Introduction: Make Your Own Spectacular Steampunk Spectacles for Under a Dollar: Frames and Lenses Included!

Oh dearie me, what ever shall I wear to the Mad Scientist's ball tonight?   Ever since I built my own lasers for some home-brew eye surgery, I have not needed glasses, but  any mad scientist knows the right eyewear is essential.  Through the centuries, eyeglasses have symbolized scholarship, wisdom, and intelligence. and certain styles (monocles in particular)  also serve as  fair warning to the general public to stay at least the blast radius of a medium-sized bomb away from their  wearers.

A quick search of local Lenscrafters reveals that not only to they not carry medieval-style copper glasses with brass accents and add-on magnifying lenses, a pair of ordinary glasses EASILY costs $500.   This does not seem right.  After all, the concept behind a pair of spectacles is so simple they thought of it in the Middle Ages .  Take a piece of wire, twist them around some sort of hard, transparent substance, and put it on your face, and suddenly, the world is a very different place:  everybody who sees your killer specs knows that you're intellectual, clever, and, in combination with the approved mad scientist hairdo,  crazier than a cat chasing a Tesla coil. 

After using my orbital laser to obliterate every local optometrist store for selling wildly overpriced optics, I went back to my lab.  I was  determined to make a better, cheaper, and more stylish pair than any I had just vaporized.   And now, I shall SHOW YOU SHOW YOU ALL how do make your very own steampunk costume glasses for less than a dollar.  The concept is simple:  use a single length of wire to twist together some frames, and fill the frames with hard candy lenses.  With some copper wire and a pot full of culinary napalm , you too can be the Belle of the Madwoman's Annual Ball and Benefit!

So let's get down to making a spectacle of ourselves. 


Frame material:
six feet of copper wire, (I used Essex 12 AWG type THHN), but copper wire thick enough to look cool and be sturdy but thin enough to work by hand will do.  Also, you really only need three feet of wire, but use the other three feet in the wire-straightening process)
Wire cutters.
broom handle
razor to strip any plastic off the wire

Lens material
Corn syrup
Cream of Tartar
no-stick spray

Cooking materials: 
candy thermometer (optional)
wooden spoon (optional)
Pyrex glass measuring cup or a homemade candy crucible (made of wire and a pop-can)
cookie sheet

Step 1: Stripping and Straightening the Wire

Get out your wire. 

If your wire has a plastic coating, the first thing you need to do is strip it. 

My favorite method is to take an Exacto knife, slice off a long strip of plastic, and then peel the plastic off the wire like it's a banana.  

Once you have the wire stripped, it's time to straighten it.  You might notice that you're wire has some kinks and bends in it.  Those kinks and bends will show up in your completed eyeglasses if you don't get rid of them now.  

Anyone who has ever tried to bent a hanger back into shape knows that once you get a kink, you can't try bending it the other way to straighten it out.  For physics reasons that I have never delved to deeply into, probably having to do with angles of force and suchlike,  it takes less force to bend straight wire than it does to try and bend the bent piece backwards to straighten it.  If you try that way, it will end up full of kinks. 

There are several alternative ways that are much better.  My way is pretty violent, as befits a mad mechanic of my stature.

Find a pole upright in the ground- a telephone pole, a supporting pole in your basement, a post, something that is sturdy and can take a violent yank or ten. 

Now, your wire will have two ends- one, the end you just peeled, and two, the other end of the wire, (or if you are working from a wire roll, the roll counts as the 'end.'  From now on, I'm just going to call each end 'the wire' and 'the roll.'  

Stand in front of the pole, facing the pole, with the roll in your left hand and the wire end in your right hand.  Let go of the wire end and thread it behind the pole, and grab it again with the right hand. From the pole to the wire end in your right hand, there should be about two to three feet, so measure that distance by eye.   You now have the wire in a half-loop around the pole.

Now, take your roll, which is in your left hand, and pass it around the pole counterclockwise.  Keep going until you have wrapped it around the pole at least twice.   The roll will end up in your left hand.   We're going to be tugging and pulling on the wire end, so wrapping the wire around the poll twice, and holding the roll in your hand, will create enough tension and friction that wire will stay put instead of sliding around the pole. 

