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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Draco, Draco!

Bis Terribilis-
Bis Appellare

Draco, Draco!
        -Tanith Lee

So, for a long time now I've been trying to come up with a better solution to the 'How do we hide the ugly trailer hitch' problem. In years previous, I've used a sort of plastic mesh that has fake ivy leaves to cover it. I've used the same stuff on the leveling jacks. 

You can see it in this picture. Frankly, I don't think we were fooling anyone. That is, I doubt anyone thought that an ivy bush had suddenly decided to grow in the middle of a field:

Not terrible, but not great, either. I've never really been happy with that solution, and I decided to re-work all the camouflaging for the vardo, starting with the hitch cover. 

Originally, I'd thought about using chicken wire and void filler to make a hollow 'rock' to fit over it, but that would be really hard to stow for travel. We already have enough bulky and awkward items to pack for Pennsic, I wanted something that would be easy to manage, and not too heavy.

So round the time we dropped the vardo off with Lars, Norm and I went out to dinner at a local place with my son Ian. Ian's 18 and just graduated high school, and likes to draw and play music. He's been very enthusiastic over the whole project, even though he doesn't get to live in the vardo. (He has a very nice Viking A-frame instead.)

So, over a carafe of sangria (and a glass of soda), we all started talking about the hitch cover problem. Should we do it out of plywood? What should the design be? 

Ian: How about a viking dragon? Like on a ship's prow? 
(I should note that his dad being of direct Norwegian ancestry, Ian is a perfect example of your typical giant-adolescent-Viking)
Me: A dragon would be cool, but I want the vardo to have a celestial theme. I don't think that would 'go'. 
Ian: Well, what if it was a STAR dragon?
Me: You mean, like a constellation? 
Ian: Yeah! You could have it be a dragon and a constellation at the same time. 
Norm: Isn't there actually a dragon constellation? 
Me: Yeah, I think there IS!
We all started shooting suggestions back and forth, and I sketched them all out on my place mat:

So,to begin with, I needed to figure out the general shape of the area that needed to be covered. I didn't want to do a whole lot of work on something only to find out it was too small. So I used a piece of cardboard to estimate the minimum coverage:

Next, I used that as a template to base the dragon design on. As long as I 'enclosed' all of the 'test' piece in the design, the entire hitch would be covered. Here's the finalized drawing on cardboard, which I then cut out with a box cutter. 

A quick test to see if it would fit, look OK, etc. Unfortunately, I neglected to test whether the door would open, so later on in the process Draco had to lose about 1 inch of his 'crest'. 

 The cardboard template was traced onto a sheet of plywood, once facing right, and once facing left. Then, Norm cut out the shapes with his jigsaw. 

As I mentioned earlier, a second test revealed that Draco's 'crest' extended too far back and interfered with the door opening. So, we gave him a bit of a haircut. Next, Norm screwed a 1x2 framework onto the back of each one to reinforce it. I filled in all the screw holes with wood filler, and then sanded it all smooth. Finally, each piece got 2 coats of flat black enamel on all sides. 

Here they are with the original cardboard template. I cut out the mouth and eyes and the 'crest' area, to use it as a template for the artwork. I traced the template on each with a white pencil. 

 Now the really fun part: Art! I started by cutting a stencil for the scales, and using a sea sponge to sponge on the blue paint. Next, I mixed blue & white and sponged on medium tones. Finally, I used pure white for the brightest tones. I was going for as much depth as I could get. - I wanted each dragon to look like he was made of stars and comets and galaxies. 

 Lastly, I used the same copper accent paint to sketch a 'constellation' on each dragon, including stars of different sizes, and the lines connecting each. I was trying to go for the sort of artwork you might see on a medieval ceiling that shows the zodiac. I used a LOT of painter's tape, and a small sponge 'pouncer'. The eye was a stencil that I hand-cut using a heat tool. I loosely based the 'constellation' design on the actual constellation of Draco, but I had to take some major artistic liberties. The actual constellation has a lot of deep switchback curves, which would not fit on the wood shapes I had to work with. But I think I honored the spirit of the idea pretty well. 

So here they are placed on the vardo to see how they will look when they're doing 'guard duty'. I'm very pleased with them. I'm guessing there's at least 15 hours of work in each of these. Whew!

Of course, they still need about a million coats of clear to protect the art, and I have to  put a couple of hinges on the front (breast) area. But that's not very interesting for a blog. :)
So that's it for now: I'm hoping to have more in a week or so. The next project is a 'skirt' made of theatrical blackout cloth that will cover the wheels and leveling jacks. I'm planning on painting 'grass' on the bottom edge, so that it will look as real as possible. So...

