Steampunk Prosthetic Hand for a Wounded Warrior Pt. 1 [Now More Pics]




Disclaimer: The following has been edited to preserve the delicate flower sensibilities held by potential readers. Where the narrative seems disjointed please mentally insert your most depraved and disgusting epithet. It's not quite the same thing, but it's as close as you'll get.

So I wanted to build a steampunk hand.  Every Steampunk maker, at one time or another, gets it into his head that he needs to make a steampunk hand. Go google 'Steampunk Hand' or 'Steampunk Arm"; I'll wait.

I'm not going to pick apart the workmanship of everyone else who has attempted this project in earnest. But, broadly speaking they are all ~sherbet~. Yes that's a matter of personal opinion; mine.  If the goal is to represent a Pseudo-Victorian Era mechanical limb as might be employed to replace a hand that has been blown to pieces, then all of the results I have seen so far suffer from one fatal flaw. Some of them suffer from two.  Most are made out of trash materials (plastic, leather in a structural role, etc...) and all of them have a living hand tucked up in there somewhere.  By necessity then, the hand built will not look anything like a hand built to replace a lost hand. It just can't. It might be grossly over-sized, or it might simply be a decoration for the living hand with bits and pieces of the real hand or a glove showing through.


I solved the first problem by using only appropriate materials; for metalwork, this means I use metal.

The second problem is even easier to fix. I just found an amputee.

In the second photo is myself (wearing the apron) and Kyle Earl.  Kyle is a retired Marine who lost his hand to an IED in Iraq. He was featured on Yahoo! News' 'Remake America' video program. I noticed that it had been about 2 years since his hand was removed but he went about his daily routine without one.

This got me wondering why? Maybe the basic prosthesis didn't offer enough utility to justify the hassle. Maybe.


Maybe he's a ~firetrucking~ Marine. When a Marine loses a hand do you pour some jelly into a mold and let it set up into his new one? Not on my watch.

So I offered to build him a golden mechanical hand. Not to replace the hand he lost so much as to replace the empty air that occupied that space now. The VA has already hooked Kyle up with the Darth Vader robot hand but even while that will help in his everyday activities, it's not a golden hand.

Kyle does a lot of outreach work and plays on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball team, so we got together and worked through my plan to build him an exhibition hand. Something to get people's attention. The first stage is winding down and it's really turning out well.

What follows is some of the process I used to build this hand.

Step 1: Making the Bones

I'm building this thing from the inside out, which means ... bones.

I'll let the Great Artificer take credit for the rudiments of this part of the design; it was inspired by nature.

But I added a creative element that I am quite proud of. All of the brass used in this project began as military surplus spent ammunition casings. The bulk of it is cartridge brass from .223 Remington (5.56 NATO). The knuckles, that we will see later, are the bases of 50 BMG Machinegun shells. The skin of the palm is actually the casing of a 90mm artillery shell.

Like Kyle, these things began their lives as weapons, they were used, and when empty they were returned home to be remade into something constructive.

One picture below shows one of the methods I used to melt and pour the bar ingots of brass. It is a basic clay pot charcoal foundry. It was under powered but quite exciting. After that I found my old melting torch.

The ingot mold I used is an inexpensive cast iron mold with 2 cavities on one side for 1/4" X 3/8"X8" bars and a single cavity on the opposite side to cast 5/8"X3/8"X8" bars.

Once the bars were cast I hammered them flatter to give me pretty uniform 1/2"X3/16"X8" bars. Some variation of course but I allow it because it adds a nice organic imprecision to the final result.

Step 2: Metacarpals

From a tracing of Kyle's left hand (then reversed) I created this angulation diagram by plotting the position of the knuckles and how the 'bones' would have to rout to them if I wanted the bones to be attached to the knuckles straight on.

Alternatively I could have cut the metacarpal bones to length and then mitered the joint so that the knuckles point straight. I'm glad I didn't. that would have been insane.

In the third picture you can see the two disks at each end of the wrist. those disks are the base on 50 cal machine gun cartridges. The brass to be between them is the body of one of those same cartridges that had been compressed in a way to remove the taper (it was slightly cone shaped).

Step 3: Knuckles

Now you can see it with the knuckle joints attached.

While the wrist is centered on the metacarpal bones, every other finger joint is laid out so the the bottom edge of the bone is at the same level as the bottom edge of the disk..

It's hard to explain just in writing but the bottom edge of each finger bone will lay flat to a table top even though the diameter of each knuckle joint is wider than the width of the finger bone.

