Steel, Stainless Chain Mesh;
Plumbed for Natural Gas
~4’ Wing Span
A fire pit project inspired by an acquaintance’s street lamp and by the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. When completed, this will be mounted in a pit of lava rock with a ring of fire at the base and flames spouting from the dragon’s nostrils.
So how did we get here? Well, it's a long story...
I should've taken many pictures before this stage but I was more interested in doing the art than in documenting it. Anyway, here is the basic skeleton, minus the head, with a copper pipe as a gas line.
My original concept had fire coming out of the body at various places. Using steel mesh would allow the flame to propagate outward. In this image I had a temporary skin on the head to give me some ideas about form. I was thinking something between a monitor lizard and an alligator.
I just had to use the googly eyeballs! But as it turns out, they make it look too cute.
So-o-o-o, off with her head! I stripped off the old aluminum tape and using the original frame I welded sheet metal strips to form a better and certainly heavier skull. Not as serpentine but it began to take shape.
As you might have observed, the configuration changed several times during the build. Head on, head off… skin on, skin off. Much more of this was to occur throughout. Some of it was necessary and some was unexpected. This being the first large scale functional sculpture, I had much to learn and discover.
Lost her head again! Too much banging away caused the weld at the neck to fail. Good thing it happened now instead of later. But now she has real eye, plus a certain mobility for what is to come next.
Started adding the 'headdress' using steel plate. Kind of tricky welding thick and thin metal flat stock. Easy to burn through the thin stuff while trying to heat the thicker material enough to get a weld puddle.
Here we are with the headdress completed, and a example of a happy accident: welding rod for low carbon steel looks just like copper wire or rod. I inadvertently grabbed some copper wire thinking it was welding rod and tried welding one of the last plates to the head. When it cooled it turned a coppery color which is not what you'd expect from steel welding rod. Though not structurally suitable, cosmetically is kicks ass! Oh, and the skin texture? I torched the metal until it just began to melt and then kept moving.
A little nasal decongestant...
Having abandoned the idea of steel mesh on the body I forged ahead using sheet metal for scales. The reasoning? Having started the project using steel rod as the spine and ribs and such, it became clear that engineering a system of piping to direct the gas to points on the mesh skin would be problematic. There is just too little space inside to make it work. Plus, the vertical orientation of the dragon would've caused the gas to travel upwards and essentially engulf the head in fire. As much fun as that sounds, it wasn't exactly what I envisioned.
The trick to creating roundish legs is to think outside the conventions of living things. I wasn't about to make tiny little scales or feathers to make legs that looked either reptilian or avian. Since no one has seen a real live dragon in, oh… a while, why couldn't the legs look like this???
As daunting a task as it was, the more the scales the better the look. And if you're wondering why I started where I did (I wondered that myself) it's because the had to figure out the egress for the gas line. The flexible pipe I decided on has to fit inside the body, so I could go down in diameter only so far before I ran out of wiggle room. My plan is to build the rest of the tail separately, route the gas line into the support box/fire pit and then attach the tail to make it look like it's been there all along. If this wasn't an active sculpture it wouldn't have mattered and I would've started at the tail-end and worked my way forward.
More fun with sheet metal. I think it would be easier to make a real animal! Wait… dragons aren't real?!?!
So, I'm closing in on a complete body of scales. You'll notice the wings aren't there. They kept scraping into my welding helmet so I cut em off. That would facilitate their construction anyway. Note the stub on the 'shoulder'. There's one on the other side, too. Also, there's a hump on the back of the neck. I needed that to allow me to hang it up from the rafters without damaging anything. Still not sure what I'm going to do about it later.
Totally gratuitous selfie… nothing more.
One wing under construction… constructed an anti-rotation device so the orientation is fixed; built up the 'bicep' area and faired it into the forearm section. You can see the other wing down there on the workbench. Being able to install and then remove them was really a good idea.
Purchased some stainless mesh on-line from Whiting & Davis. Here I have it laid over the wings to see how well it drapes.
Here I've used nickel wire to attach the mesh to the wing skeleton. Yeah, this was fun.
Afixing the mesh to the skeleton wasn't so bad once I figured out a procedure. But it also has to attach to the skin of the arms. That proved to be another challenge since I didn't want there to be any external signs of fasteners or attachments.
I ended up drilling holes and snaking wire through from one to another and then weaving it into the mesh. The finished result looks better than this.
I want the leading edge of the wing to be streamlined so I crafted a scaly look using a strip of sheet metal and working the hell out of it. The following pictures show some of the process.
Yeah, I got a little snippy! So what?
My daily grind(er)...
Here I'm using an old angle bracket on top of my vise to begin shaping the sheet metal. You'll see in the next picture...
Using a drill blank I just tamp it against the sheet until the crease forms. At a certain point I can complete the bend either by hand or with pliers. This approach helps to ensure a fairly straight centerline.
With the metal all formed it's only a matter of laying it onto the leading edge of the wing and crimping it down on both sides. The nice thing about work-hardening the metal is that once you get it into the desired shape, it tends to stay put. The only thing left for the wing after this step is to trim away the excess mesh. I started using a wire cutter but that felt ridiculous after about 10 minutes. Then I whipped out the torch and burned it off!
Left side pretty much completed.
And here she is with both wings complete and attached. Now, on to the gas plumbing and the mounting.