Making A Giant Egg

Completed egg shells

Completed fibreglass shells painted in shellac ready for finishing

The first step in making a giant egg is to make a giant egg – so a mould can be made.

Depending on the size of the egg you want to make will dictate how you go about making the egg form. Since the egg we needed to make was about 60cm tall it was decided to carve it from a block of polystyrene. Since the egg shape is symmetrical it is best to turn it on a lathe.

Preparing polystyrene block for turning

Preparing polystyrene block for turning

The polystyrene has to have plywood boards glued to both ends so a lathe faceplate and tailstock centre can be attached so it can be turned on the lathe.

The corners of the block are then cut off at 45 degrees to make turning a bit easier on the polystyrene. If this is not done it is likely large chunks will break off when the lathe chisel is applied to the turning block.

It is very, very messy turning polystyrene on a lathe so ensure the work area is covered with something to collect the shavings and clean up regularly as you work. This will minimise the polystyrene getting into every nook and cranny of your workshop.

Polystyrene mounted on the lathe ready for turning

Polystyrene mounted on the lathe ready for turning

Basic shape completed on the lathe

Basic shape completed on the lathe

Completed polystyrene egg

Completed polystyrene egg

The polystyrene is removed from the lathe and the two ends trimmed. Sandpaper is used to smooth both ends until their radius makes a smooth transition around the egg shape. It is important to get the shape exactly right with no obvious flat spots or sudden changes in the radius.

To support the egg while making the mould a box was built to put the egg form into so the middle flange can be made with plasticine. Once that has been done it is given a coat of PVA mould release in preparation for fibreglassing.

Ply box for making the top half of the mould.

Ply box for making the top half of the mould.

Flange finished around egg

Flange finished around egg and mould release applied

After the top half has been fibreglassed a timber support is fibreglassed on the mould so it sits horizontal when put on its side. The egg with the first half of the mould attached is removed from the support box and turned upside down to expose the underside of the egg form. This is cleaned up, PVA mould release applied and the second half is coated with fibreglass as described in previous mould making posts.

After polishing the inside of the mould halves with wax fibreglass casts are taken and trimmed to the flange line around the mould on both halves.

The two completed fibreglass mould halves

The two completed fibreglass mould halves

Fibreglass casts for egg ready for joining

Fibreglass casts for egg ready for joining

To ensure that both halves of the egg are joined together securely they need to be fibreglassed along the inside centre seam of the egg. To do this an access panel is cut in one half that is big enough to get your hand inside the egg shell. Blocks of wood are attached to the inside of the shell around where the access panel will be cut. This allows for easy re-installation of the panel section after the work has been done.

You can see the alignment blocks in the photo below with the access panel removed.

Cutting out an access panel in one half

Cutting out an access panel in one half

Access panel removed

Access panel removed so halves can be fibreglassed together

The two halves are taped together with mylar tape to keep them aligned. They are then fibreglassed on the inside along the centre seam. Once this has been done the access panel can be glued back into position and all gaps around the panel opening and the centre egg seam can be filled with polyester filler.

After sanding smooth the fibreglass is given a primer coat of de-waxed shellac.

Halves taped in position

Halves taped in position for fibreglassing from the inside

Access panel glued back in position

Access panel glued back in position and gaps filled and sanded

The completed eggs can be seen in this post.

Making Foam Wings

Completed wing

Completed flexible wing covered in fleece fabric

The recent Wayside Chapel winged heart project had two large wings that flapped up and down under the control of a pneumatic cylinder. For safety reasons it was decided to make foam wings so they would be flexible enough to prevent someone getting their head taken off if they happened to contact a wing when it was operating.

However part of the wing had to be structural for the correct flapping motion to be achieved. This was solved by making the bottom section of the wing with a plywood core and the rest from a sandwich of 5mm closed cell foam. The steps of the construction are shown below.

Clicking on an image brings up a larger image.

Plywood and foam wing core

A 12mm foam core extension is glued to the edge of the lower plywood core

Perspex stiffener for foam wing tip

A polycarbonate stiffener is glued to the foam to hold it straight while still being flexible

Front and back foam cover sheet

A 5mm sheet of foam was glued to both sides of the plywood and foam core for strength.

Foam covered wings

Both wings have the front and back of their ply and foam cores covered in 5mm foam.

Another sheet of 5mm foam was cut out to the wing shape and the lines of the feathers were cut. Narrow strips of foam were then glued along these cuts so that when it was turned over there would be a raised feather line in the foam.

