Fired up my copy of ZBrush software a few days ago. I bought the full version 2, maybe 3 years or so back. Gosh, maybe longer? Time files. Kept it up to date and have “played” with it from time to time. I also bought a Bamboo Wacom pad way before ZBrush to compliment Adobe Photoshop editing process. The Bamboo is also nice to use for ZBrush editing. The Bamboo pad is now at least two versions out of date. Still works.
The professional work done in ZBrush is mind blowing. (Example shown is drawn art, not a photograph) I do not aspire to reach that level. Only possible if that was the only thing I like to do. It’s not.
I do like the organic art that can be produced in ZBrush. I want to use it for 3D print models that are well…, more organic.
ZBrush is a two dimensional graphic arts program that added a third dimension (The Z in ZBrush). The user interface is like the rambling old houses in New England (USA) that just have one addition after another added. Sometimes one has to go through the kitchen to reach the bathroom.
The interface can be learned but it is not an easy task. A lot of “shortcut” keys are available and many times a “tool” or “brush” can be found in several different locations. The interface is extremely configurable to the users preference and that too makes it much more complex.
As I mentioned the artwork produced by professional users is inspiring as it is intimidating. I can only guess at the time spent on the vast displays of what has be done within ZBrush. I am sure these artist may also use the ultra-expensive software like Autodesk Maya, one of the top rated. There are literally dozens of others. This is not a review of all options. Just my experience with ZBrush.
The good/best 3D graphic programs are very expensive and equally complex. Not intended for the non-committed artist and casual user hobbyist. Me.
There are reasonably good free software as well. Blender is one. I just explored the Blender application once again. I had “looked” at Blender a quite a few years ago in Linux and have noticed recent reports that Blender has now vastly improved in the last few years. The sculpting section looks and works almost exactly as Zbrush. I will say it looks like an excellent “free” starting point. Perhaps all that is needed.
ZBrush interface is based on a clay-like sculpting environment. That is what attracted me to the program. ZBrush is also highly “slanted” to the 3D printer printing artist, and that too is an attraction. Many “tools” included with ZBrush are intended to help the 3D print artist.
ZBrush has hard surface tools as well as the sculpting. It is also very good at color application and surface finishing. It just requires a huge commitment of time to master all the tools available. “All tools” is probably a very distant goal.
One fairly serious issue for the engineer in me is the total lack of measurement (dimensional) tools in ZBrush. It is foremost an art program, not CAD software. All sizing is by “eyeball” not ruler. There are tricks, like a drawn ruler, created in a CAD program and imported into a work-in-progress for reference. ZBrush is an “Art” program, not a substitute for CAD. However, both can be used together.
An .stl or .obj (and other) files can be imported into ZBrush for additional “organic” style editing. A basic dimensional base of correct size, then use ZBrush to add organic style decoration. This is one of several ways I see myself using this graphic tool. Not dimensional engineering, but applying organic details.
Many ways to work with almost unlimited options. It may be this freedom that is intimidating to a beginner like myself.
The Zbrush application is sure to pop up in future posts, especially when I have produced something worth printing. Probably before I have something worth printing… Ha!
Feeling frustration over the huge mountain of low value plastic JUNQUE I have printed has moved me back to my previous passion of wax carving and lost wax casting durable silver items.
I have made a very serious attempt to use 3D printing to create masters for use with silver casting. Much of that effort is shown here is this "lost wax" category. The inherent layering and complex chemical reactions in the casting and burn out proved to be far too complex for the results obtained. Some success, but several magnitudes of effort over the pure lost wax carvng process. The variable results were far from dependable or as consistant as wax.
The use of wax is also a complex process but provides extremely dependable results every time. The movie shows the CNC milling of the wax.
I developed some good CAD skills in designing 3D printed items. The very popular Autodesk Fusion 360 (F360) was the starting point for this project. But not the only software tool used. Vectric Aspire provides a very comfortable, easy to use, double side and 4th axis milling CAM. Aspire was used in this project as well as F360.
Not used here but I should mention another CAM that is good for CNC milling 3 and 4 axis. a product from the Netherlands called DeskProto. I own the hobbyist multi-axis version 7. Not an intense CAD as F360 or Rhino, but a get-the-job-done for CAM
This is about milling wax and silver casting a KAUTZ key fob with an owl design.
I originated the design using Fusion360. Creating the tag shape and size. The KAUTZ lettering was done in F360.
I used Aspire to create the owl, then imported the owl into F360 as a .dxf file. The complete CAD design was finished in F360.
Finally, I exported the key fob file as a stereolithographic (.stl) file and made a single 3D print in black plastic.