Now, grab a pair of pliers. You'll want to use them to grab the tip of the wire end, but in a very specific way.  You will want to grab the end of the wire with the pliers in such a way that the pliers are parallel to the wire you are straightening, NOT perpendicular to the wire you are straightening.  Think of it like this, if the pliers were scissors and you were going to cut the wire, they would be perpendicular (at a 90 degree angle) to the wire.  On the other hand, if the pliers were a mouth and the wire were a hot-dog, it would start by taking a bite off the end of the hot-dog- and that would put the pliers parallel to the wires.  So...have the pliers bite the wire like a base-ball fan bites a hot-dog.   Got that?   Good. See the pictures if you're confused. 

Holding the roll in your left hand, and your pliers in the right, pull back on both ends of the wire until everything is tight.  Note the position of your left hand, the one with the roll in it.  That is where you'll need to hold the role so that everything stays tight.

Now, with you're right hand, keep the pliers clamped on the end of the wire, but let the tension in the wire loosen. This is the fun part, although you're going to have to be sure not to dislocate a shoulder. 

With the pliers in your right hand, jerk the wire back pretty violently.  This will pull the wire straight and begin to smooth out the kinks.  Do this several times until the wire is as straight as you like.   I'm a lazy mad scientist, so I don't have the arm strength to get out all the kinks, but the harder you do it, the straighter the wire will become.   Again, DO NOT dislocate a shoulder:  If you really must have a perfectly straight wire, there are severalothertechniques

You will note that the end of the wire now has all sorts of little grooves and teeth marks where you were holding it with the pliers.  If you don't want them on your glasses, snip off that bit with a pair of wire cutters. 

Note: this process does something called work-hardening to your wire, so when it this is done, it make the wire stiffer and less flexible. This will make it slightly harder to make your glasses, but not enough to make a big difference.

Step 2: You've Been Framed: Making the Glasses Frame

Because soldering is a pain in the butt, we're going to make our glasses out of a single wire.

First, we are going to make a temple.  Google informs me that 'temple' is what you call the bit of the glasses that extend behind the ears to hold the frame in place.  First, measure the distance from a little bit behind the back of your ear to a little bit in front of your eye.  This is going to be the length of your temple.  Once you know the distance, put a 90 degree bend in your wire. This is where a hinge would go on your collapsible glasses.  You should also bend  the temple over the ears so that it looks like a regular eyeglass temple. 

After the hinge, measure the distance from the hinge to the corner of your eye.  That is where we are going to put the next bend.  If you imagine that you are already wearing your glasses, then the next bend you make is a 90 degree bend down toward the ground. 

Now, you are going to wrap your wire around a broom handle to make the lens.  The way you wrap the wire around the broom handle is kind of important. Imagine it like this:  hold the broom handle upright.  hold the temple that you made paralell with the broomhandle, with the first ninety degree turn you made on top. Now, hold that second ninety degree turn you made up flush with the broomhandle.  The wire should be going away from you, NOT towards you.  Wrap the wire around the broom handle to create the first lens holder.  As the wire comes around to make one full wrap, make sure it goes above the ninety degree bend, NOT below.  Make another half-wrap around the broom stick, ending when the wire is opposite from where it originally entered the bend.  This sets us up to make the bridge of the nose.  (Really- this is hard to describe with words, so make sure you're looking at the pictures, too.)

Take it off the broom handle, and sculpt the bridge so that it fits your nose.  Several tries may be needed,  although with this style of bridge, called a saddle bridge, adjustments can be made later. 

Now it is time to make the other lens holder.  You are going to do it by following all the directions you followed to make the previous lens holder, except you're going to do it in reverse order. Wrap your wire around the broom one and a half times, making sure that the wire comes out opposite the bridge and that the wire is wrapped such that the bridge will be in front when you're wearing the glasses. (So when you're passing your wire around the broom, make sure the wire goes under the bridge and not over it.)  Take a look at the other lens, and see where the wire fed into the lens holder.  You'll want your glasses to look symmetrical, and to fit right, so before making any ninety-degree bends, make sure your wire is leaving this second lens holder at the same place it entered the first lens holder.    That's where you will want to bend it 90 degrees. 

