My unit recently got a new First Sergeant, and we’ll be saying goodbye to the previous one at a Squadron picnic on Friday. He was the best First Sergeant I ever worked with, and because of that I wanted to make him a unique going away gift, rather than the typical plaques I make. Since he’s rather rugged and “tough”, I figured a concrete ‘1’ would be appropriate. I couldn’t make him the ‘1’ with the diamond because he’s not a First Sergeant Academy graduate, so I went with the ‘1’ by itself. His nickname is “Smitty”–so I was going to engrave that in there. A concrete ‘1’ with Smitty–totally original, right? Well, turns out, not so much–more on that later.
I have an ABC Project Management approach I follow (which I’ll talk about another day)–but once I decide on a design it’s off to my favorite tools: Blender and GIMP!
I used Blender to make the ‘1’ object using the font Sketch Book. After beveling and extruding it, I converted it to a curve so I can make some shape adjustments.
I then booleaned the other text objects made from Century Schoolbook and Blender system fonts (after converting them all to mesh objects–learning experience for me there!) The resulting mesh was quite a bit messy, but it worked for the purpose intended.
Using GIMP, I made a new concrete texture from three other textures on CGTextures.com. The resulting texture looks a lot like #11, but has touches of #41’s divots and the roughness of #01.
Once the texture was ready to go, it was back in Blender to put the rendered mesh into an environment as if it was already made. My first environment didn’t turn out the way I intended (the divots were too dark and overall just not appealing, so I came up with a second one. They were both rendered in cycles and used the “beach probe” HDR file for environmental lighting.
Next was to sell the idea to the Commander for approval to proceed! He took a look at the render, kindly overlooked the bad shadow or alignment inconsistencies in the render and gave it the go-ahead. He did ask to drop the word “Interim” and just keep “First Sergeant” on the second line–easy fix.
Now, time to build the thing!
I debated using wood, clay, concrete, or plaster to make the gift–none of which I have ever used before. No matter which route I took, it would be a learning experience for sure.
I played around with wood and clay, but found plaster easier and cheaper to work with. Having decided that plaster is the way to go, I did two tests, casting and coating, to determine which route would be best. I carved out a small ‘1’ out of green foam and coated it. I also made a small block casting to see how that works–and to make something to practice carving into.
For carving practice, I used a safety pin (no joke!) and carved out my Church’s logo.
All excited an ready to go, I bought a Dremel rotary tool and detailing bits on impulse after watching a few YouTube videos with folks using it. The idea was that it would help me carve the letters, smooth the edges, and do all the beveling needed.
Setting the Dremel aside for now, I took an electric wand and cut the ‘1’ shape out through three sheets of 1″-thick foam. When using a wand to cut foam, you have to let the tool move at its own pace–if you try to force it, you’ll make uneven cuts and break the tool (which I’ve done before–this particular model is not the toughest, but it’s all I have at my local store).
I then stacked the foam and poured my mix into it. I beat my hands around the mold to shake the bubbles out, but my mix was (too) thick that I didn’t have much problem with the bubbles. I think most of the air was forced out between the foam layers, so that worked. After pouring it I placed weights on the mold to keep it still and prevent leaking. I then let it sit for two days.
I then cleaned up the edges and smoothed them out. I printed out the text and traced the lettering onto the plaster using carbon paper. The carbon paper turned out to be unnecessary, since the tracing dug a slight groove into the plaster that made it easy to see the outline.
Using a car dash removal tool, I carved in all the letters. I ended up not using the Dremel for the letters after all, since the dash removal tool worked just fine. I found it best to use a soft touch and do multiple rounds, rather than try to push harder and risk going over the lines.
The Dremel tool did help cutting off much of the excess. I then used wood carving tools, a metal ruler, and a crafting scalpel to finish it all off. Plaster is an amazingly easy to carve, yet solid material. I ran the ruler’s edge up and down the length of the ‘1’ to level out the sides, which worked rather well.
Now came time for painting!
The first thing I did was do two coats of sealant to make the material take the paint better and prevent too much absorption. I’ve never dealt with plaster before this, so I wasn’t sure if that was going to be a big issue or not–but better safe than sorry. I then covered the letters in corn starch so the paint wouldn’t get inside.
I applied three acrylic colors (tan, white, and gray), using sea sponges. The first coat was a hearty 50/50 white/tan mix. I then medium-firmly dabbed 80/20 gray/white, then a final softly-dabbed coat of the tan mix. I then blew the corn starch off and bam!
All-in-all, I spent about $250 on this project–but most of that went to the Dremel which I’ll be using in future projects. About $70 came from donations from the Airmen and the rest was out-of-pocket for me. This was all done in my off-time as well–so don’t worry, no tax dollars were spent on this project!
Oh, and remember when I said “A concrete ‘1’ with Smitty–totally original, right? Well, turns out, not so much“… my wife mentioned it looked more like a tombstone than anything else. I mentioned what she said in BlenderWorld’s forums, and user Yodaman921 let me know that, yes indeed–it does look like a tombstone. And you know what’s really creepy? The name on it is Smitty, too. :S
We’ll be giving the gift to the outgoing First Sergeant on Friday, we’ll see if he likes it or not. I hope y’all enjoyed it, and thank you for reading along!