I returned to Aspire and imported the key fob as a 3D model (the .stl file) and used the Aspire double sided CAM to locate the key fob model in the middle of my wax carving block. Then I exported two CNC gcode files, one for each side of the wax block. The carving would be accomplished using a tiny 0.005 inch tapered end mill in my Taig milling machine, to which I have installed a 25,000 RPM water cooled spindle.
Three key fobs were carved from the wax requiring six milling operations. Two per key fob, once on each side. Run times were about 90 minutes per side.
The wax carvings were then cleaned up manually and sprued together for a single, all at once, casting.
The wax masters were invested (surrounded) with a plaster like material in a steel sleeve called a flask. Investment set-up was about 3 to 4 hours. Then the flask was placed into a kiln for firing.
Firing is a staged process. 300 degrees to let the wax melt out, then slow rise to 1350 degrees and held for the three hours burn out. Next the temperature is permitted to drop to 900 degrees where it remains until casting. It is a 12 hour process of firing.
The silver is melted by torch while the flask has a vacuum pulling on the investment from the bottom side opposite the pouring side. The actual cast (pouring) is just a second or two long. This cast required about 86 grams of silver, about $52.00 at my cost. Some silver will be recovered from the cut off sprue and used in the next cast.
After quenching the very hot flask in cold water, the cast silver is freed from the investment. The hot quench literally blows the investment into a fine slurry, freeing the cast. It makes a very exciting rumbling boiling sound. An exciting part of the process.
The silver is almost black from fire scale (oxidation) coming straight from the quench. Remaining investment is cleaned off the casting by hand (toothbrush) and by ultrasonic cleaning.
Then the casting is put in a hot water/acid “pickling” bath for about 30 minutes. The black fire scale turns to bright white which is the natural color of pure silver.
The sprue is cut off and hand finishing progresses from here. Filing, then polishing the silver to a mirror like shine or multiple other finish options. One of my favorites is blackening the background with a sulfer based acid. I have also used fired glass enamel which is another complex process of its own. These tags are polished up shiny and will develop an aged silver patina from use.
Final step was a couple of hours in the steel shot tumbler which burnishes and creates a hardened surface.
This is an example of my custom work. As I think I have shown, it is a very complex multistep process.
The value of silver is an easily priced commodity. There are many other consumable materials that add to the cost and value. Such as the wax and investment and electrical power needed to run the kiln. Tools wear out and require replacement. I try to make more than a single item at a time to share consumable costs.
The three tags are worth at least $150 retail, $50 each. They are one of a kind (well, three of a kind) and are custom made. Solid Sterling silver makes them much more intrinsically valuable than the single copy 3D printed in plastic. At least I think so…
Trying to think of a cool Christmas thyme project, the thought of colored glass enamel came to mind. Of course! Color is what is needed and missing in my silver work. I use a bit of black silver oxide on many of my pieces for definition. But there is a universe of color available.
The process in this project is called champlevé. I don’t carve the troughs for the color but rather use a lost wax silver casting with the recesses designed into the casting.
The vitreous enamel pundits say glass enamel can’t be done with Sterling silver (because of the copper) but as can be seen, it’s all just knowing how.
The process is to pickle the silver and create a barrier layer of pure silver on the surface. I may explain the process in some future post. It’s not magic, just a technique.
There is a similar process to champlevé called basse-taille. The difference is basse-taille used transparent enamel so features and designs under the enamel can be seen. That will be on my agenda for some future project.
This is a Christmas season pendant, so I picked a poinsettia blossom as my subject. I found a general outline drawing of a poinsettia so I would get the shape correct. It was not in a useable format for designing a Champlevé but got me started in my own design.
The pendant was created in Vectric Aspire (V10) as I am very comfortable with designing with this software.
Since Aspire can output .stl files, after I completed the design, I used one of my 3D printers to create a plastic prototype. The real output was to a g-code file for my Taig CNC mill.
I have one of my Taig mills dedicated to carving wax. I modified this mill by adding a 20.000 rpm water cooled spindle and a fourth axis (A) for rotary milling projects. (jewelry rings).
I machined two wax masters of the poinsettia pendant design and cast them in sterling silver using the lost wax casting method.
The resultant casting was cleaned and prepped for the champlevé process. Four firings (layers) were required to fill the recesses.
After the enameling was complete, the silver was again brought up to a full mirror like finish, through several stages of polishing.
Last step was the addition of the bails.
I think they look quite good and now I am planning to make a few more duplicates, then move on to other glass enameling projects.
A common human desire is to have a personal sense of value. A purpose in life. There is no one answer for what that requires or how it is achieved. Value probably has an infinite number of manifestations. It can be tangible or intangible (emotional).
I have no internal struggle with my sense of value. I am generally comfortable with who I am and what I have done. I do ask myself the “what value?” question when making more than minor decisions. Major decisions are judged on the value it creates.