From that 90 degree bend, check to see where you need to bend it to make the next temple.  When you've figured it out, go ahead and make another 90 degree bend to make the temple.

Check the glasses to see how long to make the temple, and then snip them off the wire roll with a pair of wire cutters. 

For your comfort, you might want to sand down the end of the wires so you don't scratch yourself every time you take them on and off. 

Now check for fit, make any adjustments you need to to make the wire fit comfortably on your face. Tada!  You have your very own glasses frames!

Step 3: Making a Pair of Sweet Lenses

Now, we're going to make the lenses.  And, since Steampunk glasses are sweet, we're going to make them out of hard candy.

Let's get cooking. 

Get your ingredients around.  You need:

1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Water
1/4 cup Corn syrup (optional)
1/8 teaspoon Cream of Tartar (optional)

Get your supplies.  You need a
candy thermometer,
wooden spoon
Something to pour molten candy from (see below for recommendations)
flavoring (optional)

For info on the science behind the ingredients and why nearly everything is optional, check out this lovely website .

This is a half-batch of candy, but it's still much, MUCH more than will be needed, so either have more than one spectacle to make, go ahead and make some suckers, or see my other tutorial and make yourself an edible magnifying glass.

This is the most dangerous part of the process.  Liquid candy is charmingly called culinary napalm because it's hot and sticks to everything.  Be careful.  Wear an apron.  Safety goggles would not go amiss.  Remember, being a mad scientist means you destroy them all, not  yourself. 

I don't like to pour molten candy from a heavy pan directly into my glasses, so I made myself a candy-pouring crucible like the one in this Instructable . I made my candy crucible out of an aluminum can, an awl, a three-foot piece of thin wire, and a wooden skewer. I like my design because when you pour candy into it, the molten candy will bubble up as the last bits of water vapor try to escape it. Since my hole is in the bottom of the crucible, there are not as many air bubbles in the stream of molten candy flowing out the bottom.  I can also plug that hole with a wooden skewer, and since the hole is at the very bottom, it's not hard to find it with the skewer.  Since the glasses are particularly small, it helps to be able to only poor small amounts of candy. 

You can also use a pyrex glass measuring cup to pour, although I don't.  If I had a pyrex glass measuring cup and poured from the top, i would get a lot more bubbles in my candy.  However, my experiments show that although it looks like you will have lots of annoying bubbles in your candy, most of them will pop and go away as the candy sits and cools. So you can either make your own candy crucible or just use a glass measuring cup, and you will probably get equally good results either way.

Got everything around?  Good.  Let's get started. 

Mix the sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar in your saucepan.  Stick it on your stove, and turn your stove up to high.  I got out my wooden spoon and stirred my mixture to make this particular batch, but a professional cook recommends never stirring your mixture for better candy.

When the candy starts to boil, put in your thermometer. If you don't have a thermometer, you can use the cold water method to check how done your candy is. Make sure the bulb of the thermometer is in the candy.  If it doesn't reach, you will have to tilt the pan and cover the bulb occasionally to check what the temperature of your candy is. 

You will notice that at the very beginning, your candy solution looks like boiling water.  Near the end, however, it looks like boiling oil: the candy is very thick and viscous, and it has turned slightly golden.  Unfortunately, the gold color is something you'll have to live with in your lenses:  I have not yet found a way to make clear hard candy.  You can make clear candy if you want your lenses to be the consistency of taffy, which is both fun and doable, but the lenses will slump out of the frames after about an hour so you'd have to keep sticking them back in.  I recommend having golden lenses with hard candy, as it will last much longer. (I made mine a week and a half ago, and they are still good, if a bit sticky.)   It will take ten to fifteen minutes to get up to temperature. I do not recommend wandering away or setting a timer, because there is a very small difference between a nice, pale yellow hard candy and a burned, blackened, viscous mess.

While you're waiting, be sure that you have your spectacles nearby.  Place them face-down on a cookie sheet or plate sprayed with no-stick. 

