Afternoon Project: Aluminum Tube Geometry

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Based really loosely on the art of Himmeli, a Scandinavian tradition of making geometric mobiles out of straw, I wanted to make something still modernist geometric and minimalist but less patterned and more asymmetrical, like feature rocks in a zen garden or something.

A quick and easy way to build geometric shapes is using hollow aluminum or brass tubing and some armature wire. These things can be found at almost any hobby store (they’re often used for making RC airplane bodies and wings) and probably most craft stores. It’s pretty cheap, we bought 10′ of rod for a few bucks, and the spool of nearly endless wire is a few more. The kind of wire can vary quite a bit, the only thing you really need is something flexible enough that you can bend it with your hands but stiff enough that it’ll hold its own shape. You actually can use loose cable like twine or fishing line if you want, but your knots at the vertices of the shape need to be taught to hold everything together.

The basic beginning is to take the long rod and make a bunch of semi-random lengths, I happened to have a circular pipe cutter but you can use a knife or saw if you’re careful not to crush the ends of the pipe. My main strategy was to cut one main size and then build off of that based on the angles that look good – you’re essentially building a triangle and then branching off to make the 3D parts. Your shape can be as complex or simple as you want, I opted for a more minimalist thing because I was short on time and made a bunch of smaller ones rather than a single huge one. Feed the wire through the triangle and knot or solder at the end; as you add more rods just keep feeding the wire through and fastening it to the corners you desire to make the shape. Depending on the density of the junction you might have too big a knot or too many pipes vying for a dense space, so you can trim the corners of the tubes a bit to give clearance (or just tie them looser so they end away from the knot).

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When you’re happy, a quick few coats of spray paint over everything

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The next time I try this there’s going to be a bit more utility: wrapping a succulent plantpot or candle, or a shape with a thin platform on top to act as a shelf or something. Lights! Everything needs more LEDs, and you could hide the wires the same way as the structural wire. Make a Deus Ex table lamp, maybe. Not sure if it’s been tried yet, but it might actually work as a good way to make the basic structure for cosplay prop making – the aluminum is soft enough that you can bend it with a table edge and a bit of effort (depending on pipe thickness) and it’s light and strong enough to support a skin of whatever material you’re making the prop with. You might see this technique come back in some of our further prop tutorials.

Stay tuned!


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