Monday, May 20, 2019

Another Great Tree Grate

A tree stand?  Um, no.

Back in April when there was still snow on the ground, I was nosing around on Ebay late one night.   I came across a 'Buy it Now' listing for a round, aluminum wall hanging which caught my eye immediately.  The description stated it was a 'tree stand' (well, it definitely was not a tree stand, but resembled a tree grate) originally from Pottery Barn.  

Though there was no way this item was ever manufactured to be an actual tree grate, either,  I woke Carl up to take a look at it, too.  (He was asleep in his Lazy Boy and needed to go to bed anyway.)   Within five minutes, I hit 'Buy it Now'.  We (ok, me) had plans for this thing.

 Ever since we made the window for Castle Aaargh a few years ago, I've wanted to make more windows for the various tree grates we already own and for metal sculpture that Carl has yet to create.  There's something magical about stained glass in the garden.

The Castle Aaargh Window is 41" in diameter and came in at nearly 2000 pieces of glass.  We didn't have time to whip up something that big before gardening season started this year.  When we designed the Aaargh window we kept adding border after border to get it to the size required to fit the window frame.  Our other mission was to use up the scrap glass we'd bought from a retired artist.  When the window was finally large enough, we still had quite a bit of glass leftover, and some of that glass would be incorporated into the next window.  At least, that was my plan. And we all know how my plans go...

In a week's time, the tree grate arrived on our doorstep.  I carefully unpacked all four pieces and was relieved to find them intact.  When Carl got home from work that night, we laid out the pieces on our infamous orange vinyl kitchen floor to see how they fit.  Each section weighs a little over ten pounds and the instructions were to hang each piece separately if using it as an indoor wall hanging. Carl was going to weld all the pieces together, so it had to be as flat as possible.After supper, Carl immediately set to work filing down the aluminum tabs to make the grate fit together snugly.

Though even Carl readily admits he's disorganized and has problems with clutter, he is always a perfectionist when it comes to projects.  This tends to make me a little crazy at times. I often tell him, 'Good grief, it's close enough!  If you can't see it from the road, it's not a big deal.'  However, he rarely listens to me.  He's a smart man, he knows it takes attention to detail-- all the minute details--to create a thing of beauty.  Me?  Well, I do love me some instant gratification, so I guess if I intend to keep on wanting things to happen instantly, I have to take up a different hobby other than gardening, stained glass and sewing, none of which yields many quick results.

My plan for this latest project was the same as it is with all of the tree grates around here, I wanted to put a stained glass window in the large hole in the middle.  The grate's design was the inspiration for the window itself.
 I started out cutting shapes to match the inside row in the casting.  We built this window by trial and error, adding and taking away elements as the design unfolded.

The pressed glass sun medallion was found at an antique store awhile back.  Though it has a hole for hanging on top, it was a possibility for the center.

More late night oil was burned as I debated what to incorporate into the window.  I thought about using glass globs to add some highlights, but eventually decided against it. 

Old cereal boxes and cardboard always comes in handy during the design process.  (In the middle of my kitchen floor, but it was fine to walk on, it's tough.)

Carl took on the project of drawing out the design on his computer so we could see what the elements could look like and so it was mathematically correct and aligned.


 While he was doing the hard work of geometry and layout, I was spelunking in our piles of miscellaneous glass that we've accumulated over the years. 

 Instead of using the round glass globs, we decided to use these one inch square iridized glass 'pinch backs' for dimensional interest.

 We eventually decided on a design and I went to work on color selections.  Carl printed off a few blank designs of the entire grate and out came the colored pencils and markers.
I was leaning toward blue as a background and drew in the glass pinch back jewels for inspiration.  I also tried a few other variations, too.
Abby came up with a great colorization idea, too.  In reality, this window could be made in so many different colors and it would look entirely different.
Carl decided he wanted the design to be more monochromatic, so we eliminated the color changes in the middle this time around.

Next up was trying to figure out the right glass for the background.  This beautiful sheet of blue Kokomo 'Vertigo' pattern was a definite contender, but we needed something a little more transparent for outdoor viewing with no light source behind it other than sky.
After hauling out at least six or seven different glass sheets to the old Batting Cage area where this artwork was to be displayed, we finally decided on two possibilities.

