Preparing for the overhaul...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Finishing the Chrysnbon Coal Scuttle

I like these little things.  Plus, seeing as how I get a few with (almost) every kit, I can finish them all kinds of different ways.  I only did a couple for this post, because I realized that if I didn't stop soon, it'd never get written.  But I have a few more finishing ideas, so I guess I'll just post those later on.

There are two parts to this: painting the coal scuttle and shovel, and painting the actual coal.  We'll tackle the coal first.  Which, this is assuming you're even using the coal.  Admittedly, when it comes out of the package, it looks a little unpreposessing (fake).  Maybe my standards are just low, but I think that, with a little creative paintwork, you can actually get a pretty realistic effect.

First, the coal.  There are many different types of coal.  The most commonly used kind was anthracite coal.  Anthracite coal has the highest carbon count, the fewest impurities, and the highest calorific content--meaning it's the most efficient burning coal.  You get more heat per coal lump with anthracite coal than with any other kind (or at least, you did, back when people heated their homes with coal).  And anthracite coal isn't black.  Rather, it's very silvery.  This high luster finish has to do with how it's formed in the ground.  Don't worry, I'll stop nerding out about rocks now.

Some anthracite coal, courtesy of Wikipedia.

A whole lot of anthracite coal.
After separating the "coal" from its sprue and cleaning it up a bit, I painted it with a coat of Testors metallic silver.  The differences are subtle, but each paint actually does look slightly different; for my money, it really does have to be silver.  Then, I let that dry--awhile. 

A friend of mine took this picture.
While that was going on, we watched our neighborhood bears try to make friends with our cats through the screen door, continued our quest for a construction loan, and went south to visit my mom for a little bit.

Mr. Awesome, chilling with his dad and grandma.
So after all that, the silver was dry.  Then, I painted on a thin coat of Testors flat black and wiped it off.  The best way to do this is to a) work quickly, and b) use a q-tip for paint removal.  Anyway, below, you can see the difference between just silver (bottom) and silver plus black.

Moving along...
Then, the real challenge is to give the coal some depth.  I took a small angled brush and sort of pushed some more Testors flat black into the crevices.  In some areas, I also dry brushed a little extra silver.  Don't be surprised if the crevices take a couple coats; they usually do for me.

Getting there.
Now while that all dried (ugh), I started painting the actual scuttles.  I used brass, here.  Back in the day, metal scuttles were usually made from cast iron, galvanized tin, or galvanized aluminum.  Especially fancy ones were made--partially or wholly--from brass or copper.  Many scuttles were also made from wood, etc, but that's a separate post.  A word of advice: not all paints are created equal and, while I like the finished result, Testors brass is really hard to work with.  It covers for [spit] and has a vaguely gelatinous texture.  Which, well, you can also use that to your advantage--read on--but it's still annoying.

I sprayed two of my scuttles with primer.  If you paint brass over black plastic, you'll be painting forever.  Then, I started with the brass.  I painted the rim and handles of one scuttle, and the entire outside of the other.  I also painted their associated shovels with the same brass.  The gelatinous nature of the paint works great with things like edges; it's pretty easy to get a nice, neat edge.

A semi-fancy scuttle.
Some fancy shovels.
After two coats of paint.
A finished coal.
After letting the brass (very thoroughly) dry--and I swear, this particular color also takes longer to dry--I painted the other bits with Testors flat black.  Now, obviously, you can paint your own scuttles however you see fit, but these are a few ideas.  It's interesting how, with just a little paint, the same exact thing can look so different.  I think, for my next trick, I'll make a rust-covered steel scuttle (steel rusts; stainless steel theoretically doesn't).  Or perhaps a tin scuttle?  Tin doesn't rust, but often the metals it's either a) mixed with or b) covering do.

PS: I don't generally glue my coal in, since you never know when you might want an empty scuttle.  I prefer the option of dumping it out, in case my dolls are having a cold night.  Plus, there just doesn't seem to be a neat way to glue that thing in, at least without a whole lot of touch-up painting.

Hooray finished scuttles!
This one's rusty.

This one lost its handle; it's a little more casual than the others.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ruminating About Safety

It's amazing, how parenthood changes your perspective on things.  I care about things for my child that I've never cared about for myself--and, in realizing that, I've also realized a few other things.  For example, I never really ate a healthy diet.  Sure, I made a stab at it now and then, but just having, you know, healthy arteries for me never seemed that important.  I know, right?  But, after I found out I was pregnant, I became fanatical about my diet.  It wasn't just about me anymore; I knew my son would be eating everything I did, and I didn't want him eating pesticides, heavy metals, saturated fat-laden, processed "foods," etc.  

