This set of Alphaclamps is an exploration of tools and their form. From the I-beam to the C-clamp, the latin letterforms seem to have a chicken-egg relationship with the letter-shaped tools that bear their name. Is the C the basis for design, or simply a descriptor of the form? Curious about how the other letters would work as tools, I set out to explore the mechanical utility of the forsaken letters of our alphabet.
Step 1: Design Your Clamps
I chose DIN, an official German font often used in technical applications. I find it clean and simple, with some good clamp-like letterforms.
I then measured my C-clamps to ensure my letters would be suitable for the threaded rods. I took a photo of the C-Clamps with a ruler in the shot. I scaled the photo so it was 1:1 scale and did some loose sketches in Adobe Illustrator. When satisfied, I converted to a DXF file for cutting on a Waterjet cutter.
Step 2: Cut Your Clamps
As an Artist in Residence at Autodesk's Pier 9 shop, I have access to an incredible waterjet cutter. it is a machine that can cut precise profiles in any material that is less than 6" thick and smaller than 5' x 10' feet. It does this with an intensely focused jet of ultra-high pressure water. It took the machine 4 hours to cut all 26 letters out of 1/2" thick steel plate. I listened to several podcasts.
Step 3: Drill Your Clamps
This ended up being harder than I had expected. Despite the easy-looking video, for the holes that had to pierce angled surfaces(such as the C) I had to first mill out a flat region for the drill bit to engage on. I did this with a flat end mill bit on our manual milling machine. The drill bit should be sized for the tap you will be using. My rods were a metric M10 thread, so my drill bit was ~9mm (I used 11/32", as I have never even seen a metric drill bit :)
Step 4: Tap Your Clamps
Get your audio book ready, as this is the longest step. A tap is an incredible tool for putting threads inside of holes. It is a physically demanding process. When hand tapping, one typically turns the lubricated tap until it becomes difficult, at which point it is backed off about a quarter turn. Each clamp took me about 15 minutes to tap, as the metal is quite thick.
Step 5: Sand, Oil, and Finish Your Clamps
I took some 320 grit sandpaper to the edges and finished them off with some anti-rust oil and a Scotchbrite pad.
I am fond of the semi-industrial patina.
Hopefully, they will not rust.
Step 6: Acquire and Dismantle C-Clamps
You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.
You have to break 26 C-clamps to make Alpha-Clamps.
I was able to source 2" c-clamps for less than the cost of the swivel-pad set screws alone.
36 Pc 2" C-Clamps on Amazon.
If you loosen the clamps all the way out, then continue to loosen them, the rivet holding the swivel pad should unset so it can be dismantled.
Step 7: Assemble Your Clamps
After drilling and tapping and finishing, your clamp is at last ready to be assembled. The threaded roc should thread in easily enough. I was able to loosely set the swivel pad by hand, and rivet it back to the tip with a tool in the next step.
Step 8: Re-Riveting the Swivel Pad
The end of the rod has a flared end that is expanded outward at the factory so the swivel pad does not fall off. After I un-flared the end by forcing the rod out earlier, I had to make a small custom anvil to re-rivet the cap. I turned the tool on a manual lathe out of a steel rod. After assembling the clamp, the clamp is tightened on the little anvil until the flared end expands to lock on the cap.
Step 9: Storing and Using Your Clamps
Every clamp will solve some problem at some point. Be sure to keep them safe and in order.
Step 10: Make a Sculpture From Your Clamps
This is the fun part. Clamping together 26 clamps.
Thanks for reading!