In mid-March, we were contacted about an event for Beacon Hospitals at the end of April. Donors to their new children’s hospital were being gifted a beautiful glass ornament at the event and they needed a way to present the orbs as well as give the donors a way to display them in their homes. At first, we discussed a clear acrylic box for the ornaments but who keeps a gift locked in a box on their shelf? Morgan then had the brilliant idea to mold and cast a decorative stand to place under the orb. We ran several designs by the committee and decided to go with a tree trunk shaped stand to mimic the tree design inside the blown-glass ornament. The base of the stand began in the shape of the Beacon logo then twisted and blossomed into the logo again at the top. The material would be a crystal-clear casting resin with a plaque on the front engraved with the date of the event.
We began the process by 3D modeling the approved design then sending it to the 3D printer for our first draft of the stand. The 3D print left us with some undesirable build lines and uneven surfaces so we created our first mold from there. The first stand was trimmed, sanded, and polished until we had a smooth surface to try with the clear material. Another mold was created from the near-perfect stand. Once we worked out the kinks we created a “Gang-mold,” a combination of 4 stands that we could cast in one go. A vacuum chamber was needed to remove any bubbles in the resin and a pressure pot was used to keep said bubbles from reforming while the mix cured. The resin tends to take 90 minutes to cure but using a pre-heated piece of stone in the pressure pot we were able to cut that time in half. This clear casting resin was new to all of us but we were confident in the coming results and excited to officially get started!
150 finished decorative orb stands were due by Wednesday April 26th for an event the following Saturday. Total stands finished as of Monday April 24th… 8. Yes, I said we WERE confident. You can have the most thoughtful, carefully laid out plan and everything can still go haywire at any time. But hey, that’s what I like about this job! Every day there’s a new project, a new challenge to overcome, but it is also what keeps me up at night.
Between several other large projects and our molds not setting up, falling apart, leaking, etc. time quickly slipped away from us. Morgan and I had already spent several overnight work shifts working during the months of March and April and at this point we knew we had to look forward to just a few more. One thing we neglected to calculate was how much extra work the stands would need after they were done setting. More trimming, sanding, and polishing was needed before a final clear coat could be painted onto each one for a beautiful “glassy” finish.
On Monday morning, I came in ready to continue casting stands like a maniac. In between castings I donned a pair of safety glasses and a mask and used a Dremel tool to sand away all the imperfect edges on finished stands. We made some great progress and upon arriving home that night I found I had broken out into hives which then continued to spread overnight and I made a last-minute appointment with my doctor Tuesday morning.
The doctor diagnosed it as a dormant sun allergy, prescribed some medication and told me to stay inside. I arrived at the studio that afternoon a little itchy but ready to keep going! Our deadline had almost arrived and we realized the time constraints that come with molding and casting just weren’t going to allow us to make it. We assured our clients everything would be completed in time for the event and we continued to cast and Dremel as fast as we could and we went home with a few extra hours under our belts for the day.
I jump out of bed Wednesday morning ready to get back to work and quickly realize, I can’t see. During the night, the hives had spread even more causing my face to grow twice its normal size and my eyes to swell shut. I reluctantly spent the day home on my couch covered in ice packs and bathing in lotions and sunscreen. 48 stands total delivered to the client that day.
Still swollen, I roll myself into work on Thursday to find every able-bodied person Morgan could find helping to finish these stands. He had managed to hire some temporary help in a couple friends, our new office manager, Erica, and even his wife, Angel, and their 2 small children. It was a sight to behold. We wished Erica luck when she left early for an appointment to have her wisdom teeth removed and then continued to work from 8 am until just Morgan and I were left around 10:00 pm. 96 stands total delivered to the client.
Thursday night I had vivid dreams of casting and trimming stands and was confused to find we were still short when I got to the studio in the morning. Despite my swelling going up even more and Erica looking similar after her surgery, we still had a full house of amazing helpers on Friday. The Big Bits office was a mess of ice packs, ointments, and pain medication. By 10:00 that morning we had delivered a total of 134 completed stands. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel, only 16 more to go! Halfway through the day our first molds had done all that they could and began to deteriorate. A quiet service was held, a new gang mold was poured, and we waited for it to set.
For the life of me I could not figure out why, after a week of hiding in the dark like a vampire after receiving the news of my new sun allergy, was I only getting worse? While we waited for the new molds Morgan did a little research and discovered the dust created from sanding this specific resin with the Dremel is a major skin irritant and is known to cause allergic reactions. A perfect example of Murphy’s law in the works. I saw my doctor again that afternoon and our suspicions were confirmed. While I fled from the dust and recovered at home, Erica and Morgan continued into the night to finish the last few stands. And as fate would have it, the next few casting attempts with the new molds were bitter failures. Nothing was setting and we had a goopy, sticky, mess with each try. Turns out, the new silicone we were using was incompatible with the clear resin and each new cast needed a barrier coat to allow the correct chemical reactions to take place. Around 1:00 Saturday morning Erica and Morgan hand delivered the remaining stands and volunteered to package them all in exchange for the late delivery. Our project was completed about 8 hours before the scheduled event.
Never in my life have I been so mentally and physically drained by a job. The hours are long and the projects are challenging but I have never been more excited to get to work every morning to see what else we have coming our way. I am so proud of this team and the amazing pieces we created for this event! Luckily, I don’t have any pictures of our red and swollen faces from last week to show you but please keep an eye out for future blog entries and as always, keep in touch on Facebook!