Introduction: Custom Disco Balls

Hello and welcome to a tutorial about making 'Disco Balls'!

Here is a list of tools and supplies I used:

  • Sharpie
  • Hacksaw
  • Hot knife
  • Hot wire
  • Screw driver
  • Glue gun
  • Olfa Knife
  • Scissors
  • Drill
  • Paint Brush (.5" flat tip)
  • 1 sheet 4' x 8' x 6" EPS foam
  • 1 can spray adhesive
  • 1qt. Mirror Tile adhesive
  • ~16 sqf. .5" mirror tiles
  • Threaded rod, eye hook, 2 nuts, 1 longer nut washers
  • lock-tite
  • Scrap newspaper
  • Safety glasses
  • Respirator Mask (NiOH)

You should be able to adapt this tutorial to make a form of your choosing by acquiring the appropriate quantities of the materials listed for your design.

Step 1: Basic Volume Construction

Disco balls generally have an interior of EPS foam.

The first step is to establish a bounding box for your desired form made of foam. I settled on a volume of 2'x2'x3'. To do this, I cut up a standard 4'x8'x6" sheet of foam into 2'x2'x6" pieces. This can be done with a hacksaw or hot knife or hot wire. The hacksaw is messier, but doesn't release toxic fumes.

If your disco sculpture is designed to hang, you will want to drill a hole into the center of each of these pieces.

Next you will want to laminate the pieces together with spray adhesive. This step is toxic and you should use a respirator. You will need to laminate the pieces one at a time in a stack. Spray each side of the foam lightly and evenly. If you over-spray the foam, it will begin to dissolve. Once you have both surfaces you want to bond coated lightly and evenly with adhesive, wait a moment for them become tacky. Then stick them together, applying light pressure (perhaps with a book).

Finally, when all the pieces are laminated together, you will need to place the threaded rod inside. The bottom of the rod will hold a large washer between two nuts. This piece will need to be slightly recessed beneath the bottom of the foam when the threaded rod is pulled through. The top of the threaded rod will take a longer nut which will join it to a threaded eyehook. When your hardware is properly adjusted (you may need to cut your threaded rod to length with the hack saw), apply lock tight to the nuts and rod so that they won't come undone.

Step 2: General Shaping

For this step you will need safety glasses and a respirator. The idea is to create the general form.

For guidance, I used a sharpie to free hand an elevation view of my design on each side of the foam.

The best way to remove major pieces of material is with a combination of a hack saw and a hot knife.

This step is messy and toxic, enjoy!

Step 3: Smoothing

Once you get your general shape roughed in, you should switch over to bow and loop hot wire carving tools. These are kind of like clay tools and will allow you to get much closer to your desired form.

The bow tool can take off different amounts of material depending on how you use it. Generally, I find that having less wire allows you to make deeper cuts into the material. Longer spans of wire work better for flattening the surface. The wire on the bow will deform a little, and it takes some practice to get a nice controlled drag.

Step 4: Appraising Your Design

It will likely be impossible to get your shape fully smooth with the hot wire, but you will want to work out as much of the form as possible. This is about the stage when you will be finished with the hotwire.

Step 5: Finishing

To finish smoothing your shape, you will need to switch to sandpaper (you can also use rasps). 80 grit is good to start, and you needn't go more than 200. What is most important is that you go very lightly with the sandpaper, as it can knock loose the foam bits. If you aren't careful, you will knock loose bits of the foam, creating gaps in you surface.

This is also the time to fill any gaps that exist in your foam. To do this you can stuff pieces of foam that you removed with the hot wire into a gap, securing them with a glue gun.

Step 6: Applying the Mirror Tile

Once you have a nice smooth surface its time to apply the mirror tile.

Mirror tile generally comes in square sheets. You will first want to separate the sheet into strips. You can then cut these strips into smaller strips and apply them to the surface. There is a bit of give to the tile strips and they can be manipulated. Depending on the amount of surface curvature, you may want to cut them into individual tiles. This can also give you a more organic look.

To apply the tiles to the surface, you will need to apply the adhesive to fabric on the back of the tiles. This is best done with a short brush. Mirror tile adhesive works very well and gives you a little bit of time to move them around while you are placing them.

Step 7: Polishing Your Balls

If the mirror tile adhesive gets on the surface of the glass (hard to avoid!), you can remove it after it has dried with a damp, but not wet, cloth or paper towel.

Step 8: Disco Ball(s) Operation

A proper disco ball installation is important to fully appreciate your sculpture.

You can buy a disco ball motor which will rotate an eye-hook that you can attach to the eye-hook on the top of your sculpture with a shackle.

Lighting is equally important. I recommend (2) par 38 size pin-spots placed a good distance away. You may need a larger light (par 48, or 58, or even a really tightly lensed leko) for an especially large mirror sculpture. Crisp, hard, focused light is important to maximize reflection. Usually 2 lights are enough if you are able to place them on opposite sides at the right distance, but again, depending on your final shape, you may find that you need more lights to properly light your sculpture.

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