Feather line cutting

Here the foam has been cut following the line of the feathers

Raised sections on feather lines

The strips of foam glued along the feather cut lines to make raised sections

Rasied feather lines

Raised feather line foam layer glued to a wing showing the raised outline of the feathers

More raised detail added

More raised foam detail is glued to the front wing surface

Next ivory coloured cotton fleece fabric was glued over the foam wings. This gave the wings a softer look and highlighted the raised feathers and other detail.

Glueing fleece fabric to wings

Glueing cotton fleece fabric to the foam wings

Feather detail of completed wings

Completed wings fitted to the wing mechanism showing the feather detail

Making a Giant Heart

Completed giant fibreglass heart

Completed giant 3D fibreglass heart

The making of a giant 3D heart for the recent Wayside Chapel winged heart project was a great exercise in how to sculpt large objects for armatures to make large fibreglass moulds. The heart had to be made as quickly and cheaply as possible so some shortcuts were made that had both positive and negative consequences.

Instead of making a two piece mould it was decided to make a perfectly symmetrical half mould so both front and rear sections could be cast from the same mould. This was achieved by first drawing half a heart on a piece of plywood. A second piece of plywood was fastened under the first and then both pieces were cut as one on a bandsaw. After sanding the the edges smooth the plywood *sandwich* was split and fastened together, side by side, making a perfectly symmetrical heart shape.

Heart outline in ply

A symmetrical outline of the heart was made from ply and fastened to support table

making armature with ply strips

Building up the heart profile using templates and ply strips

Heart shape in ply strips

Rough heart shape defined by ply strips

Hessian covering over ply

Ply framework covered with hessian

Plaster applied over hessian

Casting plaster was applied over the hessian covering to make it rigid.

second layer of plaster and hessian applied

A second layer of casting plaster and hessian is applied over form work

To smooth the heart shape a thick layer of Gyprock top coat filler was applied using a spatula taking care to make the layer as smooth as possible.

Applying Gyprock

Applying the Gyprock top coat filler over the plaster form. It was carefully filled out to match the heart outline defined by the base ply template.

Smoothing the form

Form ready for smoothing after the Gyprock dried

In the rush to get the mould made I decided to save time by not making the heart form super smooth before applying gelcoat and matting. Instead I would apply a double thickness of gelcoat when making the mould and then sand any irregularities from the mould directly. A quick coating of wax mould release was applied before applying the gelcoat and fibreglass matting over the heart form. This was a big mistake. The wax soaked into the not quite dry Gyprock allowing the gelcoat to stick firmly to the heart form making its easy removal impossible.

Mould completion

With the fibreglassing completed the mould was ready to be removed from the form but it would not budge.

Removing the heart form

The mould was firmly stuck to the heart form. Weighing in at over 100kg the mould had to be lifted from the work table so the form could be cut out from underneath the mould

Removing formwork

Once the bottom of the mould was exposed the timber formwork could be dug out

Plaster removal

Removing the plaster and hessian reinforcement

Once the ply form work and hessian had been removed there was still a thick layer of plaster and Gyprock stuck firmly to the fibreglass. The only way to remove it was to use a hammer and chisel. The chisel had its corners rounded and the cutting edge dulled to minimise the inevitable damage that would be done to the mould interior surface.

Removing the plaster and Gyprock

After 4 hours work only half the mould had been cleaned.

More plaster removal

About 8 hours later the last of the plaster and Gyprock was removed from the fibreglass surface

Cleaning mould

Wet’n’dry was used to sand the irregularities and scratches from the mould inside surface

Waxed mould ready for use

The mould after being cleaned and waxed ready to have a cast taken

Red gelcoat in mould

First layer of gelcoat with red pigment applied to the mould. This was followed by two layers of matting.

Fibreglass casting from mould

The first fibreglass heart shell removed from the mould. It popped out very easily because the mould release was applied correctly this time.

The shell of fibreglass was very flexible and had to have bracing fitted inside to make it rigid. This was done by hot glueing pieces of cotton rope on the inside and applying fibreglass matting over the top. The front shell also had a steel framework fitted so it could be attached to the wing mechanism.

Internal bracing of heart shell

The internal bracing in the front heart shell showing the cotton rope before being fibreglassed.

Completed 3D heart

Heart shells join line covered with cloth tape and polished

Qantas 747 Jumbo Float

Qantas 747 jumbo float

The Qantas 747 Jumbo Float of Gayviation from the 1997 Mardi Gras parade

There were many creative entries in the recent 2016 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade in Sydney. One that caught my eye was the Qantas #gay380 float which brought back memories from almost 20 years ago when the original idea of a Qantas 747 Jumbo float was first realized by the Qantas social group, Gayviation.

