What's all this, then?

Each Halloween season, when the Greenwood Reaper inhabits my yard, people ask me “How did you make it?” and “What is it made from?”.

Since I’m making a bigger and better reaper I figured I’d make this blog to answer those questions. This is also a way for interested parties to ask questions and see the progress of the project.

The only regular time I spend building is on the week-ends, so it’s likely posts will appear early in the week.

The posts appear with the newest on top, so if you're new to the sight scroll to the bottom to read the beginning.


Monday, March 3, 2008

The Basic Basics

OK, so here's my two-cents on how to get started:

Schedules: I can’t tell you when to start your project but I can tell you when NOT to start it: The week-end before Halloween.
Typically I’ll try to figure out how long it’ll take me to do a project then triple it. It’s nearly impossible to factor in all of the got’chas, all of the trips to the hardware store, all of the lost build time due to having to mow the lawn, so overestimate as liberally as you can.
True statement: I started the initial sketches of my current Halloween project on November 2nd of last year

Sketches: Once I get an idea in my head I'll usually obsess on it for weeks. A manifestation of these obsession are the numerous sketches I do. Now, don't get me wrong, these aren't works of art at all, they're chicken scratchings of the images rolling around in my head. The vast majority of these are totally useless and often serve to show me what is not right as opposed to what is right.

Feasibility: Pencil-in-hand it's really easy to go a little creative-crazy and start designing things that, in the end, just won't work. I try to keep in mind that: just because a task is possible doesn't mean that it's a good idea. Sure, it's possible to make a 100 foot tall Halloween creature that waves to passing cars and talks to joggers, but I'd likely end up divorced, bankrupt, and sued. My rule-of-thumb is to figure out what I know I can do and then take it just one step further. (that way I'm forced to struggle and learn)

Budget: Although I don't hire a full-time accountant to keep track of my building budget, I do allot myself a weekly budget. It's too, too easy to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on holiday projects. I cut corners and economize whenever possible. I have no issue with hopping into a dumpster to rescue a potential treasure. As well, I have almost an obsession with figuring out how to do a task less expensively.
Here’s an example: I had a project that required stringing aircraft cable. I found the cable and connectors at a local industrial supply warehouse at a fraction of the cost of a hardware store. The problem was the tool used to crimp the connectors. It cost $120.
I don’t mind paying a fair price for a good tool, but I was hardly going to use this thing.
After examining the crimper for a while it struck me that it wasn’t all that different from a pair of bolt cutters with a hole cut in them. I found a pair of bolt cutters for $14.95, took them home and used my Dremmel tool to grind a hole in the cutting surfaces.
It worked close to perfectly. True enough, it took a bit more effort than the $120 version and I'm sure my crimps weren't 100% as strong as the professional tool's would have been, but with the limited amount crimps that I needed to make and the limited application... it was worth it.

Necessary skills: This is a hard one. You’ve done your sketches, you’ve figured the best design, you’ve gathered the materials but…
You don’t know how to weld, or make moulds or work with fiberglass… Now what?
This is sort of a catch twenty-two. If I don’t have any experience how can I get the skill? …and if I don’t have the skill how can I get the experience?
Well, there are a few routes here: take a class, read a book, have a friend show you, look it up on the Internet… Where there’s a will there’s a way.
I do, however, recommend that if you are going to try a new tool or technique or material that you don’t try it on the full-scale project until you get a little experience. Experiment, practice, screw around with it. It’s actually very liberating doing a project that you are 99% sure is going to fail. Eventually, with enough practice and patience and luck you’ll have an “ah-HA” moment and it’ll just make sense.

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