Introduction: Migrating Gall Stones - an Abstract Piece

About: I'm cheap and like to use what I have on hand and I really enjoy taking things apart to salvage parts. Rather than be a precise engineering type of person, I'm more of an enthusiastic tinkerer. Making things i…

I attended a charity art auction a few weeks back. I was disappointed by the lack of abstract/weird art, which is the stuff that appeals to me. There was one abstract piece there and this led to a discussion of how best to display it since there really isn't a set orientation for abstract art. As it was a painting I suggested mounting it on a turn table that would then be attached to a wall so you could turn it whenever you wanted to see it in a different way. I thought this was a stroke a genius nearly equal to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection...but no one else seemed nearly as impressed.

As I lay half awake the next morning I thought this rotational concept would be cool to incorporate into a three dimensional piece. I thought the subject would "Have to be migrating wildebeests or something else that moved" and this thought reminded me of a relative's recent medical condition caused by migrating gall stones. And then the various components and how they could be represented came to me in rapid succession. The gall stones could be river rocks. The tissue grasping them and pulling them about the body would be yarn. A wooden base and upper portion painted red could represent the body cavity. And I could use one of those neat spinning bearing things I salvaged from a copy machine 10 years ago to make the wood pieces move. I sprang out of bed and starting working right away. The result you see pictured in this step. I'm not sure if it qualifies as a sculpture or a collage. I think 3-D collages are called "assemblages" in art terminology but I'm not sure. So here is how I made the abstract art piece I call "Migrating Gall Stones".

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Here's what I used to make "Migrating Gall Stones":

  • Two pieces of scrap wood
  • River rock
  • Yarn
  • Spray paint (primer, red and clear)
  • E-6000 (or your favorite adhesive)
  • Four rubber feet
  • Small metal rod (be sure this fits snugly in the bearing thing)
  • Rotating bearing thing


  • Jig saw
  • Circular saw
  • Hack saw
  • Router
  • Hand drill
  • Drillpress
  • Drill bits
  • Drill bit sizer
  • Drill bit stop
  • Scissors
  • Clamps
  • Bench vise
  • Sander
  • Sandpaper
  • Marker
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Painter's tape

Step 2: Design Lay Out and Cutting

First we'll need to lay out that design. On the thinner piece of wood I went with a curved design in an attempt to convey motion. I layed it out in pencil which wasn't very visible so I re-traced it with marker so it would stand out.

Next we'll need to lay out the base. I wanted a base that wasn't a lame square shape, and would be in contrast to the upper curve. So I decided to go with a polygon.To do this stand the thin upper piece on the base to serve as a reference point. Then use a ruler and pencil to mark where to cut.

Next clamp the thin upper piece of wood with the curve traced on it to a convenient table. Use a jig saw to cut it out. While cutting the inner curve I inadvertently tipped the saw a little which made a neat angled surface. This was unintentional and is most likely bad for the saw and potentially dangerous. Those with more woodworking experience are probably cringing.

When you have the upper piece cut out move on to cutting out the base. Clamp the base piece of wood to a table. I attempted to cut it with my jig saw but it was too thick. So I whipped out my circular saw and made short work of it.

Step 3: Routing the Base

After cutting out the base we need to route out a hole for the spinny thing that will eventually allow the piece to move. To do this I placed the spinny thing in the center of the base and then traced around it. Turns out the diameter is 1" and my largest router bit is 3/4". So I installed my 3/4" router bit and lowered the router until the bit touched the surface of the wood and locked it into place. Then I held the spinny thing up to the depth gauge and adjusted it down to match the depth of the spinny thing.

With the depth adjusted I released the lock. I verified the position of the bit and then did a straight plunge in the center of the marked circle. Since my bit is 1/4" smaller in diameter than the area I need to clear out there was still wood to remove. To accomplish this I moved the bit slowly around inside the traced circle to remove the excess material.

With all the material removed I test fit the spinny thing in the hole. With the fit confirmed I moved onto the next step.

Step 4: Drilling Holes With a Side of Decapitation

Now I need a hole in the upper piece for the rod and holes in the base for the feet. To do this we need to figure out where we want the holes, the diameter we'll need for the holes and the depth of the holes.

For location I just eye-balled it. For the upper piece mark the approximate middle of the wide end. For the base flip it over and lay out the feet until you have a configuration that looks good and mark the foot locations.

Now for the diameter of the holes. To determine diameter my tried and true method is sticking the part in question into my drill bit sizer. By a happy confluence of the universe (and standard part diameters in the manufacturing process) the rubber feet and metal rod are both 5/16" in diameter.

Now for the depth of the holes. For the feet simply measure the length of the foot that will be inside the base with a ruler. Then set the depth gauge on your drill press to match or go a little deeper. With that done install a 5/16" bit, clamp the base into place and drill the holes.

