Measuring in at a whopping eight foot by five foot and weighing right around 100 lbs., the Packard Chandelier is a marvel of Styrofoamy-deception! Designed to look like giant rusted steel gears weighing tons, it's funny to see a person carry a section of it with one arm or walk it up a ladder for installation. The chandelier was originally created as a wedding decoration for a historic site - the Packard Proving Grounds - a test facility for the Packard Motor Car Company in the Detroit area. These now retired repair garages serve as a banquet facility while funds are being raised to restore the sight it to its former historic glory.
This monster was made at Techshop Detroit located in Allen Park Mi. It is made from 5 sheets of 2" polystyrene (Styrofoam) 2 sticks of 1" PVC pipe, about 30 feet of lampcord, vintage filament bulbs and two beaded door curtains. All of the design work was done in Adobe Illustrator, then files were transferred to Vetric 3d Carve on the Shopbot router and Epilogue laser cutters. With a little imaginationand this tutorial, you too can create your own machine age inspired marvel!
Step 1: Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan.
The first step in any project is deciding the overall look of your item - while this chandelier continued to evolve throughout the entire design and build process based on lucky discoveries, introduction to new materials and last minute inspirations based on the venue itself, you have to have some sort of road map. Don’t forget to take in to consideration practical things like ceiling height and power draw when designing your masterpiece. Not having people bump their heads or blow breakers is a real consideration when creating for public venues.
Originally I started out with some clip vectors of gears - they are readily available all over the intranet for download. Vector or EPS files are important as you will want to be able to edit, and you need a format you can export to your CNC router and laser cutter. If design tools like Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw aren’t your thing, stock gears are a real blessing. In the end, I moved away from clip gears and created my own - Adobe Illustrator has some great tricks for reproducing items around the perimeter of a circle and it just gave me more freedom to design my own.
Step 2: Creating Your Own Gears
Illustrator has numerous tools for reproducing items around the circumference of a circle, be it numbers on a clock face or teeth in a gear. While there are many tutorials on Youtube dealing with creating equally spaced teeth on a gear, I decided gear teeth would be too deep and went instead with more of a bike chain "sprocket" look. This was simply accomplished by using the zig zag deformer (Effect/Distort and Transform/Zig Zag) on a circle path. Using this approach with preview ticked allowed me to both see both the depth of a tooth and total number around the circle as I changed the sliders
Step 3: Creating the Decorative Inserts
Illustrator also can help you center a number of objects around the internal area of a circle by copying and rotating items a specific number of degrees around the center point. In this example, we'll create 6 portals in the sprocket where we'll insert laser cut decorative grilles. In the example above we copy and rotate the red circle around the center point.
Create the outline for your grille - in this example, the circular shape. You can rotate any shape that fits your needs.
I find this step easier if you use a "spoke line" (that you'll later delete) and attach it to the object. This can also be accomplished by moving the center point of the shape, but if you're new to vector drawing programs this can be a little confusing. Group your "spoke" and your "shape" into one unit. Use the align commands to make sure everything is centered vertically and horizontally before beginning the rotate.
Highlight your "spoke and shape" group only, then click the rotate tool. The rotate tool control window will open. When rotating objects around a circle it’s important to remember you have a total of 360 degrees to work with. If you want things to be equally spaced, it helps if you choose numbers that work well mathematically - in this case we have 6 items to space in 360 degrees - 360 divided by 6 = 60 degrees between each item. With preview ticked, enter 60 into the angle field and hit COPY, then click OK. Copy will create a second copy of the original at the rotated angle requested. If it instead moves your original - you probably forgot to hit copy. :)
Repeat this process for each item, using the previously newly created spoke as the master. You could also use the original spoke and increase the rotation degrees by an additional 60 each round (60, 120, 180, etc.)
When finished, ungroup objects and delete the "spokes."
Step 4: Additional Layers
Part of what makes a chandelier interesting is its use of multiple layers. Creating each layer is simply a variation of the previous steps - Create the outer perimeter, rotate the interior details around the inside, delete the guides.
As shown here - each layer is simply a base circle with some other decorations rotated around the center. On this chandelier, I kept six as a consistent number of details so that items would align with each other from layer to
layer. Once everything is laid out use Illustrators path tools to join your shapes into one, or punch holes into each other.
Many 3D modeling software packages can take the files you’ve drawn and expand them out into a model - if you're so inclined. This is a great way to see that the shapes, spacing and proportions you think will look cool, will actually look cool before you spend a lot of time and money. My software likes to import EPS files as templates so I exported each file then pulled them up height wise into the model shown.
Step 5: Prepairing Your Files for Cutting
This would be a very long tutorial if I tried to explain how to use a Shopbot, or an Epilogue laser cutter. If you're a maker and you have access to either, you have undoubtedly learned to use it by now. All computer driven
cutters use software to transform vector drawing data into machine code to drive their appliance - read your manual to see what formats your cutter accepts, and export your final drawings from Illustrator (or your other vector art program) to the correct format.
We use Vetric VCarve Pro at Techshop Detroit to prepare our Shopbot files. One of the great things about VCarve Pro is it shows you the tool path it plans to cut based on your input. It then renders a 3D animation of the cutting process and a resulting model of your work. Checking the animation and 3D models of the project helps ensure that you set your cutting lines, tool size and cut depth correctly before spending hours routing only to find you didn’t.
