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How to Plan a Fabrication Project for Accurate Results



Kevin is working on a commissioned sculpture called Portal that offers a good opportunity to explain how he fits a sculpture to size.

Do you use a computer? Do you use CAD (Computer Aided Design)? Do you use paper? Nah. Kevin uses chalk.

First he went to the site, a private home in metro Phoenix. This sculpture goes outside the master bedroom in a planter above which a big picture window allows the residents to look at their beautiful garden. They wanted a sculpture in this space but didn't want to obstruct their view.

"Time out," says Kevin, who works primarily in steel and large sculptures. So he cheated, making a large sculpture that you can see through.

At the site, he took a bunch of measurements: the width and height of the window; the bottom of the window to the ground; the outer wall of the planter to the wall of the house; the height of the wall - every dimension he could think of to help him recreate the space in his studio.

He made the sculpture about an inch wider than the window itself and just as tall. Now it's time to find the height from the bottom of the sculpture to the ground. That's where the chalk comes in.

Kevin lowers his magic lift table to show how he figured it. From the ground to the top of the sculpture needs to be 97.5" Now he can work backwards and measure down from the bottom of the sculpture to ground level.

For the base he's using a harrow disk, which is nice and round with a slight dome. It's nice and stable, something that is used to "living" in the dirt, so it's not going to mind being buried in the planter.

Now that he has ground level established, he draws the height of the harrow disk. He adds a piece of pipe, figuring out how tall he wants it to be. Next he knows he needs to do something to the top of the pipe so that he can take some 1/2" x 1/2" square steel stock to attach the base to the sculpture, which is made of 1/4" x 1/4" metal stock. He'll use the 1/2" x 1/2" steel to make "fingers" that reach up from the base and support the sculpture.

Kevin's friend Steve helps him lift the sculpture onto a hook hanging from a block and tackle that he had already set to hold the sculpture at the right height.

Next, Kevin slides the base under the sculpture. The harrow disk is 1/4" thick steel and will last a long time. The post is a 4" diameter, 1/4" wall steel pipe on the top of which he has TIG welded a 1/8" wall steel hemisphere - half of a spun metal ball - grinding the weld to make the base's post domed.

His next step will be to add the fingers, probably two to each side, to attach the sculpture to the base to give it plenty of support. The sculpture isn't heavy, so weight is not an issue, and there's no solid surface to catch any wind.

So that's how Kevin makes his sculptures fit. He gets all of his dimensions, and then draws out everything right on the floor. As another example, if he's building a gate, he'll make a wall out of concrete blocks and add two posts so he can recreate the space he'll have once he gets to the site.

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