina of black in general, and a deeper black in the recesses.

You can see that I left some areas fairly rough.  These areas exist in real anvils as a result of the forging process.  It also allows for some interesting detail with the wash.

For another level of detail, I sprinkled some powdered graphite on the surface and rubbed it in with a soft cloth.. Graphite has a metallic feel to it, so it adds to the realism.  But be careful!  It's super messy, and even after you rub it on, it will come off onto anything that touches the surface.  We'll seal it later.

Nearly done now.  But no hunk of metal is going to last long without some oxidation happening.  I don't want it to be super rusty, but a hint of rust here and there will add a ton to the realism. Similar to the black wash, I prepare a rust wash using raw sienna and a touch of red.  Then I dab it here and there and wipe it off.  In some places, I didn't wipe it off to make it look more rusted.

 The last bit of painting to be done is to bring some silver back to the work surface.  I dry-brushed some silver acrylic paint across the to surface and the top of the horn with a rag.  I also dry-brushed some onto the edges where you might expect more wear to occur.
Finally, I sealed the graphite by spraying it with a light coat of clear gloss spray.  Once it's all dry, here's what you get:

It looks heavy.  Like it should weigh 1000 lbs.  But it actually weighs 2.8 lbs.  Less than 3 pounds!  Here's proof!  My kids are strong, but not 1000 lbs strong!

Sadly there were some office moves, so our plan for "The Flying Anvil" smoothie bar fell through.  But I've got a giant anvil and a bunch of rope.  What do I do with it?

I hang it over my office door of course.