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cluttered desk filled with casting resing molds and craft supplies
clean well-lit desk with CNC router on top
mold boxes filled with uncured mold rubber
finished molds on desk with original pieces nearby
blue resin cast parts with molds in background
imperfect casting of factory shaped game piece next to original
finished blue and white resin cast coaster, game pieces, and trinket

This past weekend I finally got to spend some quality time in the shop. I scored some major victories; an upgraded work area, a cool new coaster design, and some nice molds, but there were a few miscues as well. Here's how it all went down.

Setting The Stage

Flexibility and ingenuity are two values that I have always tried hard to project. I would like to think that I can get the job done no matter what the odds, or despite what tools I may be missing. However, I have really pushed that to the limit in my current shop setup (or lack thereof) and it was time for a change.

Fortunately, I had an old desk locked away in storage that I was finally able to rescue. It's a pretty rough piece --- made mostly of 2x4s, no finish, and chock full of nails (kicking myself that I didn't make it a bolt-together, portable desk now!) --- but it gets the job done and is spacious enough for my Shapeoko 2 CNC router and a large work area.

Unfortunately, I had scavenged a lot of parts off the desk for use in other projects, so it was really just a frame. A sheet of MDF and some screws later and we were back in business. Introducing Miscue #1 --- my sheet of MDF did not span the full width of the desk so I ended up with a big gap on the end. Great. Enter ingenious idea of the weekend --- leave the end open and make it into a trashcan. Whoa! Crisis averted. Plus, it's actually really, really handy.

The best improvement by far though came from above. I'm talking about light. A big, two tube shop light that I suspended directly over my new desk/workbench. It is absolutely great. Not only does it help me see so much better, but it makes a nice set for the next big thing I did this weekend...

On The Set

Ideas are constantly spinning through my head, and a recurring one lately has been the prospect of filming my projects and creating a YouTube channel with them. It seems like a good idea for a couple reasons: 1) YouTube is arguably the 2nd largest search engine on the web, and 2) Typing out project procedures takes a lot of effort, and a concise video could cut down on that to some degree. So, I decided that I would try it out and see how I liked it.

The lighting upgrade was what made this even possible. Completing it gave me a nice, well-lit "set" to attempt to film in. The new desk provided a stage in which I could experiment with camera placement. See? It's all coming together. At least I thought so.

To be brief, it's harder than it looks. Hello Miscue #2 --- terrible camera angles. Somewhere I must have forgotten that I am right-handed because my right hand pouring resin is the star of all my videos. And by star I mean completely blocking everything. And let's not even get started on video editing. Remember how I struggled with GIMP. Yeah, I'll just leave that alone for now.

Frustrations aside I did get some footage that makes me think that it is still a viable concept. We shall see what the future holds, but I'm no Tarantino yet.

Supporting Cast

Pun intended. My "cast" was literally mold-making and resin casting. Plus, I had a lot of it to do: 
  1. A colleague of mine approached me last week about duplicating some game pieces that he had and I offered to make him some molds. 
  2. I had an unused blank on the shelf for a "Come At Me Bro" coaster that I was dying to see in resin.
  3. I had some recent Ponoko pieces that I wanted copies of. 
  4. I ordered a new type of mold rubber and resin awhile back that I needed to test. 
I have accrued a decent amount of experience with resin so for the most part things went well. My mold boxes went together easy enough, the molds turned out great, and the finished castings were a general success. Except for Miscues #3-5.

Breaking The Mold: Literally

Miscues #3 & 4 occurred during mold making. For ease of use I generally try to use the whole kit of mold rubber at one time. This means I don't have to worry about mixing at the proper ratios. Lazy, I know, but also 100% effective thus far...

So I pour the catalyst into the base, mix it all up, and start pouring it into the mold boxes for the game pieces and the coaster. I'm laying it on thick to try and get a nice, thick, solid mold when I realize there is not enough left for my sweet Ponoko cut Voronoi acrylic bowtie. Doh!

Seconds away from total panic, I am reassured by the fact that Aluminite Amazing Mold Rubber has a working time of 20-30 minutes. Phew. So, with haste I uproot my bowtie, grab a smaller piece, fire the hot glue gun back up, partition off a smaller mold box, and pour the remainder of my rubber. Situation resolved, briefly.

Now I look over and see that a small amount of rubber is oozing from beneath the coaster mold box. Not up in here. Hot glue gun is fired up again. Holes are plugged with excessive amounts of hot glue. Leak is sealed. Peace at last.

As tumultuous as that all sounded, the molds turned out great. The Amazing Mold Rubber cured exceptionally fast (~2 hours), which I really like. It also appears to be reasonably flexible and durable, which makes me hopeful that it will last through many, many casts.

Final Cast

The actual resin casting itself was pretty non-eventful other than Miscue #5, which can be attributed to a lack of attention paid to relieving air from the extremities of the game pieces. I got air bubbles entrained in the tops (bottom of the mold) of the smoke stacks on the game pieces. The bubbles prevented resin from filling the mold and effectively cut the tops off the stacks. Hopefully this does not result in EPA violations in the game...

I made an attempt to get the bubbles out in a second casting by poking around in the uncured resin with a small paper clip. I did manage to release some large bubbles, but it was still a failure. Bummer. Looking back, I think I should have manifolded all the stacks together and connected them into some sort of air relief. Next time...

Any disappointment I had was erased by the coaster. It turned out great like all the others, and I think I can safely say that I have that particular style down by now. 

I did make one improvement though. I finished the coaster out with 220-grit sandpaper, where I had previously only rough-sanded using 80-grit. I used to think the rough texture was nice, but I have changed my tune now, and all of the other coasters I have in my stock will be getting smoothed out this week.

That's A Wrap

It was a busy weekend, but I had a lot of fun and am loving my new work area. The mistakes and miscues were challenging to overcome, but I made it through 4/5 and I think I'm better for it.

Even though I struggled with making videos, I have some decent footage to work with and I learned a lot about what I need to focus on moving forward. I also got tons of photos which I can make great use of here and in an Instructable (?) or something like that.

Most importantly, I proved out a new type of resin and mold rubber (which both work great), added a new coaster to the fleet, and made some minor improvements to my design. So, I'm considering it all a great success.