Just have a close look and you'll see.

Also present in this pic is the first thumb segment. The thumb was actually one of the last things done to the hand.

Step 4: Phalanges

The first picture shows the hand with the Proximal Phalanges attached (or at least in the right spot.

The second two might give an idea as to the shape of the fingers that I was aiming for, where the roundness of the knuckle rides on top of the fingers.

In the second pic the fingers are not quite complete. I change the shape of the last two fingers and segment and partially articulate the index and middle fingers.

Step 5: Wrist

The basic idea for this joint is to create a yoke that the wrist barrel of the hand will set into and then secure it with an axial pin or bolt.

I actually drilled the narrow part of the joint and pressed a brass rod through to create a place to attach springs or servos or actuators if such things are added later.

The back-plate for the wrist is some light plate (or heavy sheet) brass and some sheet copper. The wrist bones were drilled and tapped and threaded rod set into it and then the copper plate was bolted on and brazed with a nice low-silver solder. That plate is then bolted to the heavier brass 'cup' which will be attached to the socket when the project is done.

Step 6: Thumb

The thumb on this hand is the part least like it's human inspiration, but has turned out to be my favorite feature.

Step 7: Complete Skeleton

All the pieces of the skeleton are here at this point.

All of the hardware gets changed out in favor of something with adjustable tension on each joint.

Step 8: Skin

A part of my original conception of this was to have a lighter 'skeletal' infrastructure that supports a brass 'skin' on the palm side of the hand and each finger.

What actually happened is that I completed the skeleton and it looked so badass that everyone told me not to cover it up with a skin,

Also, the bones ended up being thicker than I had originally imagined so they lent a bit of the 'roundness' to the overall theme that I was relying on the skin to provide.

But I still wanted the skin. I think it adds a human or living character to the piece that a mere skeletal hand could not. My goal was to create a hand that from the back screamed "CONSTRUCT", but from the other side it was smooth and rounded and organic.  So I compromised a little and just put the skin on the palm.

To make the skin. I started with a vintage 90mm artillery shell casing. I cut the bottom off of it and then cut it long ways. After that I had to anneal it so that it would let me flatten it out.

Because the taper of the shell is very drastic at the shoulder (near where the projectile would set) I had to cut that part off and flatten the brass as two parts.

The final picture for this step shows my setting the lines on the palm with a dull chisel and hammer.

With the lines properly set I alternately sunk or raised portions of the skin with a small ball-peen hammer and a large pine stump to create the roundness.

Finally I drilled and tapped the metacarpals at points where they intersected the crease lines of the skin and attached one to the other with a half dozen screws.

Now go check out this project and others at my website

Step 9: Some More Photos

Just some extra pics.



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    43 Discussions


    If anyone is in the southeast Michigan area, I will be at the Phoenix cafe Friday July 20th for their 'up in the aether' steampunk gathering. The hand will be there as well if you would like to ... I don't know ... maybe shake it or something.


    3 months ago

    That is so nice of you to mak him a new hand! Good karma!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    this is awesome passion often gives us amazing things like this. it would be really awesome to see some HQ photos of it so we can properly appreciate it but owell uits still awesome :D


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I love this! Thinking of how I can also add electronics, but a beautiful project none the less!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Beautifully done, gorgeous finish, fantastic idea and tribute. You made it, so you can call it steam punk if you like. But it's really diesel punk, especially since it's made of cartridge brass. I'm a diesel punk guy, so I don't like my kind of stuff pigeonholed in as steam punk. That snipe aside, as I said, fantastic idea, great tribute, and marvelous workmanship. I'd like to see it with his dress blues, what an incredible photo that would be!

    5 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    A) Can you explain the difference between "steam punk" and "diesel punk"?

    B) Oh yeah... that hand coming out of the sleeve of a dress blue uniform would look sharp. Not as sharp as the factory original, by any means. But still sharp.


    Okay, anytime you try to define a genre it is an incredibly subjective thing but comparing steampunk to diesel-punk should be doable without much controversy... here goes.

    They are both a genre of expression, either an aesthetic that shapes how a creation looks or a setting in which some sort of literature takes place. But the backbone of both is a type of fiction. They describe a history that never really happened or a present tense in which something historical took place differently. I think Turtledove writes books about what the world would be like if Hitler was not defeated in WW2... that sort of thing. Both steam and diesel punk genre are 'alternate history'.

    Simply put, the historical variance that steampunk diverges from true historical fiction takes place in or about the Victorian era when steam power was the height of technology.

