Monday, February 22, 2016

Building the Candle Holder Rack

The actual candle holder rack for the offering luminary table posed a problem for me because I wasn't unsure how I wanted to approach it. I knew I wanted it to be a stepped up rack with different levels, but what it would really look like escaped me.

My well thought out plan of attack

So as I often do, with the barest of ideas in my head, I plunged forward on building something. Had I successfully performed the brazing the other day I might have made it out of more of the aluminum square stock I have on hand. But again, because my skills in this area are sorely lack, and I plan on having live fire burning in the candle holders, I didn't want to have to worry about the joints failing, the candles falling, and the haunt going up in a blaze of fire.So instead, I made it out of wood.

I took some rough measurements of what I thought would be a good size for the candle holder rack and then started trimming some MDF plywood down to size. I wanted it to have a somewhat light and airy appearance, yet also be sturdy enough to hold dozens of candles, so I used 3/4" square pieces, which would ultimately be held together by shelf planks that I would cut holes into.

The next design consideration was how many candles to add to a shelf. My limitations were the spacing between the 3/4" cross members. and the length of the shelf. Because I chose to have three shelves for the most interest, and with the shelves being a bit under 4" wide, that meant the opening that was available to me was around 1-1/2" or so. While I initially thought that would be undersized, I think it will work well in the end.

I laid out the spacing of the holes so that it gave me 9 openings per shelf. I chose that number for a reason.

In religious theology, numbers carry significance. Three, for example, the number of shelves on the candle rack, of course represents the trinity: the father, son, and holy spirit. Nine, however, also has significance as it represents divine completeness: Christ died at the ninth hour; according to Leviticus, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) begins at sunset on the 9th day of the seventh Hebrew month; nine people in the Bible have leprosy; and nine people are stoned to death.

Of course, 3 shelves of 9 candles each gives use 27 candles: John the Baptist's 30th birthday was reputed to be on March 27, 27 A.D.; Mormon leader Brigham Young had 27 wives (what was he thinking?!?!?); Genesis 1:27 is God creating man in his own image; Matthew 27 is Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection; etc.

It's just one of those minor details that no one will ever pick up on but I want to add in. I recall reading once that there's a scene in Disney's Haunt Mansion where there's a book, maybe a dictionary, opened to the letter G, for ghost. The book is actually far away from where any tourist can actually see it, so it's a detail without purpose, other than Disney's penchant for completeness and depth.

I'm nowhere near willing to go to that level with everything, but where I can I think it adds a fun element to the haunt, even if no one else is in on the joke.

But back to building the candle rack: I measured out the spacing of the openings and used a Forstner bit to drill them out, then attached the shelves to framework and gave it two coats of black spray paint. But MDF plywood soaks up paint without a primer, so I'm going to need tout an additional coat on. I was using spray paint but I think I'll put the final coat on in regular acrylic because it will get the best coverage. I also want to add some wood trim to the face of the rack to hide the plywood edge. 

I'm going to hit up a dollar store to see if they have small tea light candle holders, preferably red, that will fit the holes, and I want to fashion a crucifix out of some flat steel stock I have to give it an added touch. But other than that, I think this candle offering luminary is complete. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Building the Candle Offering Table

Plan B is working! Putting together the candle offering luminary table was relatively quick and easy using the L brackets. While brazing the components would have made for a cleaner look, and I would have preferred having the brackets on the inside -- had I bought angle brackets instead of the flat ones I could have (note to self, buy angled next time) -- the black paint covers them up sufficiently and the low light of the haunt should hide any remaining obviousness of the brackets.

Speaking of the paint, I went with a hammered metal paint, primarily because it was what I had on hand that wasn't black gloss, but also, fortuitously, it gives the luminary table a, well, hammered metal appearance, which is totally appropriate.

Another fortuitous development from the table's construction was the support structure for a lower shelf area. While it was originally added for support so the table wouldn't be wobbly, it was immediately apparent it would be perfect for a shelf, too. And though I had considered thinner materials at first, a 3/4" MDF shelf and table top also give it plenty of strength and rigidity and I'll be able to use the lower shelf for displays, such as skulls, rats, etc.  It worked out well in the end.

The one problem with the 3/4" MDF is that for the top shelf it meant that it was above the the tops of the legs that I had raised above the level of the cross members by a 1/2". And I had some gothic finials laying around from a fence I had built (but never finished) and while they fit perfect over the ends (with some help from shims), the MDF made it impossible for them to fit. I considered using 1/4" material, but it just seemed too flimsy and if I was going to have lit candles sitting on top of it I wanted it to be strong.

I could've went with 1/2" material of course, but I didn't have any on hand and didn't want to run to the store to get any, though I may revisit that before the end.

As an interim measure at least, I used some 3/4" square dowel I had on had and trimmed down the lower segment to 1/2" so that the lower end drops into the table leg while the upper 3/4" segment fits into the finial. I'll attach them with a screw. It will work with the 1/2" table top too, so it's adaptable.