Gayviation’s 1997 entry (one of 200 that year!) was the forerunner of the later large marching entries in the parade with almost two hundred people doing an airline safety demonstration dance routine to the music of Paul Capsis singing “I still call Australia home”. The entry won “Best of Parade” at the 1997 Mardi Gras Awards Night.

This was a time before the ubiquity of digital cameras and social media so the only record of the time was predominately on film and VHS video. I went through my old negatives and scanned the photos taken in preparation for the 1997 parade and share them here with a brief narrative on the lead up to the parade. Click on any photo for the full size version.

The concept

Qantas 747 Jumbo front truck

The front truck of the Qantas 747 Jumbo was christened COCKATOO DREAMIMG.

Gayviation’s concept was very simple. Tony Baker, their president, told me they wanted a Qantas 747 Jumbo float consisting of a front truck, being the nose and cockpit of the aircraft, and a rear truck being the tail. It was to go up Oxford Street with a large marching troupe between the two floats, representing the passengers, doing an airline safety demonstration dance routine to a dance track produced by Tiger Recording with Paul Capsis singing “I still call Australia home”. There were to be generators on both trucks to power lighting for the marchers and a complex sound system.

Because of the length of the entry the marchers at the rear couldn’t hear the music from the front truck so a radio link was planned to feed the music from the front truck to the rear truck so those at the back could hear and stay in time with the music of the routine.

The Design

I set about designing a metal framework with the shape of a 747 fuselage that completely enclosed a tabletop truck. I was Head of Props at Opera Australia at the time and was allowed to use the workshop facilities in Surry Hills to build the float. It was built in five sections that bolted together to form the shape of the fuselage. All the metal frameworks and wooden fuselage side panels were built at the Opera workshop and fitted to the truck. Once this was completed everything was transferred to the Mardi Gras workshop in Erskineville.

Mardi Gras workshop 1997

Main cabin frame covered and painted in the Mardi Gras workshop

Full Mardi Gras workshop 1997

Top cabin section hanging from the Mardi Gras workshop roof

At the Mardi Gras workshop the steel frames were covered with chicken wire and then glued over with newspaper. Once it had dried it was painted white and had the signage applied. The tail section was built at the Mardi Gras workshop and consisted of a large inverted “V” shape made of plywood which would conceal the generator and sound system. The logo on the tail of the flying kangaroo in a stiletto heel was the brainchild of one of the flight attendants at the time. The rest of the tail truck was masked with black fabric to highlight the tail fin.

Parade Day

On the morning of parade day the front and rear trucks were assembled for the first time in the petrol station outside the Mardi Gras workshop and then driven to Jands lighting in Alexandria to have the lighting and sound systems installed. The installation of all the lights took a particularly long time which became quite stressful as the afternoon wore on.

Sound and lighting installation

Fitting lighting and sound systems to the front and rear trucks at Jands warehouse

Front truck Mardi Gras 97 stressing

My anxiety levels were beginning to show as time was running out to get to the parade start

The removable front nose cone was covered in an open mesh material so that the driver of the truck could see out when it was fitted to the front of the fuselage frame. The side passenger windows were also aligned so that those next to the truck cabin could be used to see out to the side.

Qanta 747 "Cockatoo Dreaming" leaving the warehouse

COCKATOO DREAMING being driven out of its “hanger” for the first time was an exciting moment for all.

Eventually all the lighting rigs and sound systems were finally connected up and tested. Qantas 747 Jumbo “Cockatoo Dreaming” was ready to see the light of day.

It was an exciting and memorable moment for everyone to see it being driven out of the warehouse at Jands Lighting for the first time.

The picture below is the only time that the front and rear trucks were set front to back to show how the complete Qantas 747 Jumbo float looked before being driven to the parade marshaling area in the city.

Qantas 747 Jumbo complete float

The front and rear trucks of “Cockatoo Dreaming” ready to go to the parade.

traveling to the parade

The two trucks on the way to the parade

Qantas 747 float in Redfern

Qantas 747 Jumbo Float passing through Redfern.

As is generally the case, the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry. After the Sun had set we discovered it was difficult for the driver to see through the nose cone section so a segment of material had to be cut out to give a clear view. The radio link with the rear truck also failed on the night so the marchers at the rear had to rely on visual cues to keep in time with the front marchers during the safety demonstration routine.

Good luck kiss

Tony Baker and myself wishing “Cockatoo Dreaming” good luck just before the parade start.