To drill the hole for the rod in the upper piece we'll need to take a detour. The metal rod was salvaged from it's role as a retaining rod in our old garage door. In this role it needed its nice flat head to keep it in place. We don't need this head. In fact this head will be a detriment to the success of the project. So put the rod in your bench vise and cut the head off with a hack saw. With that done we can get back to drilling.

To figure out how deep you'll need to drill to accommodate the rod place the spinny thing in the hole we made for it in the base. Then stand the rod inside of the of the spinny thing. Then measure how far the rod sticks out of the spinny thing. This is how deep we need to drill.

We won't be able to use the drill press for this as the upper part is too tall to be accommodated by a bench top drill press. So clamp the upper piece to a handy table. First use a small bit to drill a pilot hole. Be sure to keep it as level as possible so you don't pop out the side of the wood. The pilot hole should reduce the chance of splitting the wood when you drill the bigger hole and keep it on course. With the pilot hole complete, install your 5/16" bit into your hand drill. With that done secure your bit stop to the bit so you won't drill too deeply. Then drill your hole by placing the tip of the 5/16" bit in the pilot hole and holding it as level as possible. With the 5/16" hole drilled test fit the rod into the hole with the rough end of the decapitated rod inserted first. It should fit snugly.

With the drilling done we move onto sanding...

Step 5: Sanding

Sanding is really important. It gets the rough surface to go away and helps the paint bind to it.

First use a rough grit paper to remove the big jagged pieces. Then use your power sander with finer grit papers to smooth it out as much as possible. (I had some areas I just couldn't smooth out. I'm not sure why but I think it may have something to do with how the wood was cut and the grain.) Next use a fine grain steel wool to finish it off.

Now you'll need to clean the dust off of the pieces so it can be painted. I used a Swiffer for this because I'm too cost concious to buy a tack cloth. This was a mistake as it left lots of little fibers on the wood. So buy a tack cloth. You won't regret it.

Step 6: Priming and Painting

With the cutting, drilling, routing and sanding done we move on to painting. Take your pieces to a well ventilated area (outside) and lay them out on some newspaper. Then use spray primer as your first coat. Primer helps obscure imperfections and increase the bonding of the paint. At least that is what the can says. Once you've primed it wait for it to dry and then apply the paint. I ended up applying four coats because parts of the grain really resisted taking the paint. But overall I liked the end result.

Step 7: Assembly

Once the paint is dried we can start putting Migrating Gall Stones together. First insert the feet into the holes in the base. Friction should hold them in place, but if they're loose use a little E-6000 (or your favorite adhesive) to hold them in place.

With the feet in place turn the base over. Flip the spinny thing over (the bottom doesn't spin) and smear a little E-6000 around the perimeter. Make sure you avoid putting E-6000 in any openings in the spinny thing so it will continue to spin. Then place the spinny thing in the hole and wait for the glue to dry.

While the E-6000 is drying on the base slide the rod into upper piece. Once again friction should hold it in place.

Once the E-6000 has set-up place the rod in the spinny thing and take it for a test spin. This will identify the path of travel so you won't glue stones in places that will prohibit spinning. Once you've identified the path of travel you start gluing stones. You'll have to glue in stages as E-6000 requires some time to dry. But the best process I found was to put a dab of E-6000 on the back of the stone. Stick it to the surface where you want it. Wait for it to dry. To glue stones to the neck of the upper piece and other awkward locations you'll have to prop the pieces in some interesting ways, but it really isn't too challenging.

Step 8: String the Yarn

Once the glue has dried on your stones it is time to start stringing the yarn. The main thing to remember is to make sure the yarn doesn't stray into places where it will inhibit the ability to spin the upper piece.

That being said the first step is to anchor your yarn. Do this by smearing some E-6000 on your yarn and then tucking the end next to a stone. Wait for it to dry completely. Once dried begin wrapping the yarn around and between the stones. This procees will take some time as you will have to apply E-6000 to strategic locations to keep the yarn in place. Try to keep your yarn taut. Use clamps to keep the tension on while you're waiting for th glue to dry.

Finish off the wrapping of the upper piece by applying E-6000 to the yarn and wrapping it around a stone while pulling the yarn tight. Apply a clamp. When it is dry cut the yarn close to the stone.

Wrap the base in a similar fashion, making sure to avoid the upper piece's path of travel. I finished the yarn off by gluing it to the bottom of the base while a clamp held the yarn taut. Then I trimmed of the yarn. You'll notice I attempted to sign the piece with my wood burner. The grain was very uncooperative so it didn't turn out too great.

Step 9: Seal the Deal

With the E-6000 dry it is time to seal the piece so the yarn doesn't fray and paint won't peel. This step will also make the stones glossy and give the thread sticking off the yarn a slightly creepy tendril look.

First seperate the upper piece and the base. Then cover the spinny thing and the end of the rod with painters tape. With that done take the piece back to a well ventilated area and lay it out on newspaper. Spray with clear sealent of some type. When the paint has dried pull off the tape and assemble.

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