Also, in one of those pictures I posted yesterday, there is a cross attached to the back. I like that look and if I have some flat stock on hand will try to make one. Just another detail add to the layering.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Church Candle Offering Luminary Prop

This candle offering table looks appropriately dark
With the stained glass panel installed in the one gothic arch window, I began working on the candle offering luminary table. The table will be positioned just inside the entrance top the haunt and will have a number of (real) votive candles lit, just as you'd find in an actual church foyer. It will serve no other function than to lend a bit of authenticity to the scene, creating another layer of depth and detail.

Despite it's lack of "doing something," I still wanted the table to be sturdy, so I am building it out of 1/2" aluminum stock I have on hand. The best way to construct it would be to weld the pieces together, but my welder tends to melt the aluminum even when on its lowest setting, so I will try a different method that should create a sufficiently solid, sturdy joint: brazing.

Brazing is the technique of heating up the aluminum pieces you want to join to a sufficient temperature that when you touch the brazing rod to it -- a narrow aluminum stick that looks like an incense stick -- the rod melts into the joint. Think of it as soldering copper pipes: you want to heat the metal so the solder flows into the seams.

But it does take some practice to get it right. Aluminum melts at around 1200 degrees or more while the brazing rods melt at around 700 degrees. So you have to have patience in heating the metals, otherwise you won't have a solid joint.

To do the heating, you use a regular propane canister, like the blue ones the big box stores sell from Bernzomatic. They go for about $3 a piece, but if you look at the shelves there's also a yellow canister there. That's the one you should get because it heats up the metal much more quickly. It costs about $10. I didn't get that one. I should have, simply because I don't have the patience apparently to wait long enough.

As quickly became clear while I was brazing the pieces, my joints weren't strong enough. Well one of them wasn't. While one seemed solid enough, the other at the end of the leg came failing.

Even if I ended up getting it, I'd be worried it would fail during the haunt if someone touched it, and since it will have actual lit candles on it, I didn't want to have to worry about it.

Always have a Plan B!
So I opted for Plan B: L brackets! Using a drill and self-tapping screws, I attached the cross members to the legs and it was instantly sturdy. No fear about this build failing.

Due to the amount of time it took to make three attempts at brazing and then attaching the L brackets, I only got one side completed, but I should be able to finish up the rest of it tomorrow and move onto the actual offering table top, which will be a series of stepped up shelves so that one row of candles sits higher than the next.

But that's tomorrow's project!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

2 Fails for Every Success

My efforts to force a patina on the holy water font by using ammonia and salt met with abject failure. Likely because the bowl and crucifix are not actually copper and brass, the technique did absolutely nothing to either item.

So I reverted to Plan B: heating the metal to create a patina-like surface. However, this also has the same flaw in that because they're not actually those metals, they don't react and "tarnish" the same way real copper or brass would. As a result that was a failure too!

The end result was that I turn to the old standby of just using paints and washes to achieve the desired patina. I think washes of greens, blues, and black created an effect that this is an aged holy water font.

After completing that task, which took a surprisingly long time to achieve, I turned my attention to the stained glass window. I completed outlining the design in the grouping of three circles then began painting the images in the lower windows.

Okay! This was actually a lot of fun to do. Admittedly it was a bit tedious, but painstakingly plodding along helped move the project much closer to completion. I think when the window is painted and installed, and the lighting is put in behind it, it will look like a real stained glass gothic arch window. Check out this artist's stained glass window, and you'll see the effect I'm talking about with the window lit from behind with rope lights:

So far I'm very happy with the project's progress,  but of course, there's more to do on this window as well as on the second one. So this project is not yet one for the books.

However, I plan to begin working on the candle offering luminary table, doing both projects simultaneously (for my sanity as well as that of those tagging along and following my progress int hat they don't have to just watch me paint small areas on the stained glass window).

I think I have a workable solution to what could have turned into a major project, but unnecessarily so.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Forced Copper Patinas and Faux Stained Glass Leading

Because the holy water font really should be aged, and not be so shiny, I try my hand at giving the copper bowl an appropriate patina as if it was an old piece.

I should be so lucky if my holy water font comes out looking half this good
A search of the Internet found quite a number of methods, from using a propane torch to heat the metal to using some seemingly caustic chemicals that create a reaction. I opted for a simpler method, one that requires just two household ingredients: ammonia and table salt.

This method of creating a patina appears to be heavily favored in the vaping community. An outgrowth of the electronic cigarette industry, vaping is "smoking" a heated flavored liquid nicotine. Since it's not burning, but rather heating, it creates a vapor (hence the term) rather than smoke. It's purported to be healthier than actual smoking. And it's insane the amount of "smoke" these units, called mods, produce. It looks like an old Cheech & Chong movie.

But the devices, or mods, can often be boring designs. Though they're made of copper or brass, they're not very visually exciting, so owners create a more interesting design on their devices by forcing a patina. To do so, they suspend the devices above ammonia-soaked paper towels in a box for several hours, liberally sprinkling both the towels and the pieces with regular table salt. The patterns created are pretty interesting and I think it will provide a cool effect on my holy water font.

That is if they're really copper and brass. I suspect they're not and are only plated with a thin veneer of the reactive metals. I'm assuming some other metal underlies both coatings, so it may have an impact on how it turns out.