Here we had a bit of a hiccup, though.  The more opaque glass, (aka opalescent) on the right, labeled #1, is made by Youghiogheny glass, and is mottled and beautifully blue, but after Carl cut all of the pieces out, we decided to go with the more cathedral (clear) glass (unknown maker) on the left.  

We have a lot of small scrap pieces of glass left from our lamp adventures and the Aaargh project and we hate seeing it go to waste, so we worked in many of the scraps for the middle and outside borders.
 Here was the layout before we decided on adding yellow glass to the outside of the gothic arches (or petals).

In the pictures below, we were checking to see which glass we liked better for the main background.

 That was when the clearer cathedral glass won out.

The vibrant orange Oceana glass was added to the inside and outside border and a paler Oceana yellow was used for the tips of the petals.  The petals (gothic arches) were made of Youghiogheny Stipple 1109 glass.  The pinchback jewels fit quite well after extensive grinding.  However, when we got this far, we realized the bulk of the window would be blue with not much definition of a radiating pattern, so back to the cutting table......

Carl cut the blue pieces down far enough to fit in some more scrap orange stipple glass to break up the monotony.

Then we started to debate the center of the window, we didn't know if we wanted to use the sun design or if we should go with a larger pinchback jewel or some glass globs or not.

Glass globs around the square jewel?

 Finally we decided that even though the sun medallion was not perfectly round, we would use it anyway.  

My next job was to wrap copper foil around every piece of glass, readying it for solder.

 May 6 and most of the foiling is done, except for the center.  I love foiling glass, it's my favorite part of the entire project.

I like the dimension the pinchbacks provide.

I had this window lying on our kitchen table and worked on foiling every chance I got.  It also made an interesting table centerpiece, but was hard to eat dinner off of.  Stained glass is always so pretty when it is foiled.  Once soldering begins, it's a mess.

Due to rain, Carl had time to solder the first week in May, and he was able to finish the front side in about seven hours.  Though we should wait until the entire window is soldered (and cleaned up) to admire (or regret) our decisions, of course we had to backlight it right away once it was tacked together.  It was around midnight when we took these pictures with a flashlight illuminating the back of the window.

 We still weren't sure of the center yet, so that wasn't soldered in place.


The next morning we finally made up our mind on the center.

 We went with the sun medallion after all.

Now that the window was soldered completely on one side, we had to figure out how we were going to display it in the garden.  I wanted the window to be the first thing people would notice when coming into the backyard.  For now and for the garden walk, we could put it where the batting cage was.  Once the garden walk is over and the remodeling begins, we'll have to move it, though.

I wanted the window and the tree grate to be hung in a circular fashion, so we had to fabricate a frame.  Carl had a few old pieces of pipe and he set to work cutting and welding.  To form the rounded top, we had to work together in the shop, with the two of us pushing with all of our might using the Hossfeld bender, a tool for bending metal.  
 It took us almost five hours to get the pipe bent, one tiny bend at a time.  And wouldn't you know it, when we got done, we'd put too much of a bend in it, so it had to be straightened somewhat which was worse than bending it in the first place. 

 Here Carl is getting ready to put the pipe back into the Hossfeld while I stand around and take pictures. 

Carl made a template for the pipe bending project and checked the dimensions after we bent (and straightened) the pipe.

 Two more hours went by and we were finally close enough to suit Carl.

I left the shop to make supper, creative types need to eat after all.   Early Saturday morning Carl was back to work on the frame and finally had the pipes welded and painted by noon.  He spent the afternoon on our front porch soldering the other side of the window.

After the soldering was done, the next job was cleaning and detailing, removing all the solder, flux, soldering paste and general goop.  I worked until 3AM Sunday morning by accident on the cleanup; I tend to get a little carried away with stained glass projects and couldn't believe the time when I checked. 

Here Carl is beginning to start cleaning with me, but he soon went to bed, he was exhausted, poor guy. 

 I've also been ditzing around with some health issues once again, too, stomach pain, random vision stuff, bizarre aches and weird pains, etc.  I bugged my doctor for help and ended up having a slew of blood work, a mammogram, xrays, ultrasounds, endoscopy and colonoscopy last week, which turned up nothing, thankfully, though the pain still remains.  I'm beginning to think all of my issues are a combination of chronic Lyme and good ol' fashioned stress, of which there is plenty to go around.  