Next: Is the grass REALLY ALWAYS greener? Or is it just a vicious rumor? 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Songs From Sterling Forest

Let me bring you songs from the wood:
to make you feel much better than you could know.
Dust you down from tip to toe.
Show you how the garden grows.
Hold you steady as you go.
Join the chorus if you can:
it'll make of you an honest man.

-Jethro Tull, 'Songs from the Wood'

Saturday, Norm and I spent a great deal of the day at Sterling Forest with Lars wrapping up as much as possible of the interior. Anything that he needed his table saw or major equipment for had to be done by sundown yesterday. 

By-and-large, we succeeded.
Here, Catch!
Check out the trimwork Lars did on the arches. He actually FREEHANDED the scrollwork:
Mmmm, Gingerbread!

Norm surveying the progress:

Here's a wider shot of the interior, at the very end of the day, after cleanup: (Lars took this one)

So by the end of the day, closing about 6 days of work (not counting rainy days), the following was accomplished:

  • 99% of the wainscot paneling is up
  • Shelving has been completed
  • Closet has been installed
  • Sink hole was cut
  • Benches finished, including seats that lift on piano hinges
  • Underbed storage hatch/table finished and installed with a piano hinge
  • 80% of the faux copper ceiling installed
  • Back window roofing on
  • Fore and aft trimwork attached.
A couple of things are yet to be completed, but Lars is planning on coming up for a day or so to our house in a week or two to finish up

  • Complete battery installation
  • Wire outlets
  • Wire and install the reading lights
  • Complete the ceiling installation
  • Install sink plumbing (? Norm might do this.)
That's the last of the major construction, though. After this it's FUN STUFF!!!!!

My Faire Lady

While Norm and Lars fussed about the vardo, I decided to make myself more useful by making myself more scarce. While I'm not bad with a hammer, I am slow and would need lots of direction in order to help out. Seeing as we were operating under a time crunch, I felt that I would do the most good by keeping myself out of the way. 

 During the first part of the day, there had been some activity when the faire performers met in the tourney field for figher-practice. Also, the 'Spartan' athletic event was going on in the ski area adjacent to the faire, so there was quite a bit of swishy-thwack going on, accompanied by dubstep and dance music from the event loudspeakers. 

However, as the afternoon waned, things started to quiet down, and I took the opportunity to walk around the empty, quiet faire. 

Usually, when attending, there are so many people, and so much going on, that I don't really see the buildings or grounds. At least, not the details. And the place is amazingly detailed. A lot of care has gone into many of the boothes, and people have planted gardens around them. 

Here's some shots I took:

The view from the Lundegaard boothe's balcony

From the back balcony, across the lake. A tree has fallen in Larr's backyard, which had to be winched back up. I don't think this view is usually so clear. 

Beautiful weathervanes. 
When all was said and done, we packed up the remaining building materials, hitched 'er up, and drove home.Stopping for dinner meant we got home about 10PM. 


So today, Norm was determined to get a coat of paint on the trimwork right away, so that it could be sealed against the weather. I really had to think about what color to paint it. So far, we'd used a cranberry red for the vardo walls, and indigo for the trim. I also have a gallon of metallic copper paint, intended for the 'accent' color. Well, I realized that if I followed the 'logical' path and painted the gingerbread the 'trim' color (indigo), it wouldn't show up very well. There'd be almost no contrast between the gingerbread and the blue paint behind it in the under-arch. 
Consulting with Norm, we decided that we REALLY wanted the trimwork to pop. It's beautiful and deserves to hit people right in the eye. So we're painting it the metallic copper. 

Here's a picture of the gingerbread with a coat of the copper on it:
While this was going on, I ran some errands to Home Depot; specifically, getting the clearcoat that needs to go over the copper paint, and a good brush for it. I also polished up the copper sink. Not exciting stuff, but necessary.

Next: Stain and Seal? Electricity? Sewing Projects?

Stay Tuned!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Let There be Light

If you were wiser you would get out
And the light that shines through the shining night
Is a lamp that I carried from my mother's home
And the light that burns through the window pane and the love remain

-Stevie Nicks - Blue Lamp

After a long time of not much happening, suddenly, A Great Deal Has Happened.

Episode 1: We go to an Event in Clinton, Break Camp Early, Load, Drive Home, Unload, Load Again, and Drive to Tuxedo

So it turned out that the best plan was to drop the vardo off with Mr. Lars at his Boothe at Sterling Forest Renaissance Festival in Tuxedo and leave it with him a while so he could work at it on his home turf, as it were. Moreover, it worked out in Just Such a Way that the best time to do it was on the Monday of Memorial Day Weekend.

