Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Intimate Conversation - Part 3

Remember this?

After the diversion of going to a quarry, I’m back to work on this fountain. Having drilled the mounting and water holes, the next step is to remove the remaining stone between the heads and then refine the shapes. I used an air hammer and chisels to cut away the stone. The picture below is part way through the removal process. Notice that stone has been carved away from the backs of the heads as well as from between them. You can also see how rough the surface is from the chiseling … and what a mess it makes. This is one reason I work outside and not inside the studio.

In this photo all of the bulk stone has been removed and we are ready to start refining the shapes and smoothing with diamond grinding wheels and silicon carbide grinding pads on an electric grinder. Stone sculpture is a process of making finer and finer marks – you start with deep gouges made with chisels, remove then with scrapes made by grinding pads, and finish by removing the scrapes with scratches made with sandpaper or diamond pads. Because the scratches are so fine that your eye doesn’t see them, the surface looks polished, but it really covered with incredibly fine scratches.

Here I’ve started shaping the heads doing the first-pass grinding and you can see how smooth they are compared to the chiseled space below them. But, if you look closely you can see that the heads aren’t really smooth – they have lots of flat spots, ridges, grinder marks, and some chisel marks that are still visible.

In the photo below, I’ve started smoothing the bodies and you can see a grinder with a curved diamond grinding wheel. Notice the big chunk missing from the head on the right? That’s the next challenge – how to make it disappear or fit into the design.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Trip to a Quarry, or How I Spent my Summer Vacation

The call came at 10:30 am – The quarry called to tell me that they had finished cutting and tipping over a wall and that blocks were on their way to the processing plant. At 7:30 tomorrow morning they would have slabs cut for me to look at.

By 11:00 am I had packed, loaded the truck and was on the road! Destination: a group of quarries south of Albuquerque, a 6 to 7 hour drive. I love the start of trip, Phoenix up to Flagstaff – deep canyons, the fantastic view of the Verde Valley as you descend from the mesa, the red rocks of Sedona, and pine forests outside of Flag. But the part of the trip that I like the best is seeing the great red cliffs on the Arizona-New Mexico border after the long drive across the open, empty plains of I40.

Red cliffs on the NM - AZ border

Got to my hotel and tired to go to sleep on NM time (NM is an hour earlier than AZ this time of the year) so I would be up and alert in the morning. Know what happens when you try to sleep because you have something important the next day? That right, I tossed and turned, counted sheep and tried every other trick I know, but couldn’t fall asleep until the wee hours.

I had set the alarm, so I did wake up early and got there when they opened. It turned out that a pump had failed during the night, so there were no slabs yet, it would be a few more hours – I could have slept in! Instead, I used to time to drive out the quarry area from the plant, about 20 miles away.

Road to the Quarry

The Scherazade Travertine Quarry near the Onyx Quarry I'm going to

This company operates 5 different quarries in this area and they rotate their crew among the quarries depending on what type of stone they need. I'm going to the Vista Grande Onyx quarry and the day I was there they had already moved to a different location. The trailer above the quarry houses a large generator, air compressor, tools, and spare parts.

The Vista Grande Quarry

In the quarrying process a saw like a very long chain saw mounted on a track is used to cut behind the wall. Then vertical and horizontal holes are drilled in the stone that meet in the back corners of what will be blocks. A wire saw is threaded into the holes from the top and pulled out the front and then it cuts the sides and the bottom. Once the block is free, it is tipped over, away from the wall. A wire saw is a long continuous wire impregnated with diamond segments that cut the stone as the wire is pulled. The wire is driven by a motor and pulley system - it is the machine on the tracks in the lower right of the picture. The big wheel drives the wire.

Once the wall has been tipped, a wire saw is used to cut the huge block into smaller manageable blocks weighing between 10,000 and 40,000 lbs. The ladder is about 12 feet long.

A quarry block in the plant

The same block being cut by a 12 foot diameter saw

In the next post we'll be in the plant working on a commission made from stone taken from the Vista Grande quarry.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Intimate Conversation - It Works!

Getting back to Intimate Conversation, here we are drilling the water channels for the “mouth” on the left. Because of the narrow working space I’m using a right angle converter attachment on the drill. So, the drill is connected to the right angle converter is connected to the water collar is connected to the core drill bit. To hit the mark, I line up the edge of the drill bit with the ruler and stop often to check that I am holding the whole thing level. You can see the small level I use on the drill bit just above the end of the drill handle.

After drilling the mouth passages, I drilled the mounting holes which will support the sculpture in the bottom and the other water channels inside the mounting holes. As you can see, it actually worked - the water channels met correctly and we have an aqueous conversation!

