As always I like to start with a sketch - both a loose 'impression' of what I'm after, as well as some visual notes on how parts might fit together. In this case I was building a squid to add to the collection I had already been working on for an underwater themed art show.
Step 1: Scouring the Junk Pile
At this point in my sculpture journey I have a lot of 'left-over treasures' that I've found at various scrap yards around the area. I always pick up a few interesting vessels, canisters, tanks, etc. when I come across them, whether I need them right away or not. These large pieces are perfect for creating the main body of a sculpture. They can also be super expensive to purchase new, so if you happen to find any laying around it's a wise trade off to hold onto them now, in order to have them ready for future projects. For the squid I decided to use an old scuba tank I found (seemed thematically appropriate, too) and some large steel tubing as the main shapes.
Step 2: Mixed Materials
Unfortunately, the scuba tank was made of aluminum...good for divers, not so great for someone who only welds steel. So, after I came to terms with the fact that there isn't a steel-to-aluminum welding device, I decided to get mechanical - and bolt a steel plate onto the bottom of the tank. Then I was able to weld my steel 'torso' onto the plate.
Step 3: Some Finer Details
I wanted the overall shape of the squid to be very fluid and streamlined, so I employed just a dab of bondo to the neck(?) area. Well, maybe a bunch of dabs. Bondo is one of my favorite materials to 'fix' parts that don't fit together just right. Sure it stinks, and it can be super messy, and very very dusty - but it really works well to fill in those proverbial gaps. If you've never used bondo before, it is a two-part epoxy type product that contains filler materials (usually fiberglass). You need to be very careful with it, it has a strong odor, which isn't wise to breath, so use a respirator and ventilation. It also sets up real quick - which is good if you're on a roll and don't want to stop the creative process, but it doesn't leave you with a lot of time to work before it hardens. Once it hardens you can grind it down and smooth it out with the tools of your choice - but note, it's very dusty (may have mentioned that already) and you'll want a respirator! Once my bondo'ing was all set, I added some eyes, made from 3" pvc pipe ends. First I welded some 1/2" nuts into the center of the head. Then I screwed matching bolts through the eyes and into the nuts to secure them. I would have used metal eyes, but there weren't any pieces the right size. Next I started the tentacles, using some 1.5" steel tubing. And then I added the 'fins' using some old wood saws. These also had to be attached to the aluminum tank, so I used some long steel bolts and threaded them through the tank, so the saws could then be welded onto them...phew!
Step 4: And More Finer Details
The tentacles were pretty tricky...they start with the 1.5" tubing welded to the head shape, then I inserted 1" rebar into those and welded them together. Then I welded 3/4" rebar onto the end of those. Each piece was bent using an acetylene torch, a bench vise, and a lot of elbow grease! I find that using a long pipe over one end of the rebar gives you adequate leverage to bend the rebar into the shape you want - but be sure to get the steel hot enough to bend. If it's not bright red, you risk the chance of the rebar breaking, or in my case the vise breaking! Also, if you want matching/symmetrical parts, its a good idea to lay them on top of one another to see if the curves line up.
Step 5: Mounted and Painted
Finally, to get this beast to stand up on it's own was no small feat. I built a wooden 'box' type shape out of some 3/4" plywood and placed a metal frame inside it, with a pipe sticking out on one end. Then I filled the box with concrete and let it cure for a few days. Once the concrete was set, I pulled off the wooden sides and gave it some time to air out. The pipe end that was sticking out of the concrete was slightly bigger than the 3/4" rebar at the end of the squid's tentacle - I believe it was 1" inner diameter pipe (1/8" wall). Using a grinder and a metal cut off wheel, I trimmed the pipe flush with the concrete. Once the squid was balanced and standing, I painted it all up - using a metal etching primer and a bright pink finish coat!