And, since he's been born, I've pretty much kept up with the healthier diet.  Because, well, forcing myself to view the issue in those terms--to view it honestly--also forced me to have a growth experience.  He's not even four months old, and already my son has taught me a lot.

As artists, artisans and craftspeople, most of us don't tend to think about our safety overmuch.  Sure, we might occasionally pop on some safety goggles, and I'm pretty sure nobody out there is intentionally drinking turpentine.  But what about the smaller stuff?  Even "non-toxic" paint, to some degree, emits toxic fumes; enamels, like I've been using on the Chrysnbon kits, most definitely emit fumes.  Will they kill you overnight?  No.  But inhaling them can cause all kinds of problems in the long term.

And what about dust?  Not just plastic dust, but sawdust?  Inhaling that's no treat, either--and, let's be real, most of that wood's been treated with something.  Don't believe me?  Visit a sawmill sometime.  Maine has had problems for years with sawmills and toxic dumping.  And don't even get me started on what goes into paper.

Yes, paper.  Drink a couple cups of the liquid expelled during a commercial paper-creation process, and it'll kill you.

Lead can't absorb through the skin, but you can breathe in micro-particles of it easily.

Many glues give off fumes, some of which are highly toxic.

Ever wondered why solvent-based paint is toxic when wet, but perfectly safe when dry?  What the drying process actually is--and this is why it's so dramatically affected by humidity--is the solvents in the paint (which include carcinogens like toluene) evaporating.  So long as it's smelly, it's dangerous.  And yet so many of us are used to these smells.  They bring out happy associations.  We like them.

I have a fine art background, and was told for years to ventilate my studio, not mix paints with my fingers, only use spray fix under a hood, etc etc etc.  Obviously, I never listened.  I met a guy who developed an aggressive skin cancer on his fingertips from years of fine art woodworking without the proper safety precautions and, for some reason, this didn't move me.

But looking at my son did.  I realized that, if I could smell it--however faintly, including on my own clothes, etc--then so could he.  And the thought absolutely terrified me.  I couldn't sleep for days, worrying about it.  He's such a perfect little person--what if, inadvertently, I'd harmed him somehow?  These fumes made me lightheaded, and I'm not 15--20 pounds and 25" long.

Enter: the hobby model spray booth.  I bought mine on Amazon.  Somehow, the almost 500.00 (including filters) price tag didn't seem so bad, when viewed in the context of my child's brain function.  Either I was going to be a selfish, terrible parent, or I was going to be responsible.  And, as my husband pointed out, it'd probably save my little gray cells, too.  You don't have to spend half a grand, either; little measures--like letting things dry outside, or placing them near a window and pointing a fan at them so the fumes vent away from the house--can make a big difference.  And, face it, spray primer smells just awful.

Fanning the horrible fumes out from the screen porch; don't point your fan upwind, as this will utterly defeat the purpose of the exercise.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Finishing the Chrysnbon Pot Belly Stove

And so continues the story I started here and here.  Now I'm moving on from preliminary techniques to specific kits.  Most of them, I've finished multiple ways; it always amazes me how the same kit can look completely different, depending on how it's finished.  I've been working on two pot belly stoves, one for the not-Lincoln House, and one for an eventual project of mine, Greenleaf's Taft General Store.

The first step is to spray paint all your "cast iron" pieces with Testors flat black.  I generally use one or two light coats; small variations in finish add realism.  You can, of course, paint the pieces flat black, too, but I prefer the slight texture created by the spray.  It, to me, looks more realistic.  I do, however, use the bottled version for small (very small) touch-ups.  If you have a big boo-boo, honestly, I think you're better off removing the paint (you can use Testors paint thinner, or similar--just make sure it's plastic safe) and starting over.

If you're planning on electrifying your stove, remember not to glue the top and bottom sub-assemblies together until after you've installed the wiring.
The stove pipe halves fit together much better in this kit than they do in the parlor stove kit.  Here, I just sanded the seams smooth (don't forget the back side!) and then went over the whole area with a very fine sanding sponge.  Any rough patches left by inadequate sanding will show right up through the paint.

When it comes to prep work, patience pays off.

Completely sanded and ready for paint.

I've now graduated to two spray boxes!
Although the spray versions of these paints dry more quickly than their bottled cousins, they still don't cure for about 24 hours.  Light handling is fine, but rough handling (or, for example, pressing things together to glue them) will leave fingerprints.  Patience is a virtue!  Also, too, in this close-up, you can get a pretty good sense of what I mean by texture.  It's too slight to feel by touch, but you can definitely see it.