    Diesel-punk is generally thought to diverge somewhere between the world wars. The outlook of the two genre are often very different with steampunk usually holding some of that optimistic spark of new discovery and diesel-punk expressing some of that 'once-bitten' cautiousness held by those who participated in that first world war.

    Again, it's largely subjective and there is a great deal o cross-over. Much like anything described as 'gaslight' or even clockwork-punk which borrows all the way back to daVinci.

    All that said, except that the knuckles of this are vaguely identifiable as cut down 50 BMG casings, I don't see any part of this that screams 'diesel'.

    As for B> ... I wanted to make a hand that when people saw it ... just for a second, before humanity re-asserted itself, they would think, "Oh man! I WISH I had a prosthetic hand like that".


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Didn't I say all that (except that it's all fiction, I didn't say that, thought it was obvious)?

    As for the hand, It doesn't scream anything except incredible, but my interpretation is in the fact there was a casualty of war with metal formed as a result. That infers the darkness of diesel, it's certainly not Victorian. It is beautfiful. But you made it, so it's whatever you want it to be.

    As for b, you're right, I think people do say "Oh man! I WISH I had a prosthetic hand like that".

    BTW, I'm not bashing your creation, it's amazing and you have incredible talent. It just doesn't say steampunk to me. More modern than that. I hope the recipient appreciates it.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Steam punk is Victorian era (late 1800's) appearance on newer tech. Hence, steam, like steam locomotives. The steam powered giant spider machine in the movie version of Wild Wild West. Here's a link to a representative photo: .

    Diesel Punk is recent variation of Steam Punk, reminiscent of the early twentieth century, and is generally darker, like diesel locomotives, with a little nazi germany thrown in. Basically, the Machine Age. But, not all diesel is dark. Anything Art Deco is definitely diesel punk, and most of it is georgeous. The Chrysler and Empire state buildings come to mind. Steel yes, but also brass, chrome, and pastel colors. Depends on what you're trying to achieve. Batman is diesel, but so is Superman.

    See these sites:


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting. I suppose I'm not as familiar with the line between diesel and steam punk aesthetics.

    A very broad inspiration for this piece is the Victorian prosthetic hand you can find with google. It's slick and far more refined than my own (hence the 'punkness').

    I had always taken dieselpunk to involve more cast iron and steel, more traditional electrics, more dirt and grease and less soot.

    The techniques I use come straight out of a Victorian textbook for metalworkers. But I would be glad to hear more about diesel punk from a true believer.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Ok, I'm the mother of a son, a marine, and a daughter, his sister, who is into steampunk and robotics and plans to study biomedical engineering in order build prosthetics.

    All I can say is... this project f*ing rocks from top to bottom. F*ing rocks!

    Thank you for making it, and for documenting it!

    Chris Bilton

    6 years ago on Introduction

    I having one of these, wonderous ! and very handy around the house, of course

    Well, the genuine article would be a human hand. I have to concede that the Victorian prosthetic you link presents a more refined display of craftsmanship than mine. It's creator almost certainly had a paying benefactor and an artisan with much more time to spend.

    As a matter of style I like to lean towards the punk end of the spectrum than the fine art side. Also, I don't care for working with steel.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    That's a really clever use of surplus scrap, However, if we in the UK were to even try to source any of that stuff - ie shellcases - we would no doubt be visited by anti terror officers, arrested and banged up for 48 hours without a phone call, to say nothing of the methods that are used to extract information under that act.
    I guess we will just have to do with brass pipes at ripoff prices.
    Keep up the good work over there guys.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Ha. Well the project would have been about 100 hours easier if I had not recycled the old shell casings and instead just sourced a place of 3/16" brass.

    But it would have looked a bit more like it came out of a cnc machine.

    Also cartridge brass has a very pretty shine to it and is lead free. When I presented the idea at first it was as a 'gold hand' so the pretty shine is important.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very cool. If one has to have a prosthesis, having your artist friend make you a one of a kind artwork would be pretty cool.

    Your comment about the "Darth Vader hand" the VA gave him has got me wondering if the actual commercial robotic limbs made for vets are customizable. Like, could you strip the casing(s) off, and replace it/them with something custom? Anything from adding engraving and plating to the existing casing, to decorative cutouts, to designing and sculpting/fabricating total replacement parts that completely change the look of the arm.

    Is it physically doable? Would it void the warranty or anything like that? I tried looking this stuff up, but it's surprisingly hard to find clear information online on what types/models of prosthetic limbs are currently being given to vets.