  When your candy reaches about 290 degrees, turn off the stove.  Hard candy is made at 300 degrees, and the pan will heat your candy up the additional few degrees.   You do NOT want to go over 310 degrees, because that's when the candy starts to burn.    I don't even like to go over 300 degrees.  This is the point where you want to stir in a few drops of any flavoring you want.

Take your candy off the stove and pour it into your crucible.  Let the bubbles settle for a about half a minute, and then, gently, very gently, start pouring the candy into the mold.  Your candy will probably leak under the lenses since the wire frames you made are not completely flat.  Any candy that leaks out can be eaten off later, as long as there is not too much of it. 

If your candy starts to set up while your pouring, and you're using a microwave-safe crucible to pour, go ahead and stick it in the microwave for fifteen to thirty seconds to loosen it up again, then continue pouring. 

Now...we wait.  Depending on how thick the candy is, it can take anywhere from ten minutes to an hour to fully harden. Your spectacles are pretty thin, so they'll harden up quick. 

After you're done, I recommend sticking everything- thermometer, crucible, pan, and all- in the sink and filled it with water.  Sugar is water-soluble, so unless you burned it everything will dissolve away without any scrubbing.

Step 4: To Polish Off This Project, Polish Up the Lenses

These are costume glasses made of  using candy glass, so you probably won't be able to see out of them very well, because of the bubbles in the glass and the imperfections of the surface.  However, my tests show you can see out of them enough for practical purposes- it's a bit like looking through a wavy crazy-house mirror, but you can see enough to get around. 

One way you can improve the quality of the lens is by polishing away the imperfections- the bumps and such.  Since this is candy, the 'polishing basically means 'lick it until it goes away.'   Since the frames are copper, you'll get the occasional taste of copper, which doesn't taste all that great, but you'll be able to see out of your exciting steampunk glasses! 

Another way you can polish your lenses is simply by setting them on a table out of the way of everything and everybody (especially cats) and waiting.   (Set your glasses horizontally, not on the lenses, or this trick won't work: see picture 2.)   Candy is hygroscopic, which means it loves water and will absorb from the air around it.  This is why the top surface of your candy turns sticky and tacky to the touch if you leave out out.  The water will get into the top layers of your lenses first, somewhat dissolving them, and gravity will ever so slowly drag the water-filled candy down to pool at the bottom of the lenses.  This will also smooth out the surface of the lenses, and all you have to do is clean off the sticky pool at the bottom of your glasses before you put them on.  When your lenses are in this state, they will stick to everything and everybody, so you'll have to be extra careful with them.   I found this trick out on several humid days, so I don't think it will work as well in winter, when there is not water in the air.  I'm sure that you clever instrucable folks can come up with some sort of candy humidifier or something, though. 

After it's all polished up, you might consider dehumidifying your lenses: i.e. rigging up some sort of dehumidfying chamber and sucking as much water out of it as possible.  This will make your candy FAR less sticky- about as sticky as regular table sugar. 

I also experimented with using spray-on shellac (the kind they use for wood polish) over the candy to keep it from getting more moisture in it- or rather, I coated one of my edible magnifying glasses with shellac so see if I could make it last longer.  The shellac did provide a perfectly clear coat over the candy- however it tended to wrinkle and bunch up like thick cloth when handled.  I think this was because there was already a layer of watery-candy on the surface of the lense when I applied the shellac. (specifically, I had already used my tongue to polish it).  As a result, the shellac slipped and slid over it the candy glass.  However, that problem only showed up when I tried handling the magnifying glass.  Since as a rule I don't  touch the glasses lenses, a layer of shellac might protect your glasses lenses from ambient humidity and make them last longer. 

On the other hand, you don't have to do anything fancy to your lenses if you don't want to. I made my first hard candy lenses over a week ago, in some of the worst heat and humidity that Midwest, USA, has ever experienced, and, while the top layers keep slowly melting off, they still work perfectly.  Hard candy is pretty durable stuff.  And when you're sick of these lenses, stick your glasses in water, let them dissolve away, and recycle your frames!