The plan was to attend Settmour Swamp's Quest for Wit and Wisdom event, which we go to every year. (This year's theme was the Quest for the Treasures of Timbuktu.) We would arrive onsite Friday night, and enjoy the event on Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning, we'd break camp, pack up ourselves and Ian's stuff, go home from the site in Clinton, unload EVERYTHING, and strip the vardo down bare, load up ALL THE BUILDING materials and then journey to Tuxedo.

Which is what we did.

Here's some pics of the event:

Here's the vardo parked, along with Ian's Viking A-frame. Later in the event I set up the awning, but I didn't take a picture of it.
Jazz Paws!
Much fun was had by all. But on Monday morning, we duly packed up, drove home an hour from Clinton, unloaded the camping gear, stripped down the vardo, paused for a sammitch, re-loaded all the lumber and materials, and then drove an hour and a half to Tuxedo.
Here's an interesting aside: When we got home, we found all our lawn-gargoyles having a kaffeeklatsch on our doorstep. (We do not know how they got this way. Apparently they can only move when you're not looking.)

One lump or two, Gertrude?

After pondering the gargoyle mystery a moment or two, we hopped back in the truck and dropped Brigitte off at Daddy Lars' Armoury Shoppe. Here she is parked with one of her four sisters, ready for action:

I must say, I rather prefer the Ren Faire when it's all empty and peaceful. It was quite lovely. 

During the week, Lars sent me a bunch of pictures of his progress with Brigitte. Here's a sampling:

The bed deck area. He's put up insulation and wainscot paneling, and created shelves at the head and foot. 

A bench. Wainscoting applied, but the lid and bench back still need to be put on. 

Corner shelving and closet area. The closet will have a curtain for the door. 
The insulation is a whole bunch of cooler boxes that we got in the mail from various frozen-food shipments. Norm cut them up on the table saw to recycle them for the vardo's insulation. This is looking up at the ceiling.
Episode 2: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...
(Or, Jenny learns to solder.)

While the vardo's gone, we decided to do some of the projects that don't require the vardo being present to accomplish. Firstly, the lighting.

Last year, I ordered several star-shaped lanterns from various places online. We got two rose-colored seven-pointed lanterns and four white five-pointed lanterns. The rose-colored ones are destined to be 'porch lights', and the whites are for the interior.

We're planning on installing a 12v electrical system powered by a battery located in one of the bench seats. I got a whole bunch of 12v marine grade outlets and plugs. Lars will be wiring the vardo. Meantime, Norm and I wired the lanterns to use 12v LED lights. The plan is to have an outlet near the ceiling with a switch for each, so the lanterns can be unplugged and stowed for travel.

Step 1: Wire the Plugs:

I used a lamp cord replacement and cut the 8' length into four 2' lengths. Then I simply followed the directions that were provided by the plug manufacturer. The hardest part was getting all those hair-thin wires twisted together tightly enough so that they'd go into the terminal holes.

Step 2: Drill a Hole
The two 7-pointed lamps had a shallow brass dish which was designed to hold a votive candle. I had Norm drill a small hole for the wire here. (Norm did this part because I didn't want to risk breaking the fragile glass with my half-assed inexperienced attempt.)

Step 3: Thread the Wire Through and Solder it to the Socket Tails

I threaded the wire through the hole and then soldered it to the LED light socket. Here is my very first attempt at soldering; how did I do? (Norm said they were 'tits-and-beer' so I guess that means a good first effort!)

We used 'liquid tape' to seal the wires back up:

Step 4: Cable Ties

Next I used cable ties to secure the wires to the frame of the lantern. Since they're going to hang up, I exited the plug end through the top. All the ties were clipped off short.

Step 5: Light 'er Up!

We plugged each light into the 12v outlet in my car to test. Ta-DA! Pretty, Yes?

Each LED bulb gives the equivalent of a 30-watt incandescent. Here's a link to the place I got them: LED Light Bulb

They're only about $4 each. This is a really great website, too - lots of different LED types for different purposes. We chose these because they got lots of good reviews for different applications, and they were (hopefully) bright enough without being so bright they blind our campmates. (That would be bad.) 


Monday, May 18, 2015

Heart of Glass

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out had a heart of glass
Seemed like the real thing, only to find
Mucho mistrust, love's gone behind

Much to my dismay, it had become apparent in the last couple of years that the windows were simply not up to the rigors of the road. They're old, after all. One of the windows in particular was about ready to fall apart - the leading had broken and a pane was loose. Norm taped it up with cardboard, which, as I'm sure you can imagine, looked like arse.

On the advice of our builder, we decided to try something in a last ditch effort to make the windows useable. He suggested we pour acrylic resin over the windows, to fill up one side and encase the glass, embedding the whole kit and caboodle in plastic.

