Monday, February 13, 2012

Tutorial: A Kid-Friendly Aluminum Pour

You can do anything with a Dremel.

At Maker Faire Detroit, I hadn't thought to bring my power tool collection with me (silly me!), and so the girls and I scratched out our scratch block for the iron pour with some random hand tools--a butter knife, a quarter, a spoon handle. We love our finished piece, but that was hard, tedious work for a couple of little kids, and I didn't come away from the process feeling like carving a scratch block was a very kid-friendly enterprise.

When our local hands-on science center teamed up with our local hands-on metal sculpture studio to do an aluminum pour, the scratch blocks were available to purchase from the museum several weeks in advance. I bought one each for my girls, took them home, unpackaged them, tossed the huge nails that came with them as a suggested carving tool straight into my Odds and Ends for Crafting bin, and instead brought out my Dremel and its grinding stone bit.

You might think that power tools are too dangerous for little kids to use, but really they give any kid with decent motor skills and a good pair of safety goggles safe and easy access to a wide variety of projects that are too hard, too dangerous, or simply too tedious to perform by hand. Kids like drilling holes, kids like cutting, kids like carving, and kids have big ideas. Heck, that's why power tools were invented!

Nevertheless, I get ahead of myself. At this point, all we have is a scratch block in front of us. Measure your scratch block--

--then draw out several mock-ups on newsprint so that the kiddos can practice their design:

There are two things to remember about a scratch block design:

  1. The image will be reversed. This is only a big deal if you're writing words; I had the girls dictate to me the words that they wanted to write onto their scratch blocks as I typed them into our handwriting software program, then I printed them out mirror-image for them to copy.
  2. What you carve in will stick up in the final block. You can do some really cool things to play around with depth in your scratch block, although this time everyone stuck to simple single-depth line art, which is fine--playing with a process takes time!
Each girl used a black Sharpie to copy her final design directly onto her scratch block--

(tangent: I love the look of peace on her sweet little face as she works. She is truly a child who thrives learning at home.)

--and then, because hallelujah it was an unseasonably warm day in mid-winter, we took the scratch blocks and the Dremel outside and didn't get dust all over the living room!

Here's what they look like when they're sketched on but not yet carved:

When using power tools, a good, clear pair of safety goggles is the height of fashion:

Using the Dremel with grinding stone attachment as a stylus, set to just perhaps a 1 or 2 speed setting, all you have to do is trace the Sharpie lines:

Have I mentioned how great it is to have a little girl with dirty hands?

Especially when she loves power tools with the same goofy love that I do?

Syd did not feel safe using the Dremel, but she's a brave kid, and so when I assured her that she was safe, and explained that I would not carve her scratch block for her, she gamely gave it a go:

And here's what a scratch block looks like after it's been carved!

Matt is REALLY hard to buy presents for (he doesn't like anything as much as he likes not spending the money for it), but he is an artist, and so a scratch block of his own to carve was my Christmas present to him:

And what did he give me for Christmas, you ask? Oh, just this brand-new laptop! Ahem...

(Hint: I'm REALLY easy to buy presents for...)

After a few days of admiring our scratch blocks, and of studying aluminum as our schoolwork, we all trooped over to the Wonderlab one Friday night to watch the metalworkers pour molten aluminum into our very own scratch blocks:

It's always the process, not the product, for us--having fun bowling is more important than your lousy score at the end of the game, goofing around in shaving cream is just as fine as doing your math right then, etc.--but I have to say that in this case, both the process and the product?

We LOVE them!!!


Margie said...

This is great! We have a scratch block from Sculpture Trails (Have you been there? Seriously awesome.), and we didn't get back for the pour, and haven't carved the block yet. I'm glad to have a few more tips for how to get that done. And now I'll be keeping my ears open for someone getting rid of a dremel tool so we aren't stuck using a nail!

Anonymous said...

That is so awesome. I wish I had been taught how to use power tools when I was a child. These kids are learning great skills.