Here's an easy alternative to Mokume Gane that the average maker can put together in their garage without the need for fancy tools.
Mokume Gane, Japanese for "wood-grain metal" or "burl metal" is a technique of metal-working developed by Denbei Shoami in 17th century Japan for the adornment of the guards (tsuba) of Samurai swords. The wood-grained effect is achieved by working diffusion bonded stacks of dissimilar metal plates. The contrast between the metals can then be accentuated with chemical treatments called patinas. It has more recently found use in the west to create beautiful jewelry. Although mokume gane can be made at home by the DIY'er, it takes some pretty heavy equipment to make it happen. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to achieve a similar wood-grained effect with simpler techniques? Enter our old friend the composite.
Back in 1910, Westinghouse developed a composite of resin-impregnated fabric trademarked as MIcarta® (now a registered trademark of the Norplex-Micarta company). The name micarta (with a small "m") is sometimes used as a generic term for any resin impregnated laminate of linen, canvas, paper, carbon fiber, or glass fiber. These composites are generally strong, waterproof, resistant to many solvents, and are great electrical insulators. They have been used as knife handles, grips for firearms, printed circuit boards, electrical insulators, pool cues, and guitar fretboards.
In this instructable, we'll use simple techniques to produce micarta-like laminates with Mokume Gane style patterns out of cheap bed sheets and epoxy resin. You can use these laminates for computer case modding, steampunk projects, costume jewelry, knife handles, and a host of other things. I call these laminates Mokume Kireji (wood grained fabric).
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
Here is a list of materials needed to make your own wood-grained composites:
Respirator or Mask: Sanding, filing, or grinding on composites generates nasty fumes, smells, and dusts. You must wear respiratory protection when working with composites.
Gloves: I used cheapo disposable nitrile gloves to keep the epoxy off of my skin
Eye protection: You know better than to use chemicals and tools without eye protection. Foresight is better than no sight.
Clothes you don't mind ruining: No matter how OCD you are, you will almost certainly get epoxy on your clothes. Wear something you don't mind messing-up.
Resin: I used West Systems 2-part epoxy. This stuff cures slowly (hours) which gives me more time to work. Do not use quick curing resins like "30 minute epoxy" because they will harden before you have a chance to finish your work.
Plastic Wrap: I used Saran Wrap. Epoxy does not like to stick to Saran Wrap and this will be used to your advantage.
Fabric: I used cheap cotton bed sheets from Wal-Mart. Select at least 2 contrasting colors (more is ok).
Scissors and/or a paper cutter: Something to cut the fabric with
Clamps and/or a press: You need to compress the layers of fabric together. If you don't have a shop press, don't sweat it; you can use some inexpensive C-Clamps and wood to make a functional press for small projects. Some of my examples are made using a 20-ton shop press; the others are made using four 5 inch c-clamps (about 5 bucks each) and 2 planks of 1 inch thick wood. No need to buy fancy/expensive equipment if you don't really need it.
Sander/files/sandpaper: You will need to sand, file, or grind away parts of your composite. You can do it by hand, but it will take some time. A small power sander will make the work go faster. Use coarse grit paper to "hog out" larger amounts of material and fine grit paper to smooth out the surface and make it all pretty.
Advanced technology resin application devices: to mix/apply the resin. Wooden popsicle sticks or tongue depressors work just fine
Mixing containers for epoxy: I used GladWare disposable soup and salad containers; epoxy doesn't like to stick to these either; when the residual epoxy cures, pop it out of the container and you can reuse it (for more epoxy, not for food please).
Patterning material: This can be anything from dried beans to toothpicks. You'll see what I mean in just a few steps.