Introduction: Make a Metal Suncatcher Spinning Art Project

This style of sunctacher was popular about a decade ago - they were available in malls and other stores.  I haven't seen one for sale for several years, so I decided to make my own. This one was a proof-of-concept, to make sure I had the process mastered before making a large piece.

Step 1: Draw Your Design on a Computer. CAM the Part

Draw the design with whatever graphics package you are comfortable using.  I used VCarve Pro, a package that is capable of simple drawing.  It's normally used for CAM (computer aided manufacturing), but it has some drawing tools as well.   

I started with an elipse sized appropriately for the center element, and then added several more concentric ellipses around it. I drew a couple of vertical lines just off the center line, about 1/4" apart, then used the trim function to get a bunch of semi-ellipses.  The picture shows the process almost done.

Save the file in DXF format.

Since I planned to use the Flow Waterjet to do the cutting, I rendered the cutting paths in their Flowpath software.  Since it was a simple design, their AutoPath feature created an acceptable cutting path.  I noticed it was not maximally efficient, but it wasn't worth the effort to create all of the paths manually.

I saved the file and then headed over to the water jet to make my cuts.

Step 2: Cut It Out!

I had some leftover 16 gauge aluminum from a previous project, so I loaded it onto the water jet, got it set up and cut the design out.  The machine is quite loud, so hearing protection is a very good idea.  The attached movie shows the water jet cutter in action.

Step 3: Clean the Metal Using the Sandblaster

The surface of the aluminum piece was pretty banged up, mostly from before the water jet step, but it also had some artifacts from the 60,000 psi blast of water and abrasive.  I took it over to the sandblaster for a quick clean-up.  The result was a nice uniform gray finish.

Step 4: Powder Coat It

I selected a nice color, "Starbright Orange".  I powder coated the metal, and then baked the finish for about 15 minutes. 

The dull finish melts into a very nice, shiny surface.  This powder has glitter flakes in it, so it has some extra shine once it's all baked on. 

Step 5: Laser Engrave Some Bling on It

I engraved the TechShop logo on both sides of the sun catcher. I used just enough power to burn off the powder coating.  Since it is aluminum, it will not rust when it is exposed to the elements.  It seemed appropriate, as I made the whole thing at TechShop in San Jose, CA.

Step 6: Bend It Into Shape. Hang It Up and Enjoy It!

This last step is perhaps the trickiest, and hardest to explain.  You want to bend each concentric element a little bit more than the one towards the "inside" from it. See the before and after pictures to see visually what I did.

The movie should also demonstrate the desired effect.

Ideally one would hang it using fishing line and a swivel leader to allow it to turn freely.  I used thread for the demo, as I didn't have a swivel leader handy.

Hang it somewhere that you can watch it spin in the breeze.