The second project I'm undertaking is creating the stained glass windows. I have two sheets of 1/8" clear plastic and I'll be creating a scene on it after which I'll use acrylic paints to color it in. However, I debated how best to do the lead outline. My initial thought was to use a permanent marker and call it a day -- but where's the fun in that?

I saw online someone used black glue sticks to create the lead, but my search locally for a source turned up only glitter sticks, not black so I guess they're only available online. Well, how many people really have a need for black glue sticks?

I did find an alternative though that I think may just work even better. Fabric paint. Dimensional fabric paint. After application and drying, it leaves a raised line which will give me the look that I'm going for. And because the applicator tip provides a very find line, I think this is just the thing I need. I think it's a convincing result, though perhaps I should have applied it after I painted the window, rather than before. I've got two windows to do, so I'll do one one way, and the other the other way.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Frozen Pipes and Stained Glass Windows

I had wanted to start working on the candle offering table yesterday, but my plans were derailed by a case of frozen water pipes in the kitchen. When the plumbing was installed several years ago, the hot and cold supply lines were placed on an exterior wall and left uninsulated. Since man-made global warming has failed to materialize like we were promised, we continue to have this effect known as frigid temperatures in the winter, which causes the pipes to freeze.

I'm usually attuned to the weather and when I know we're in for one of these arctic blasts I leave the faucets on a trickle. It's a suboptimal solution but it's allowed me to punt having to deal with it for a good long while. My pipes tricked me this time, however, by not freezing overnight as they usually do, but rather at around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., which has never happened -- and it didn't seem all that cold anyway!

When it wouldn't thaw, though, it forced me to take action, so I ended up getting a pair of heating cables that you tape to the pipes and when it senses the temperature is around freezing they supposedly turn on.

After several hours of waiting, the cables never got warm. Most likely it's because the part that gets frozen is actually somewhere between the floor joists and the kitchen, a section that's only a foot or so in size, but completely inaccessible. I've even tried getting at them from outside the house, removing the siding and cutting a hole in the sheathing, but to no avail. The concrete foundation wall is a good 3-feet high and prevents accessing them.

So what I did, since the cables didn't seem to be working, and since I had exposed the pipes to where I could reach them a little, I just took out my heat gun and blasted them. In about 20 seconds the ice dam thawed sufficiently to allow the water pressure to push it through and we had running water again.

I gotta admit, demo-ing the storage room ceiling and attempting to install the cable consumed far more of my time and energy than I planned, not to mention wreaking havoc on my knees, so I didn't have much time left in the day to do any of the projects I had wanted:

* Make the offering candle luminary
* Do the stained glass window
* Age the holy water font

I've got a fun way to tackle the luminary (fun for me, anyway...insert Tim Allen grunts here), which I'll share in the future when I actually start on the project, and my original idea for the stained glass wasn't really going to work.

I'd thought of simply using painted sheets of transparencies to cover the opening, but it really wasn't going to look good because the openings were larger than the sheets and I'd have to use 2 sheets for each window, meaning there would be a line in the middle. So instead I'll use a sheet of plastic, like Plexiglas and Lexan, just not as expensive and then paint it up.

As for aging the font, I want to see if there's a quick way to achieve an aged copper patina, otherwise I'll just have to use paint, because as many of you noted, it's too new and shiny.

But all those projects had to take a backseat to the frozen pipes today. I still need to come up with a long term solution for them because I'm not sure the heating cables will get cold enough to work, but at least there's access to them now so that if they do freeze again, I'll be able to quickly hit them with a heat gun.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Quick DIY Build - The Holy Water Font

When entering a church, there is always a small font where holy water is kept so parishioners can bless themselves as they enter. I knew my church was going to need one too, after visiting a church several months ago to get some design ideas. Having completed the gothic arch windows, I needed to back up a moment to the church vestibule -- or the narthex, as it's called, and make small prop that would help deliver layers of depth to the haunt and give it a more convincing.

Although I had no clear plan going in, I knew I wanted to use the copper bowl I had picked up at a thrift store the other day to serve as the font itself, but it wasn't until I looked at examples of real holy water fonts online, that the the idea of using a crucifix to complete it dawned on me.

I had picked up one recently from Freecycle and realized would be a great addition it. Originally I had been disappointed with the crucifix, because at the time I had been working on my own crucifix for the haunt, and when I saw it listed as "large" I had in my mind that it would be of a similar size. So when I picked it up, it was a bit of a let down.

As it turns out, it worked out perfectly. Combining the brass crucifix with the copper pie tin would give me the necessary look and feel I was going for.

All that was left to do was to mount them, and that was simple enough using a piece of scrap wood. But rather than just screw it to the plank and call it a day, I traced around the crucifix and bowl, cut out the pattern with my jigsaw, stained it with a dark start (to help the brass crucifix stand out), then mounted them with a couple of copper-headed screws I found laying around.

For what was originally going to be a complicated project -- I was thinking of sculpting something out of paper clay -- it turned into a very quick and simple project, one that I think it looks great and will be a perfect addition to the haunt's prop collection.

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