Introduction: Metal Leaf Cutter Ant Sculptures, Large

This is intended to be a guide for people to make their own garden sculptures, I choose leaf cutter ants because I like the idea of having a line of leaf cutter ants marching through my garden, and sadly it's the wrong climate to have the real things. They will be joining the various other giant insects that currently prowl the garden.

These ants are about 25cm long, and 20cm wide, constructed entirely out of scrap or salvaged steel. I started off with a single prototype and then did batch building, inconsistencies in the number of ants in each photo are because of this.

The method of painting should ensure they remain rust free for at least 5 years, probably a lot longer, even in a cold humid climate.

I am not a biologist, these ants are not anatomically correct, probably the wrong shade of red, and carrying the wrong kind of leaf.
Asides from correcting my abysmal entomology knowledge, I would love to read any comments you may have.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

You may be able to get away with using less tools than I used, so I shall list them in order of usefulness.

Spot welder

Metal shears

Hammer and anvil

Metal working vice

MIG welder

Metal punch (aka nibbler)

Bolt croppers

Angle grinder

Clamps, lots of clamps

Improvise, or at a last resort, buy.

Sheet steel - cd drive cases for the Ants (2mm thickness), back cover a gas heater for the leaves (1mm thickness)

Steel rod - 2mm diameter, allow about 30cm for each pair of legs, this is hard to come by in terms of scrap, my stock is salvages from a friend of a friend's workshop that was closing down.

Priming paint - Zinc based preferably, it's proven rust proof for me.

Finishing paints - Whatever colours you desire, "Hammerite" is a good choice for outdoor purposes.

Step 2: Getting Started, Bodies and Leaves

I recommend knocking together a prototype if you are planning on making a batch of several similar pieces, it'll save correcting mistakes later on.
For the clarity of instuctions however, I'm going to present them as if they were all done at the same time.

Ant bodies
Clean up your scrap metal, so long as it's rust free, it doesn't matter what state it's in. My source of metal for the ant bodies was scrap cd drive cases, which have plenty of little indentations and ridges that needed to be hammered out before you start.

Grind or file the metal down to bare metal any parts that will be welded. I left as much of the coating on as possible, as it's another layer of rust protection

I just drew these out on the metal by eye, cut them out, cut slits to help the curves, then hammered them into submission.

The leaves are made from a slightly thinner metal, to stop the centre of gravity being too high. I found a metal punch tool that, after a lot of punches, resulted in some fairly realistic looking nibble marks.

Step 3: Heads and Feelers

The heads are just another piece of metal with slits cut into it, and then bent into shape. The images explain this in more detail.

The feelers are short lengths of steel rod, slotted through holes in the head, and spot welded in place.
As you can see, the spot welder was set a little too high on this one, but they are nice and secure now.

Leave a bit of metal for the neck, then spot weld it onto the body, you now have a intoxicated insect.

Step 4: Legs

The legs are done in pairs, and attatched to the body in the middle, by a strip of metal wrapped around the rod, and then welded to the body.

I did all this with the spot welder, before realising that the joints weren't strong enough and going over it all with the MIG welder.

Bend the legs into shape, probably using the vice and a hammer to get the hard angles required. I also gave each 'knee' and foot a blob of metal with the MIG welder.

Get the metal tab clamed to the ant's body, I used a deep C mole grip, and weld it firmly into place. The legs can still be bent into position, but it's much easier to do it before welding.

You should have something that looks vaugely insect like, and probably quite scary close up.

If your insects are going to live outside, on the grass or soil, you could add a spike underneath to plant them firmly in place.

Step 5: Leaves

Secure the leaves to the ant's jaws, try to keep the centre of gravity low, and about halfway along the body.

It may help to cut a slit into the leaf, which can slot into the slit of the jaws before welding. This is a fairly weak point in the design, as the leaf has a lot of surface area which will get it blown around.

Step 6: Painting, Stage 1

Pretty simple really, slather the whole thing in rust proof primer. I use zinc oxide based undercoat, which is a thick red paint that stains anything it gets near. If your piece is small enough, just dip it in the pot and let it drip off.

Make sure every nook and cranny is covered, no bare metal should be visible once the priming is done.

Let this dry for 24 hours before touching it again, preferably somewhere warm and dry.

Step 7: Painting, Part Two

To get a bit of texture on the bodies, I mixed some coarse dry sand with the glossy red paint.

I used hammerite smooth finish red metal paint, which should also help resist rust.

I used three shades of green on my leaves, a dark green base coat, a light green set of veins, and a glittery green paint for highlights.

Again, all hammerite type paints, let them dry for 24 hours between coats.

Step 8: Finished, Future Improvements.

All done, have fun posing them in various places around the house and garden.

My ants will be staying inside until summer, though I have faith in the rust proof paint, it seems pointless exposing them to the cold and wet when there's nobody outside to appriciate them.

Future improvements

More of them.

Smaller ants, climbing up a steel braided cable perhaps

Step 9: Other Projects

A few pictures of other welding projects, hopefully some inspiration for your own garden sculptures.

Missing from this selection are a rose, a tulip, a butterfly and a praying mantis. Which don't live here anymore