Mardi Gras 1997 parade official video poster

Qantas 747 Jumbo featured on the Mardi Gras 1997 Parade Video promotional poster

The parade was a blur of colour and sound and a terrific time was had by all. All the effort was worth the once in a lifetime experience of taking a Qantas 747 Jumbo up Oxford Street. The video shows the parade entry on the night. Great memory 🙂


Buggery's Creek International Airport railway station - 1998 Mardi Gras parade

Buggery’s Creek International Airport railway station – 1998 Mardi Gras parade

The following year Gayviation did another parade entry. The Qantas 747 Jumbo float from the previous year was ressurected with new livery and I built another float consisting of an illuminated rainbow coloured control tower which led the entry up Oxford Street.

The float represented Buggery’s Creek International airport railway station and along with the illuminated model of the Sydney airport control tower featured a classic Sydney Rail railway platform built over the truck cabin. The power generator was concealed by several bushes behind the cabin. Two large power line towers, typical of Western Sydney, completed the picture and supported the lighting.

At the time there was hot debate about a new airport at Badgery’s Creek with a new rail link which is *still* going on as I write this post. I hope they end up putting in a fast rail link as it is “out to buggery” – an Australian colloquialism for a very long way away. Another one, “go to buggery”, is an impolite way to tell someone to “get lost” or “go away”.

Below is a video of the Control Tower and 747 Jumbo in the 1998 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

Paint Tin Disposal

Hydraulic paint tin crusher

Hydraulic paint tin crusher

In any workshop you inevitably end up with a paint tin disposal problem. Any paint left over from projects is usually kept for possible use in the future which, over time, results in a large number of used paint tins accumulating in the paint cabinet.

I recently embarked on a paint tin disposal program which involved checking each and every paint tin in the workshop to see if their contents were still usable. I was not surprised to find many had contents that had separated, skinned over or solidified into jelly. Some could be revived with some dedicated stirring while other tins had rusted bottoms and developed leaks when stirred. In all there were about a dozen or so tins that were beyond saving while the rest, after being stirred and date marked, were put back into the paint cabinet – for possible use in the future.

Drying paint tin contents on newspapers

Drying paint tin contents on newspapers

Paint tin disposal is a messy business. Correct disposal involves emptying any leftover paint onto newspapers, letting it dry and then discarding the newspaper. Before the tins are discarded they should be left open for a few days so any remaining paint can dry out. Garbage collectors are not impressed if two or three litres of Arctic Mint acrylic is released into their load and, more importantly, when it all ends up in a landfill paint tins eventually corrode letting their contents leech into the soil and contaminate the environment.

After following the correct procedure I was left with a dozen empty tins which could not fit into the rubbish bin. Since the majority of the volume of the tins was air I decided to flatten them. Now I guess I could have done this with a big hammer but I wanted to do it with a bit more style and finesse. A steel frame was made up that bolted onto a modified 12 ton hydraulic pipe bender as shown above right. It only took ten minutes to crush all the tins into flat discs that made their disposal a breeze. It was also tons of fun.

4 litre paint tin flattened for disposal

4 litre paint tin flattened for disposal

Flattened four litre paint tin

Flattened four litre paint tin

Custom Oriental Style Finials

Oriental style finials

Oriental style finials on the bridge

Once the Japanese bridge had been built and installed the making of the custom oriental style finials to fit on each bridge post could begin. The post trim on decorative garden bridges (if any) are usually round wooden finials from a local hardware store. These are great for a Victorian staircase bannister but are not an exciting option for a Japanese bridge. With this in mind we decided to design our own oriental style finials that would enhance the Japanese flavour of the bridge.

A common finial shape on Japanese bridges is an onion-like sphere mounted on round bridge posts. Our bridge had square posts so the onion shape was combined with traditional Japanese roof design so it would fit to the posts. The final result compliments the Japanese style of the rest of the bridge. To keep costs to a minimum it was decided to cast the finials in plaster. Hessian was used around the edges where it was thinner to add reinforcement to the plaster. Several “drop tests” were made which proved the plaster cast to be very robust and suitable for dressing the bridge. The finials were sealed with shellac and finished in gold enamel paint. The bright gold dulled over a period of weeks to leave a nice metallic bronze finish on the finials.

The completed oriental style finials will now be fitted to the posts of the Japanese bridge.

Oriental finial mould making

Oriental style finial ready for making its latex mould

Final latex mould

Completed latex mould of the finial ready for casting

Completed Finial mould

The completed finial mould ready for casting

Oriental finial plaster castings

Completed plaster casts of the finials ready for sanding

Finials sanded and sealed with shellac

Finials after sanding and sealed with shellac

Completed custom oriental finials

Finials completed with a coat of gold enamel

Removable End Section

Sometimes items need to be dismantled for transport so long prop items, such as staffs, spears etc, need to have a removable end section. There are several ways to approach this problem which will depend on how the prop will be used. The most secure choice is to use a bolt that screws the two pieces together. This approach ensures the end won’t fall out or drop off at the wrong time.