I try my best to stay on the positive side of the value judgement. I may not always make the “right” decision. When I don’t, I call it a learning experience.
My current life goal is to spend time on being creative and making quality “craft” items that will be my “having lived” legacy for family and friends. Those items need to be of sufficient “value” to endure the test of time. The value can either be emotional or tangible.
I set course a couple of years ago to explore a new “making” system, commonly called three-dimensional printing. At the hobby level, it soon became a major part of my time and effort. It is a very fascinating process to master. I have mastered the process and have made (printed) a considerable number of things.
But I soon realized, most of what I make in on the junk (Junque) side of the value curve. That’s the lowest end of the scale…
I have produced items of value which are accessories to other creative processes and tools that I use. Holders for my wax carving tools for example. Not going to itemize them all but certainly valuable to me. Just not items to be cherished keepsakes.
Three-dimensional printing has proved considerable value in refining my CAD (drawing) skills. But very little value in the Items I have been making. The output material is PLASTIC. Therein lies the quality and value issue.
There is a lot of WOW! value because it is a new high tech process. But the same item made from conventional materials have far more intrinsic value. So, 3D printing has a definite place in my skill set. Just not in producing high quality and valuable heirloom class items.
Decision time. A time to refocus on how and where I spend and create items of quality. 3D printing remains a useful tool. It’s not going away. But…
My focus and time will return to making high value items with conventional materials like wood and metal. Automated machinery including 3D printing is certainly part of the process.
Bottom line: A lost wax cast Sterling silver jewelry pendant far outclasses (more enduring value) than the same design in layered extruded plastic. Plastic is a great choice for the mundane items of everyday use. I see more intrinsic value when plastic is not the primary or sole material.
My wife, Gloria has her hobbies. The main one is certainly her quilting avocation. We could probably sleep every night of the year under a different quilt. Well, that might be an exaggeration, as I have never counted them, but she does have a passion for making lots of them. It's also a social gathering for her and her quilting buddies. They are all female, but there is no reason a male couldn't enjoy this sewing art as well.
The ladies gather in "retreats" where they spend a few days in secret hide-outs doing their sewing thing. As far as I know there are no men invited. :)
Gloria likes to give away some of my three dimensional printed objects as little gifts at these gatherings. The last item was a drink coaster with a quilting design called a square in a square in a square. Evey quilter knows that basic design pattern in their quilting work. I thought it was a good idea for a design quilters would recognize.
I designed a suitable coaster in Fusion 360 and was soon busy making a big pile of them (see pictures).
After the retreat, I was searching for ideas for creating a lost wax cast silver pendant design. There was an obvious conclusion. A pendant with the three nested squares is a perfect jewelry accessory for a quilter. It's a simple design and a recognizable symbol to them. It is also a good conversation topic starter to explain to a non-quilter what it represents.
Back to Fusion 360 and a new square drawing. The pendant needed to be small. I chose a one inch square as quilts are produced to inch measurement. The CAD drawing is metric though, because I intended to three dimensional print the master model. 3D printers almost exclusively use the metric measuring system for the materials as well as the print designs.
Being well practiced in both measurement systems, it is no issue to use either or both. It is the way it is today.
The bars in the design are designed to be 2 MM wide and the pendant is 3 MM thick (and 25.4 MM or 1 inch square).
I try very hard to use three dimensional printing with my silver work. It should be a natural fit, but there have been issues with the castable resin used to create the model. It has to burn out of the mold as clean as the standard wax model. That has been a very long learning path. It does work when all the production methods and secrets are known, and a rigorous process strictly followed. That's a story told in previous posts.
I will continue with both wax carving and 3D prints for my silver work. Each has it place.
I produced the green plastic example as a proof of concept to show my "boss" (Gloria). It was quickly produced on a FDM fllament type printer. It is a low resolution prototype.
Resin DLP 3D printing (by UV light) requires a lot of design effort in supporting the model for printing. Not necessary for FDM printing and the reason for doing the FDM print first.
AS it turned out, the first DLP print was what I can only call a disaster. My supports were inadequate and only one resin pendant survived. As I said above, resin printing is a bit of a challenge to get right. A re-think and a re-design of my supports and I was able to produce three high quality resin master models on the next try.
The printing is the first step. It is working well now that I have the correct resin and I don't make poor support designs. The really big issue has been getting clean cast silver from the burnout. Many of the resins tried and the process variables (trade secrets) are incorrect for the low cost equipment used by me and most other low volume craftspeople. But as you can see, it can be done. Much learning by failure is required as what doesn't work becomes a learning experience.
Happy days are here and the silver pendants are examples that printing master models will continue at KautzCraft.The pictures tell the story.