Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Offering

This fountain's outermost edges are exactly 12"x12"x12" - one cubic foot.  Water flows up through it, fills its single basin and then spills over the side through the rocks on the ground and into a second basin hidden underneath that conceals both the pump and the heater.

In this case the heater was located next to but below the pump, to prevent the exposure problems that previous fountains experienced..

This fountain was cast with the help of my buddy Philly who had fifty years of experience working with concrete.  He suggested I use high-strength grout instead of ordinary concrete.  We used 5500 psi grout.  This gave it a lighter grey appearance and a finer more bubble-free surface finish because the grout (when workable) is substantially less viscous than concrete.  Over time it's cracked and discolored, but it is still in use, and has outlasted all my previous cast fountains.  It has run everyday, all day since 2004, and is currently on pump #3 and heater #6.

The original idea sketch.

Because the concept of the perfect cube figured into the idea I was determined that it be as perfect a cube as I could get it.  The wooden box helped prevent bowing of the mold.  At the time this was the largest item I had cast, and still today it is the most complicated. 

After it came out of its mold I let it cure for another few days underwater in order to get its strength to come up as much as possible.

Here you can see the basin installed underneath the garden rocks. 

 The lower basin is then filled in with rocks.  The rocks serve as a natural filtration of the water, and prevent detritus (leaves etc.) from clogging the fountain, which had been an issue on previous casts.  This photo was taken on its first day of operation.  The black color seen in the photograph at the top is is the dark green of the surface algae growing on the concrete.

Start of the algae growth.

Even in 10" of snow, the heater keeps the water, liquid.

From above.

Step Fountain

On July 4th of the following year I began working on the mold for the next fountain.  This one was cast with ordinary concrete with a heavy cement to aggregate ratio.  In order to minimize cracking, the walls were made especially thick, and reinforcement was left out.

The pump was contained in the lower basin, and connected by rubber tube to the upper one.  The same lava rocks used in the two previous fountains were used in the bottoms of both pools.

Two problems showed up immediately.  The first was the apparent blow out of three sides of the upper basin (which upside down would be the deepest part of the mold - where pressure is greatest).

Because I wasn't all that skilled with a grinder I decided to leave the blowouts as they were.  The second problem was with the spill slot in the upper basin - it was too shallow.  The cast slot was only an inch deep.  Water pumped to the upper basin would fill it, and then overflow its outside edges.  I had to lower the edge of the slot, effectively enlarging it so that enough water could flow through to keep up with the pump.

This fountain, unlike the others which were on timers, ran all day, and all year.  I installed a 150-watt aquarium heater to prevent freezing.

Birds went crazy for it in the cold weather, and at least once we caught doves sleeping in it overnight - the water temperature was a warm 50 degrees, and the air temperature was in the single digits that night.  The birds stayed with just their heads above the surface.

This fountain lasted longer than the two that came before it, five years.  In its fifth winter, the heaters started to give me problems - they'd crack.  Replacement heaters, even ones meant for bird baths were of no help.  Birds would splash water out of the fountain during the day, the heater would be exposed, and when it was refilled, the cooler water shattered the hot glass of the heater.  The final winter, cracks appeared in the walls of the upper basin, where the concrete was only an inch thick.  By that summer, it could no longer hold water.

Winter view.  The heater keeps the water liquid and the snow at bay.

Block Fountain

The summer after the pyramid fountain collpased, I cast this one.  It was 6" deep overall  with a 3" solid base, reinforced to prevent it from cracking.

Like its predecessor it also had an acrylic box inserted within it to contain the water, and a flexible rubber liner underneath that.  The power cable for the pump simply stepped over the lip instead of being cast into the base.  The lava rocks stayed too.  The action of the pump created a 4" plume of water at the center that washed over the rocks covering the pump.

This fountain lasted two years before it cracked beyond repair.

Pyramid Fountain

Ordinary concrete will not contain water, which given enough time will wick its way through.  All the same I've made a series of fountains for my backyard over the years.  This was my earliest attempt.

It's an acrylic box, containing an acrylic pyramid, , the base of which was cast into vinyl concrete patch.  I thought the vinyl in addition to the acrylic would keep it watertight.  The power cord for the pump was cast through the side of the concrete.  The pump was placed under the pyramic and connected to the top of it by means of a clear hose.  The larger pyramid had a smaller one on top of it rotated forty-five degrees.  Water poured off the inside of this smaller one in two small streams on opposite sides.   Lava rocks were placed along the bottom.  It was my own metaphor for earth (the concrete), air (the pyramid), fire (the lava rocks) and water.

By the end of summer the concrete had cracked.  By the end of fall it could no longer contain water.  The following year it completely fell apart and collapsed.

The Mantel Clock

While working on the model of the loft apartment I placed a clock on the mantel.  I thought it looked good and included some detail on it.  The more I detailed it the more fascinating it became to me.  In order to develop it further I took the original model from the greater loft model and separated it out. 

I drew full scale working drawings of it.  The face door swings open to wind the strikes.  The back is removable to access the mechanism.  And the top conceals a hidden compartment that holds the winding key.  Note: I didn't design the clockworks, only the wooden cabinet that houses them, the 'body' of the clock.

When I laid the ink-on-trace drawings on top of each other they created a cool composite of the design.
In the course of designing it completely, it changed substantially, so I updated the 3D model to reflect those changes.

Final 3D model.
I found a professional furniture builder and clockmaker in Sandy Utah, Lawrence Cooke, to construct it for me and hired him to do so.  The following pictures of its construction and their captions are his.

The Raw Materials - A few board feet of American Black Walnut, and the precut red oak dial ring.

Planing the rosewood face elements

Cutting the rosewood dial parts and fitting them to the time ring.  Rosewood is very tough and hard on saw blades.  It is very hard to get a saw to cut a curve as the grain fights the blade and kicks it off track.  I gave up using a scroll saw and used a jeweler's saw to cut them by hand.  You can see where I had to use rosewood sawdust and glue to fill in.

Dial board: front view.

The rosewood parts are finished.  I mounted the wrong movement to the dialboard.  This movement uses a 3" pendulum instead of a balance spring.  This movement is for circa 1900 clocks.
I finally got the right movement installed, plus set the chime rods in place to see if I could figure out any install problems before they came.

The dial gets glued together.

The dial door gets clamped and glued flat.

The wood for the sides has been joined and edge-glued.  I used a lot of tape to protect the face from chisel slips while I chamfered the tic marks.
The dial frame gets fitted to the sides and base.

The columns/piers get notched via the radial arm saw.  I hand sharpened a steel hollowground planer blade to get a blade sharpe enough to cut the columns without breaking off the 1/8" space between the kerfs.  Most carbide blades that I can afford aren't sharp enough.

Here I figured out how to install the chime rods without cutting into the sides.  I moved the hammers back on their handles, just enough to clear the chime block.  The sides and bottom are ready for the lift/drop back.

The base is glued to the bottom.  The base parts were rift cut to get the effect of the grain-arch between the feet.

Parts cut for the top assembly.  The door is rabbeted for the glass.  It's a lot of chisel work.

The removable top is taped together for a trial fit.

Another view.  The floor of the top is edge-glued.

The roof assembly is glued together with millions of clamps.

The top floor gets a breadboard edge to that its 45 degree miters match the rest of the entablature.

The top is built, and the glass backstops are cut.

Nearly finished.  Waiting for the face door and hands.