The purpose of this project—as intended by myself, but is not exclusive to—is to act as an accent piece in order to provide a striking stage presence for a performing musician. The lacing patterns are unique to each piece and to the wearer, and offer an element of showmanship and pizazz.
Step 1: Things You Will Need
- metal of your choosing (note: keep in mind that some metals, such as stainless steel, will not hold a weld; there are ways around that in creating your guard, but they are not covered in this Instructable)
- safety gear (welding mask, gloves, protective glasses, ear protection (plugs or covers))
- angle grinder
- clamps (lots)
- files (of various sizes, though small rounded and angled will be best)
- bench grinder
- plasma cutter
- two hinges and two hook-clasps (it is highly advised to buy spares)
- soap stone
- air grinder
Step 2: Getting Into Gear
A starting sketch and quick prototype are key to begin this project. It's important in order to both visualize your idea, and make sure that your concept can transfer to the real world. In this stage, add your own flare to your guard! Change the size, the fit, cut the overhang in a different pattern or off entirely, just go nuts and see what you like! This will help solidify what your goal for your metal is going to be, and in making sure you love your design. For this step, I used notebook paper (for sizing and as a stencil) and foam core.
Step 3: Starting Out
Gaining familiarity with equipment is very important; practice shaping scrap pieces in order to get a feel for how the anvil can be used! (Not shown: it's a great idea to practice with all equipment before using it for your guard; I had a spare piece of metal that I practiced with the angle grinder on, then shaped the piece I cut out from that.) Be sure to map where to cut your design (go slightly larger than intended, as it’s better to have excess material than not enough). Your prototype will help with this--I used my foam core piece as a stencil on the metal, because I knew that it was sized correctly.
Step 4: Cutting Out Your Shapes
The angle grinder (the green piece in the first photo) is a powerful tool. Be sure that you have proper safety gear on before operating (i.e., safety glasses, gloves, and ear protection) and that long hair is tied back. There will be a fair amount of sparks from this tool, so it is recommended that you wear long pants.
To begin, be sure that your metal is securely clamped down onto a stable surface. Working in steady, layering motions, begin grinding on the surface of your piece. You may be tempted to start from the side and cut all the way through, but this causes a rough cut that is difficult to control. Once the initial groove is made on the metal, the grinder will easily follow that path and allow for a cleaner separation.
Step 5: Shaping Your Pieces
Now that you've cut out your pieces, it's time to shape them. You will need gloves for this step. You may also wish to use tinted safety glasses; they are recommended, but not necessary (I didn't use mine for this bit).
Securely fasten your metal into a vice, and attach clamps to the top. Using a torch, carefully heat the base of the metal, where it meets the vice, until it begins to faintly glow red. Slowly, begin to pull on the clamps until you feel you've reached your desired shape. It may be best to have assistance for this portion, to ensure an even bend. Adjust your piece in the vice and continue bending.
Once your general shape is achieved, remove your piece from the vice and use the clamps and torch to finely adjust any remaining areas that are out of shape. You may later wish to use the anvil and hammer for further shaping. Be sure to fit the piece to your arm throughout this process (after the metal cools, of course) to ensure that things are going smoothly, and to pinpoint which areas still need work.
Step 6: Fine Tuning
After shaping your pieces, the excess metal that was left will need to be taken away. Using a soap stone, mark what areas need to be reduced. I put hash marks below the line so that I knew that was the material being removed. This is a slow process that requires a lot of patience. Be sure to stop periodically and check the fit as you grind, to ensure that you don't remove too much from your piece--once it's off, it's off.
You will also likely need to shape your metal again in certain areas to fit the pieces to each other as well as to your arm. The anvil is great for small, quick adjustments like this.
Step 7: Design Sketch
When your pieces are ready, use the soap stone to sketch out your designs. It's a good idea to create a design frame for your guard, so that you know that you've left enough space to attach your hinges and hook-clasps. Be creative with this! It doesn't have to follow a traditional lace pattern; incorporate things that you love! I love chemistry and the artist "LP", so I hid two benzene rings and two chair structures in my design to make it my own! (the LP is a little more blatant...)
Keep in mind that you are working with both positive and negative space for this design--it's crucial that you take this into account so that you don't accidentally cut off a piece you don't mean to. I distinguished between what would be cut out and what would stay by filling in the negative space with the soap stone, so that I had rough idea of what the remaining metal would look like after cutting. Be sure to leave enough metal attached back to the main frame so that your design is supported.
Step 8: Cutting Your Design
Now it's time for the exciting part! Cutting your design is the first moment your guard really begins to take on its character. The plasma cutter isn't difficult to get the hang of, though you will definitely want to practice beforehand. During my process, I found that, due to the nature and shape of the plasma cutter, the more rounded patterns transferred much better than the angular ones. This is something to keep in mind for your guard!
You will need gloves and a tinted face mask for this step, as the light from the cutter can damage your eyes. There's a good amount of sparks that fly from the cutter, so closed-toed shoes and long pants are a must. Be wary of where you stand, as falling pieces being cut out are extremely hot.
Step 9: Cleaning Things Up
The plasma cutter has a tendency to leave behind a lot of debris on the underside of your piece, as the melted metal drips down, and cools. A great way to smooth this back out is using an air grinder (this can also be used to polish your piece, if you so choose). Next, filing the cuts of your design is a great way to clean up rough edges and refine areas of your pattern.
Now, during my plasma cutting process, the clamp holding it to the bench ended up bending the bottom piece outward slightly, so that it was raised up from its counterpart. Through some improv rigging, I was able to get it back on the vice so that I could heat it with the torch and slowly bend it back in segments. Hopefully you will not run into this issue so long as your clamp isn't so tight as mine was, but if it does there's one way of going about fixing it.
Step 10: Welding Hinges and Clasps
Perhaps the easiest portion (in theory, learn from my mistakes...), is welding the hinges and hook-clasps to your guard. You'll want to hold your metal together how you wish for them to lay, and mark that spot through the screw holes of each piece with sharpie.
A VITAL STEP is making sure that your hinges are BENT to lay flush against your piece. Otherwise it will not weld properly and will pop off, leading to lots of unnecessary frustration and cursing, not that I would know... The same goes for the clasps.
Align your attachments and marks, and clamp the pieces into place. Wearing your welder's helmet and gloves, ground your wire welder to your piece and weld overtop the holes of the attachments. These will be very hot, so allow them to cool before inspecting. To attach the hooks, be sure that they are able to freely rotate so that they can hook into the clasps. Originally, I had planned on creating a hole in the side of the piece, grinding down the screw, and welding over that on the inner curve of the guard so that there was no risk of accidentally welding the hook to its pivot, but the torch ran out of gas and I had no way of creating that hole (at least not with my current skillset). So, I ground the screw down and very, very, VERY carefully used pliers to hold the hook and screw together while I welded the ground edge directly to the outer curve. Long story short, don't run out of gas in your torch or have another way to make a hole. This was not a one-try success story, I'm afraid.
Once you are sure everything is secure, buff the hinges and clasps to get rid of the burn marks. I would advise against buffing the hooks, as they may get damaged or caught up.
Step 11: Finished Product
You have now successfully finished your forearm guard! Wear it proudly and show the world how awesome you are!