The following steps illustrate how to make a screw joint for a staff with an intricate end such as our recent Janna’s staff. The end needed to be removed for transport to protect it as well as to make it more manageable for transport.

Welding the nut

Preparing for welding the nut

The first step is to cut a thick steel washer (1) to fit inside the steel tube that will fit over the end of the wooden dowel of the staff. The nut is held in position with a small bolt (2) and then is welded to the washer (3). The washer/nut assembly will fit onto the end of the steel tube as shown (4). A larger washer is used to align the nut assembly with the end of the steel tube.

Welding the nut end

Welding the nut assembly to the steel tube

Several holes are drilled around the end of the steel tube (1) so that the nut (or bolt head) is exposed when fitted into the steel tube (2). The nut (or bolt head) is welded to the steel tube and the welds smoothed (3). The holes are then filled and sanded smooth (4).

Completed removable end piece

Completed removable end piece

The same procedure is repeated on the second steel tube but this time a bolt is used instead of a nut (1). One steel end is fastened to the dowel staff shaft. The dowel diameter is the same as the steel tube so the dowel needs to have its diameter reduced to slip inside the steel tube. It is then filled and sanded to look like a continuous length of dowel .The two steel tube sections can now screw together to form a strong connection (2).

The other steel section was fitted inside the staff fibreglass end piece. When the two pieces are screwed together there is no noticeable join.

Chinese Cloisonne Enamelware

Example of cloisonné enamelware

Example of cloisonné enamelware

The Chinese have been making Cloisonne enamelware since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The name comes from the French “cloison” meaning “partition” or “dividing band”. A pattern is made from wire or thin copper strips which is attached to a metal base. The resulting partitions, or cloisons, are filled with enamel and then fired in a kiln. This process is repeated until the cloisons are filled and then the surface is polished smooth. The object is then plated with gold which stops the exposed metal from tarnishing.

Beijing cloisonne enamelware factory

No trip to Beijing is complete without visiting the Beijing Enamel Factory which is the largest producer of cloisonne enamelware in China. You are taken on a fascinating guided tour of the processes involved in creating cloisonne enamelware. After being educated in the finer points of the process you are led (surprise surprise!) to the vast showroom of cloisonne enamelware which is simply breathtaking. I resisted buying but feasted on the beauty of the merchandise.

Step 1 – Making the pattern
Firstly small copper strips are cut and bent into shapes according to the particular design. These strips are then glued to the copper vase with gum. You can see the gum in the closeup photo of part of the design. After the design has been laid out flux is applied and when the vase is heated solder flows around all the joins and fastens the pattern to the vase surface.

cloisonne enamelware copper strips

Cutting and shaping copper strips

cloisonne enamelware strip glueing

Glueing the copper pattern

Detail of glued copper strips

Detail of glued copper strips

Step 2 – Applying the pigments
Next artists fill each cloison with coloured pigments according the the design. These come in a multitude of colours and shades. The vase on the right is ready for firing with its first application of enamel pigments.

Pattern after soldering

Pattern after soldering

Lots of pigments for the pattern

Lots of pigments for the pattern

Vase with first pigment layer

Vase with first pigment layer

Step 3 – Firing the vase
The objects to be fired are placed in a kiln and heated until red hot. The pigments melt and are drawn into the cloisons by capillary action and meld with the metal. The left photo shows the red hot vases when removed from the kiln. When they have cooled (right) the colours of the pigments can be seen.

Glowing red hot just out of the kiln

Glowing red hot just out of the kiln

Colours become apparent as the vase cools

Colours become apparent as the vase cools

Step 4- Filling the cloisons
Steps 2 and 3 are repeated several times until the cloisons have been filled with enamel.

Adding more pigment to the cloisons

Adding more pigment to the cloisons

Applying pigments finished

Applying pigments finished

Step 5 – Polishing
The vase is held firmly in a special lathe and various grades of abrasive blocks are used to smooth the surface. Once the operator is happy with the finish the vase is removed revealing the brilliant finish.

Polishing the vase

Polishing the vase

Finished vase ready for gilding

Finished vase ready for gilding

The last step, which our guide said we couldn’t see because it was a secret process (duh?), was to gild the vase with gold to stop the exposed copper from tarnishing. Electroplating would be expensive and messy so, knowing that the Chinese are masters of mass production, I would say they use the electroless process of gold plating which simply involves immersing the object to be plated in a chemical (albeit toxic) solution for a few minutes. The gold adds the finishing touch to the completed item.