Sunday, February 18, 2018

Unique Fish Story

What do you see?

As a high school wood shop teacher on the first day of class I used to hold up a piece of 2x4 to my new students and ask them one question, "What do you see?"  After a short pause and some puzzled looks I would get the standards ie. "a piece of wood", "a 2x4" etc. After a few minutes of this I would tell them that was what it IS. What I saw was the rail of a cabinet door, dovetail drawer, or part of a nice roll top desk or rocking chair... I told them that this class was going to help them look at things differently and if they would do that they could learn how to use the tools, machines and materials around them to build some pretty cool projects and have some serious fun.

Well here is what I see in the picture above and it is a project that turned out pretty cool. So now I am going to tell you the Unique Fish story.

It started a few months ago when the head of the Lafayette County Manor Auxiliary approached me and wanted to know if I could help them design and build something to help raise funds for the work they do at the senior care center and recognize those that donated to their good works. Mary knew of the work I had done for the local Memorial hospital several years ago (a 4 ft carved tree trunk with 300 hand carved Oak leaves mounted in 3D on an 8 ft x 8 ft stainless steel sheet behind sliding glass for donor's name plates to raise $150,000) and wanted something but not as big. Darlington is a small town and the "Manor" as it is known around here is county run and "Home" to about 60 clients. The Auxiliary group does a lot of work to help make the place a real home not just a warehouse. The place is special and I wanted to help (who knows someday I might be a client). On my first visit Mary showed me the Day Room that the auxiliary had furnished, the big screen TV the sound system, the glassed in floor to ceiling bird cage. This was a very nice place that the clients and their visitors gathered and they hold events in. Lots of windows and light. Mary showed me the paneled pocket in the wall (shown in the very first picture in this story) that used to be a display case and now held a needle point picture and said this space was available. What did I think? I told her "a fish tank" is what I saw. To go with the birds. The director of the Manor was there and she said, no they had a fish tank some years ago and it was a big pain (she did not "see" what I did). I explained a bit more. It would fit right in the space, there would be no water and these fish would require no care or feeding. Still puzzled looks. I said I would work up a prototype and return tomorrow to show them what I saw and explain more.

What I saw in my head was this.

Fish cut is the shape of a pointed oval shape out of 5 different colors of metal and each rimmed with a piece of 1/8" diameter wire in contrasting colors to the fish body. Each fish would be uniquely textured and have a high gloss clear finish. Each fish would be suspended by a very fine, almost invisible mono filament fish line at differing random heights just like a regular aquarium full of real fish. A very high quality aquarium background picture would be behind the back glass and lit by an adjustable LED aquarium light above, again just like a real aquarium. There would be white silica sand on the bottom and there would be sliding plate glass doors on the front. So I went home to my workshop and got busy. The mock-ups that I made were close but still pretty rough. When I showed them they got the idea and after I explained how the names of individual/families donors could be put on each fish they were on board. I would get them an estimate for the materials and if they paid for the materials I would be happy to do the work and build it.

First step was to get the five different metals, copper, brass, stainless steel, bronze and galvanized steel were my choices. Then I sourced out the water jet cutting of the fish shapes to a shop in Sauk City.

A trip to the welding supply shop was in order to pick up the 1/8" diameter brass, copper coated steel and stainless filler metal for the wire to frame each fish. Using a bending jig I was able to form each piece for the 100 fish bodies. Tricky part was that the different types of metal had a different bending strength and I had to modify the jig for each type.

It was important to get a good fit of the wire frame to the fish body so there was no gap. I wanted the solder points where the wire was attached to be a small as possible.

I built a wooden clamp jig that would hold the wire frame and fish body for soldering. This worked very well but I had another problem. The solder would not bond to the stainless metal. I came up with the solution of silver soldering the tip and tail of each stainless fish body and wire. Then was able to solder over the silver solder. Problem solved.

With all the fish bodies cut and wire frames bent it was time to mate them up to get the best contrast between the metal colors.

 Using a combination of propane and oxy-acetylene torches and tips I got them all soldered. Then using a variety of two inch diameter 40 grit and 3M scotch pads I polished them up and put a texture into each fish. With the mono filament line tied on, each was hung and sprayed with a clear coat of high gloss lacquer.

In between batches of fish I worked on the top plate that the fish would be hung from. This was mounted in the top 10 inches of the cabinet, would be painted black and hidden from view by a panel at the top of the tank. The panel could be swung open to allow access to the aquarium light and 1/4" lead split shot sinkers that would anchor each fish. You can see the slot for the LED light and the pegboard holes where the mono filament line would be brought up through and a sinker pinched on. To jazz it up I installed 1/4" plate glass mirrors on each end of the tank to make it look infinite and a nice tempered plate glass set of sliding doors in the front on a low profile track.

The process of hanging the fish took several hours but, I had some good help from Don, Augie and Ruth who kept an eye on the project during construction and promised to feed the fish!

So what do you see?  I see a good fish story!