To tell the truth, though we really don't have time to throw a stained glass project into the middle of everything else we need to do, we both needed this break from the cleaning and moving we've been doing for months.  We needed some creativity even if it is ridiculous timing.  (And anyway, the weather has made gardening impossible.)   I know, excuses, excuses.  If I hurt too much to move around a great deal at times, I may as well do something while I'm sitting around waiting for the garden to dry out, right?  

On Mother's Day, the sun finally decided to shine again and we could have gone back to work in the soggy garden, but we decided to install the garden art instead.  It was Mother's Day after all.  

I perched the window in the light to see if I had it clean enough.  The answer:  No.

While Carl worked on digging holes for the pipes, I put another round of elbow grease into the stained glass window cleaning.  I use old dental tools and picks to scrape the dried flux off of the glass and rubbing alcohol and degreaser to painstakingly dissolve the sticky residue.  I moved the cleaning operation from the kitchen table to working outside with the window perched on top of a fifty-gallon drum.  Being outside, I could help Carl with the transit work when he needed a reading on how deep to dig the holes and keep everything level. 


 Oh, the transit!! The bane of my existence (and our sons!) who had to endure countless readings and adjustments over the years as we built everything around here.  Every time Carl would get the yellow transit box and tripod out, there would be collective groans from all three of us, "Oh, not the transit!!"  But, truth be told, the transit and all of the meticulous planning that goes along with it is necessary to keep everyone level.  I have a more slapdash approach to projects than Carl, who is very methodical.  Though I grow weary of the tiny adjustments, he is right.  Things have to be level.

Finally, the first moment of truth, how will the grate look hanging in place?

Well, not bad, though we both agree it could be buried a little deeper, but in order to catch light from the horizon, the height is necessary.  

And yes, we still have to remove the big stainless steel pipes from the former Batting Cage site, but it's been too wet to bring a tractor in to haul them away.  They are very heavy, approximately 400 pounds a piece and it will take the Super H's help to tote them away until I dream up something else to use them for.  They did make great planters, though.  Someday they'll make a return appearance...

David and Joel, Abby and Audrey came to visit me for Mother's Day and our friends, Cody and Briana and their girls stopped in, too which was very nice.  I felt badly though, because our house is not fit for company at the moment as I have packing boxes all over the place and piles of stuff everywhere.  We all stayed outside as the weather was quite pleasant.  Once this remodel is over (which seems like a far-away pipe dream at the moment) things will be different.  But for now, chaos reigns supreme.

After the young people left, we went back to work on the next step, securing the now-clean and patinated stained glass window into the tree grate itself.  Carl worked out a way to hold the heavy stained glass panel in place with copper strips left over from the copper dome job (see, he's right, never throw anything away, it will all come in handy someday!) 

You can see the copper strips Carl is soldering in place below:

 He carefully wrapped them around the tree grate and we flipped the entire project over and soldered them on the other side.  After scrubbing the copper foil with steel wool, I was able to apply a black patina to the solder lines.  

But we ran out of time on Mother's Day and reality set in as Monday arrived and Carl needed to go back to work.  As fate would have it, his car acted up on Monday and I had to go to pick him up from work while his was in the garage getting fixed.  It was Wednesday before we finally got around to putting the finishing touches on the window.  

And then the second moment of truth, we marched to the backyard (in the misty rain again) to see how this all turned out.

 The window shows up vastly different depending on sunlight conditions and also where you are viewing it from.  The horizon darkens the glass quite a bit but lends an interesting quality to the stained glass as you walk around the piece.  

All in all, we feel this was a success, and a good experiment to see how stained glass can be incorporated into the garden for year-round interest.   I'm secretly hoping the convention tour people will notice the stained glass and not the inevitable things that won't be done by June 15.  Yes, I'm hoping for a distraction, P.T. Barnum-style.  (I suppose we could have fireworks or something, but, drat! it won't be dark when they tour.  Though, come to think of it, darkness would cover up a multitude of weeding not done and tired house siding, etc....)

If this weather doesn't straighten out soon, I think we're going to need a whole lot more than stained glass distractions. 


Bring on the sun, please.