Step 6: Lets Get Cutting!
Once your files are prepped and ready to go you can get down to business!
If you're lucky enough to own your own CAD router, the following tips won't apply to you - If you are like me and using someone else's router, you may need to do a little more planning. At Techshop, we reserve equipment in blocks of time. This chandelier took 13 hours top to bottom in creating cutting files, getting materials to the table and cutting. When you have a specific block of time available and someone else is waiting to get on the machine when you're done, you have to be sensitive to not having your cut time exceed your reservation. My chandelier had numerous add-ons, and rings that were split in half. The Shopbots software tells you how long it will take to cut a certain piece. Getting the time for all your pieces figured out, then combining what you'll cut together each visit will help keep the project on track and avoid run over. Allow a little cushion time so that if you are late getting on the equipment, or run into a small problem, there is flex time to make corrections and still finish before the next appointment..
Step 7: Glue Ups and Inserts!
If you don't work much in Styrofoam, you may be surprised to learn that it's actually pretty tough to glue up. Because it's not porous, you cant use any sort of "evaporative" glue with it - Elmers, wood glue, etc. If the moisture can't escape, your glue never dries. I learned this the hard way about five years ago on a time sensitive project. Likewise, any glues with harsh chemicals or that are kept soft in their bottles by solvents cannot be used - like some epoxies and some contact cements - even spray glues like 3M Super 77 have solvents, and solvents melt Styrofoam.
So what should you use? Gorilla Glue. If you can't get it in your area, get it online here:
Use the original, which is a brown syrupy mixture and kind of fascinating to use. Gorilla glue solidifies through an oxidation process caused by (of all things) water. Squeeze the glue all over one piece, run the other piece under the tap or brush with a paint brush full of water, then clamp them together. As the oxidation takes place, new Styrofoam is actually created - it sort of looks like "Great Stuff" the foam in a spray can that you use to fill gaps around the house. I strongly suggest you wear gloves when using this stuff and avoid touching your face. Since most of us use water to wash things off, and the glue is activated by...water...you can see why this is a problem. Once the glue sets, it can be cut sanded, etc. just like any other Styrofoam. It can also be painted and sealed.
All of my glue up work was done with Gorilla Glue including embedding PVC pipe caps in the holes in the Styrofoam for connecting two rings together with PVC pipe.
Step 8: Making It Metal
2" Styrofoam is anawesome material for carving, but not always the most damage resistant material. To extend the life of this chandelier all parts were coated with StyroSpray1000. This was my first time using StyroSpray and I have to say, this material is pretty awesome - it’s a two-part mixture mixed 1:1 by volume. Once blended it can be brushed or sprayed and has a really good working time - not too long, not to short. It lays down like glass after application so your brush strokes disappear beautifully. It requires 4 hours between coats, so you can get two coats on easily in a day, three if you’re driven :) Once hard it's like tapping on a football helmet. it's sandable and toolable once set up. You canwatch some awesome company and end user related videos here:
Once hard shelled, you're ready for paint. Because you've laid down a barrier between the foam and paint, you could use metallic spray paint without fear of dissolving the foam, but in my case, I brushed on this finish using off the shelf chain link fence paint - yep - I didn’t know it existed either, but it does and as you can see its a pretty awesome silver coating. Not mirror finish, but for anything you are going to patina or dry brush over it will work beautifully. It comes in a gallon can and costs about the same as interior latex paint.
Step 9: Aging Your Antique
To make the grille work pop, I spray painted them with a contrasting hammered copper spray paint. Accents were then added with some gold spray-paint. No care was taken to stay "in the lines." Items rust because water runs and drips, and it continues on its path till it evaporates. It almost grows and spreads like mold, so any paint that got outside of its designated area, was simply brushed and blended to continue the patina. After coloring the inserts, brown interior wall paint was dabbed on throughout the piece in random areas with a sea sponge to increase the rusted, pitted metal look.
Step 10: Wiring Up and Test Run
Any vintage look you take the time to create deserves consistency. I opted for a combination of "carnival ride" bubs (G9 globes) and vintage filament bulbs to complete the look. All were purchased through 1000bulbs.com
their selection of vintage bulbs can be seen here, but all of their stuff is pretty great if you’re a maker. I also got the necessary G9 wiring sockets from them under the Christmas section:
There are no special instructions for wiring these sorts of bulbs or sockets, it's pretty standard stuff. If you are unfamiliar with electrical - get a knowledgeable friend or professional to help you. Because my chandelier was made in three sections, I found it necessary to "chain" different parts and layers together electrically by using male and female extension cord plugs so that there would be a single plug at the end.
Step 11: Creating Magic
The chandelier had its maiden voyage on July 1st at the Baker-Fielder wedding. Since then it's been used for a couple weddings and a fundraiser at the Packard site.
When all is said and done, I would say it was a successful project. At the time of build, there was no plan for this to be a reusable item. If I'd have known then that it would have a future life, I probably would have changed a few of the design elements, particularly the way it all goes together for hanging, and probably would have stiffened up the PVC suspension system between the rings. There are more chandeliers in planning stages, but for now, I’m happy to bask in the vintage bulb glow of this beauty.