The next step is to finish roughing out the heads and remove the stone between them ... stay tuned.

Why I don’t Recommend Salt Water Pools and Better Alternatives

From time to time a question about salt water pools comes up. As you can tell from the title, I am not a fan and I will not put a fountain, sculpture, or spillway into one. Here is why:

Salt systems make chlorine to treat water by ionizing salt, sodium chloride, so that the sodium and chloride ions separate and the chloride is then available to cleanse the water. That is, the end result is exactly the same as adding chlorine the traditional way. For this process to work, a small amount of salt is dissolved in the pool water. Good for your skin, but terrible for everything else.

We all know that salt is corrosive. In the snow-belt, salt on roads eats cars and destroys road surfaces. If you live near the ocean, you will have seen the salt air corrode pipes, eat heating ducts, damage cars, and generally attack anything that stands still.

It turns out that even the small amount of salt dissolved in swimming pool water also attacks the environment around it. I have seen natural stone deeply etched in a matter of months just by having the pool water run over it. After talking with professionals in the stone business and with pool builders and doing some research, I discovered that the small amount of salt in the water attacks natural stone, concrete, steel, stainless steel, pool cover mechanisms, grout, pool and pond liners, and even the decking where there is splash out.

So the main reason I don’t like salt systems is that they attack sculptural materials destroying the works of art. But there are a number of other issues.

The salt generators also attract calcium from pool plaster to their titanium plates which they then put back into the pool water causing a calcium buildup on the pool surface and scaling where it is deposited on the pool walls and any other surface. You can also get a residue of salt around the edge of the pool and in areas where swimmers drop water, such as in front of pool ladders.

The backwash from salt pools can kill plants and enough of it can poison the ground. It is thought to be a bad enough environmental problem that salt systems have been banned in a number of municipalities across the US. For all these reasons, salt systems are not a great choice.

What are better alternatives? There is always the traditional chlorine additive. But, two new solutions have come on the market in past several years that seem to better for people, the water and the environment - Ultraviolet light systems and Ozone generators. Both types of systems are being used across the country in residential, commercial and public pools.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Intimate Conversation

This is a piece that I started some time ago, but never got around to finishing. The idea is two people talking, heads bent close together, with a stream of water flowing from each “mouth” combining into one stream representing the convergence of thought or emotion. Here is a 3D sketch.

It’s being carved out of a block of Texas limestone that is 48”h x 50”w x 7”d. The first step, after sketching the design on the stone was to cut out the center so that I can drill the water channels for the mouths. These channels have to intersect with the water channels that I will drill later from the bottom on each side. Stay tuned for more.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Welcome to my studio!

Here is a quick pictorial tour of my workspace, starting with the view from road.  The building sits on an arroyo that can run like a river when the monsoons hit.  It was sighted near an ancient Ironwood tree so that no major plants had to be removed and the builders hollered like hell when I wouldn’t let them take out or drastically trim back the thorny bushes from the site.  But it was worth it to preserve the trees and bushes.

On the far left is a 2-element fountain displayed in one of the reflecting ponds around the property.  The front of the building is curved and the doors are hammered copper and curve around the building and are notched to close around the beam.  The studio was designed to utilize the natural elements.  There are skylights that flood the interior with soft light and open to let heat out.  The doors are on a North-South axis so sunlight floods the outside work area in the back.  During the winter, the rear copper door acts like a solar heater reflecting warmth into the workspace.  With all of the doors open in summer there is always a breeze and although the temperature can reach 110 or more, I can almost work there.

The turquoise beam supports a 1-1/2 ton hoist and passes through the building to the work area in back.  I don’t actually work in the building since working makes too much dust and mud – drilling and polishing are done with water.  So, I store my tools and equipment there and also finished pieces waiting to be shipped out – you can see the pieces of a 5-element fountain that’s ready to be picked up.

Inside you can see my workbench on the left and part of the rear copper accordion door.  The white tabletop piece in the black basin is my lucky fountain.

A number of lifting straps are hanging on the wall. In front of them is my drill rig and the long “pipes” next to the straps are drill bits - the longest is 100” – and more tools.  The wood box in the upper right is a stereo speaker – you got to have tunes!

The covered back area is where the work is really done.  You can see the overhead beam cranes, worktables, and some works-in-progress.

The back beam is 50’ long and extends over the stockpile of stone that followed my home from various quarries.  You can  see a radial crane towards the center of the picture and a manual and an electric hoist hanging from the beam.  Believe it or not, I like the electric one better than raising a 2000 lb stone by hand!

More later ....