Better than plastic, right?
I got a bunch "Pic n' Stick" packages from Micro Mark.  They're pretty cheap, and boy are they awesome!  Originally intended for use by dentists (and still used by dentists) to hold the tiny parts of fillings, etc, just prior to insertion, they also work great for hobbyists.  A word of caution: the wax won't stick to any surface that's the least bit wet or greasy.

Painting the hinge.

This is what the package looks like; the individual sticks pull out from a kind of match book.

All the various pieces, waiting to be assembled; I've already started antiquing some of them.
A final thought on spray paint: be careful that, after you've finished painting (and everything's really had a change to dry), any pieces that still have to fit together actually do so.  Sometimes, even with very thin, carefully applied coats of paint, gunk can build up where you don't want it to.  You can remove it very carefully with a razor blade, craft knife, or pin.  I, personally, don't like to sand it off as that can damage the surrounding area, as well as potentially deform the piece itself.

Now, onward and upward.

The stove for the not-Lincoln Home is brand new, while the stove for the Taft General Store is rusty with age.  For rust, I used--surprise, surprise--Testors flat rust.  This is a wonderful color, and very realistic.  The secret to achieving realistic-looking rust, I think, is in how you apply it but, more, in where you apply it.  Rust isn't like signs of wear; you can't just dry-brush it on.  Rather, thinking about how rust develops will help you know where to put it.  Rust is an organic process; it always attacks the weakest spots first.  In most cases, that would be the seams.  It accretes in crevices, channels, and other places that don't get handled too much.  It follows water lines; it loves moist areas.  Also, too, really badly rusted areas have a very noticeable raised surface and texture.

Rust isn't symmetrical; it doesn't accumulate everywhere equally.  Like any truly organic process, it'll always have that appearance of randomness--not decoration.  Here, I'm about halfway through doing this stove pipe; the rust is coming downward from the collar, where it joins the wall, by feeding along the central seam.

As far as actually applying the paint, I use a combination of detail work and dry brushing.  I tend to use a detail brush to run lines of rust along seams, under decorations, etc, and then I use a very small flat brush to dry brush it out into a more organic pattern.  Sometimes, if I want only a very thin sheen of rust, I dilute the line with paint thinner and "wet brush" it out.  I, personally, find that successive thinly applied layers give the most realistic effect.  Sometimes, too, I dry brush flat black back over the piece, to add depth and texture.  There are really no set rules; whatever works the best for you, individually, is what you should go with.

The stove pipe.

The door, shovel, and crank.

The collar.

The finished stove pipe and shovel.

I'm working on a coordinating stool (pictures to follow, eventually).  I'm painting it with the same paint because, here, it resembles milk paint.

Gluing on the stove pipe.
If you get visible glue spots, it's very easy to touch them up with a brush.  I generally stipple the paint slightly, to match the surrounding texture.  Also, too, when you're gluing your stove pipe on, if at all possible, place your stove where it'll ultimately be going.  Here, I can't, so I'm lining it up against the side of a box.  You want to make sure that, when the stove pipe dries, it dries in the right position--i.e. so that the pipe is actually flush to the wall.  I prefer to do it this way, then glue the collar on (much) later. 

Make sure the pad is at right angles to the wall, too.  There's a little give to these kits; you don't want to end up with everything twisted into a weird position.

I let it dry like this overnight.
Another issue I had was picking up this nice plate aluminum pad...and accidentally, about two minutes later, leaving aluminum-colored fingerprints on my stove.  Before you buff it up, this stuff sheds.  Watch out!

The completed stove.

My apologies for the backdrop!

The rusty stove.

Another view.

I'm covering the coal scuttle in a separate tutorial.

Rusty cast iron has a whole different texture, as well as color.

Stay tuned!

I'm hoping to post the coal scuttle tutorial within the next few days.

The pad.
If you want your pad to look nice and new, refer to my previous posts.  If you want it to look really disgusting, read on.  What I did here was, first, create a nice, new-looking pad.  Then, before I sprayed the final coat of aluminum plate on (after buffing, etc), I misted it with a few drops of water.  Testors enamels will not adhere to a wet surface.  Instead, what happens is that the surface buckles up and "scales," in model train parlance.  It looks pretty gross--but this is good!  Then, I took a paper towel, wiped off the gunk (some came off, some stayed behind), and went over the whole thing with a fine sanding sponge.  Pretty cool, huh?

Brand spanking new.

I think it'll like its new home.

So there you have it: pot belly stoves.  Like I said, stay tuned for the coal scuttles--and for the other stoves!  I'm finishing the cook stove in a couple of different ways, so that should be interesting.  Once I started looking for inspiration, there was a lot of it out there.

Comments?  Questions?  Thoughts?