I realize that there are those out there who might object to doing this, in the name of preserving antiques, but really, we had no choice. They were literally falling to pieces. This was the only way we could save them without paying a LOT of money to a glass worker to remove them from the frames and completely re-lead them. (I did look into this; it would have cost me FOUR TIMES what I originally spent on the windows.
This was really the only way.

I figured, if I totally screwed them up, we could punt by replacing the windows with shutters.

Step 1: Cleaning

This step was about as much fun as you might think. I used denatured alcohol to thoroughly clean both sides of the glass. painstakingly removing every bit of tape goo, grease, and smutch. I wasn't keen on permanently embedding dirt in the plastic, nor did I want the stuff to not stick because of oil or grease on the glass.

Step 2: Sealing

I wanted to make sure that when I poured the acrylic into the back side of the frame, it didn't seep totally through the glass and make weird drips that would harden into plastic spikes. Nor did I want to epoxy the window TO the worktable. So I took cardboard covered with saran wrap and taped it to the back of each window, to support the glass and contain the resin. I used a SHITLOAD OF TAPE.

Whether this technique worked as I envisioned we'll discover shortly.
Saran wrap doesn't stick to the resin. Cardboard to support the damaged panes. 

All four windows prepped with saran wrap, cardboard and LOTS OF TAPE.

Step 3: Pour
This is the step that kept me awake the night before, because the ratio of hardener to resin is really, really exact. How much you need depends on a lot of factors:

1) Air temp and humidity
2) Thickness of the layer being poured
3) How many layers are being poured

If you're doing more than one layer, you have to decrease the amount of hardener for each successive layer, because the heat will build up from previous layers and accelerate the process. Plus, trying to figure out how deep a layer I could pour for each window with the gallon of resin I'd purchased strained my very non-mathematically inclined brainmeats.

Chemistry Class. Note my notes under the two tiny bottles of hardener. 
Now, hardener is measured in DROPS per ounce of resin. I was working with 32 ounces per window, which came out to 256 drops per batch. If you've ever had to measure out 256 drops of anything, you will understand how it is an activity that WILL drive you INSANE.

Having no other choice than hold my breath and proceed, I counted my drops, mixed my resin, and POURED.

How did it turn out?

Reasonably well, actually. The resin did indeed leak all over the place - my tape job did not stick well enough. It got EVERYWHERE. This wasn't as big a disaster as it could have been, though - I'd put down a LOT of newspaper. The most damaged window leaked like a sieve - resin got on both sides equally. The other windows also leaked, but to a lesser extent.
As the resin entered the semi-hardened 'gel' stage, Norm and I, realizing that every window had resin leaking, tore off the cardboard and tape. Working quickly, we were able to peel off the jelly-like half-hardened resin with a chisel and razor blade, and clean up the spillage before it got all the way hard. It's a damn good thing we did, too- that stuff got hard as a rock by the next day.

As you can see here, it's a bit oddly textured. That's because I covered the wet side with saran wrap to prevent bugs from landing in it. Originally I'd taped it over but not touching the wet resin, but somehow (maybe the warmth of the resin, it got pretty hot) the saran wrap collapsed into the resin. By the time I saw the problem, the resin was gel-hard and the wrinkles were permanent.

On the plus side, the glass is now just about bulletproof. I do believe that these windows would survive a nuclear blast. Mission accomplished. 

Step 4: Finishing

I had stripped about 25 layers of paint off these windows last year, and stained them when we originally thought we were going to keep the vardo natural stained wood colors. That didn't work out, so now the windows needed to be painted to match the new color scheme.

There were also some divots of wood missing from a few of the windows - the one with the most damaged glass also had a big chunk out of the frame, so I patched up all the frames with Minwax High-Performance 2 part wood filler. This stuff is really good - hardens in a few minutes, is layerable, sandable, stainable and paintable. 
All of that white stuff is where I had to re-construct where the hinge had broken off a chunk of wood. 

I took a sander to each window and smoothed out the putty and roughed out the surface. Norm used the belt sander in places where we needed to take off a lot of surface. 

Next, I applied two coats of the indigo exterior paint to each window. Et voila!

You can't even see where I did the filling, it's totally invisible. Norm painted the window-openings and sills the same blue. Here they are back in the vardo:

So, In general, the Great Resin Experiment was a success. In hindsight, I can think of a few things I'd've done differently. Like I would have put a layer of duct tape directly on the glass to prevent leaks. I also would not have used saran wrap on the surfaces, which would have come out smoother. 

But I had fun working with it, and I can think of a bunch of projects one could do. One that I saw online is for a table filled with resin that was mixed with glow in the dark powder: 

Except I think I'll use a router to make a design (Like the door to the Mines of Moria) and fill the design with the glow resin. THAT would be cool!

Next: The Return of The Lunde?