Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hedge Apple Hills

So here's my big gift to mom for Christmas this year:

Hm. Doesn't look like much, eh? Well just wait - we'll get there. It was a bit of work, but definitely a fun process. It's been one of those things that took up enough time, and was something always at the back of my mind, or had me cutting out of work a little early to meet with the laser cutting crew, etc that I had a REALLY hard time NOT letting it slip to mom!

My mom owns some family land out in Kansas, which right now she rents out to her brother to farm it. While it wasn't exactly necessary, mom decided to name her land years back - kinda fun actually! Some of you may know what hedge apples are - they're also called osage oranges or monkey balls. Mom thinks they're cool, and I guess they're pretty common out in Kansas. Anyhow - she named her land Hedge Apple Hills, and a couple years back had me design a logo for it - just something she could put on her stationary, etc. Since mom's SO hard to shop for for Christmas, I decided to try turning that sign into some art for her - maybe something rustic looking, something that might've greeted you as you pulled onto her land.

After trying to make contact with some sort of metalsmith/artist months ago, checking with people I know here on campus, contacting artists on the web I've never even met (and never even heard back from!), finally someone on campus pointed me to someone else on campus, who pointed me in the direction of Steve Jordan who works in downtown Kent - less than five minutes from where I work, and just around the corner from my dentist. Cool!

So I met with Steve, and talked to him about what I wanted to do - turn my mom's logo into a metal sign. Turns out my initial ideas (bent wrought iron) and her logo weren't really going to work well together - that was fine, I figured I'd have to modify it. Steve also wasn't going to be able to do the initial work on mom's sign, but pointed me to Quick Service Welding - also in Kent, just a few minutes down the road. Who knew all these cool services were right here in town!?

After meeting with Jim and Spike at Quick Service, we decided I would modify the logo so that it could be laser cut from a single piece of metal. At first I worried this would look "cheap" compared to something constructed, twisted, shaped, etc from metal - but it was worth a shot. Jim had me create the revised logo in a vector format on my computer, which he converted in his CAD software to a format that would work with their laser cutter. Then Spike would take it from there.

And yes, he goes by Spike:

Here's part of the shop where they did the laser cutting...looks like grandpa Carl's old quonset where farming equipment and vehicles were kept!

And here's the computer station where the laser cutting was set up.

Yup, I said laser:

All of the guys I worked with on this project were REALLY cool. While they work more with machine parts, and constructing bigger heavy duty tools, I learned it wasn't so out of the ordinary to ask for something smaller and artsy like this. After we were finished, Spike showed me a slide show spotlighting some of the really cool projects they've worked on - a whale carrier for Shamoo, a giant popcorn popper, a grill, a holey table that chemical-soaked patients are put on to drain through, benches for football stadiums, and more! And they were all more than happy to let me take pictures and video during the whole process.

Here's Spike plunking a big piece of metal on the laser-cutting bed.

Annnnnd starting up the first part of the application that runs all the curves/lines out to the laser cutter...

And then the computer cycles through hundreds and hundreds of starting and ending points (ok, so I had a busy design!).

And there it goes!

Hm, doesn't look like much here, does it?

It was honestly really cool watching all this happen. Sparks were flying (but kept within the confined area), and the laser cutter just zipped along doing it's thing...

A really dark, hard-to-see-what's-going-on video of the laser cutting process, but you can hear me and Spike talking about what's happening:

Here's a cool shot of the almost-complete product.

As soon as the laser cutter was done, Spike knocked out a few loose piece of metal (letters and such that were cut out), and lifted it up - not hot at all!

And here's me with the sign - so the first part was complete!

Once I got it home it was interesting to put the pieces parts back together like a puzzle. I didn't ask to save any of the letter pieces - there would've been too many, most had fallen down into the collection tray beneath the laser cutter, and I'm sure many had starting-cuts in them that would've made them less attractive. But Spike let me grab the HAH and the tree silhoette - cool!

A week or so later I was finally able to get ahold of Steve Jordan - the original guy I met with on the project. Turns out he grew up in Kansas (where mom and dad are from, and pretty much all my relatives live), and knew exactly what a hedge apple was! He had shown me a couple other pieces he'd worked on, described some finishing techniques, and even did a couple different finishes on a piece of scrap metal to show me my options.

I finally settled on hammering of the tree - to sort of give it texture and make it look banged up. We agreed that maybe the rest of the sign didn't need the same texture effect.

And even more hammering!

After seeing a sample of forced rusting, I deciding to pass on that effect - so after the hammering and a quick soapy wash, Steve just gave the sign a coat of high-temp black paint, and then took a scruffy pad (similar to an SOS pad) and scuffed up the sign. Here's the sign pre-scuffing.

And here's Steve with the sign... It turns out I could've done everything Steve did - we have a heavy metal mallet at home, I actually used the same high-temp black paint on the smoker (per Dad's recommendation), I used an SOS pad to add a little extra scuffing once I got the sign home, and Steve told me what polycrylic sealant to use on the sign once it was all done. But I would've had NO CLUE where to start!! And to top it all off, Steve did all of this on his own time!! I made sure to give Steve a small payment to thank him for his work, and dropped off a plate of homemade cookies for him a couple days later, but I worry that wasn't enough for his time and effort.

This guy was really friendly and I think just wanted to help someone make a nice Christmas present for their mom - I had a great time meeting Steve and talking about everything from his metal work to farming out in Kansas and more... Hm...I probably should've taken his cute puppy Cinco some biscuits!

Anyhow, this posting is scheduled to publish Christmas morning. By the time you can read this, mom should have her sign. She's not getting much this year (she's incredibly hard to shop for, plus you know how the economy is tanking!), but hopefully a "homemade" piece of art will go over well. Although I wouldn't recommend taping it to the fridge! ;-)

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