Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What's happenin'?

Not much is happening. I need to finish making molds to try in the rotocaster. But I need some adequate mold release for where places on one half of the mold touches places on the other half of the mold.

I would have ordered the stuff from Smooth-On with their online order process, but they require a minimum order of twenty bucks. I don't believe in ordering something extra just to get the order up to some arbitraty minimum. And don't tell me about credit card minimums and all that. I used to have a merchant account and know how they work. That's all a lot of BS to get you to order more stuff.

So I called their Pennsylvania office to order by telephone. When the nice lady learned where I live, she told me about a store in Orlando that carries Smooth-On products. I called them yesterday and ordered one can of Ease Release 200 by telephone. It should be here today or tomorrow.

So, maybe I'll have some rotocasting progress to report soon.

I have made progress on the alergy front. I find that if I properly use surgical gloves and don't touch my face until I've washed my hands, that I can work with the stuff that made my eyelids swell and get flaky. I have yet to try casting anything though. We'll see what happens when I start pouring urethane into molds. If I start to look like Freddy Kreuger again, I'll know what causes it.

In the meantime, have you noticed what wack jobs many ventriloquists are? Me, too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

No more slack

I found and fixed the problem with the rotocaster's intermittent pauses. It was a loose nut. Well, actually, it was a carriage bolt that was not holding onto the wood the way a carriage bolt is supposed to. Tightening the nut on the other side of the frame fixed it.

Now I'm rebuilding some molds to make them rotocaster-friendly. Here's the first one.

Guess who this is.

Replicating a Legend

That's right, I'm giving it another try. As I said many times, I don't believe in rushing into anything.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The homebrew rotocaster is completed.

Here's a video of the device in operation. It looks just like many of the other rotocasters you see on youtube.

I made one change to the original design. The gear and pulley mechanism make the device topheavy on the vertical rotation. The designer suggests positioning the mold to balance the load. I chose instead to glue a block of wood to the other end of the outer frame.

The original design is found at this link:
Rotomold Machine

Observe in the video that rotation speeds up occasionally and then pauses briefly. This is a balance and friction problem. It almost seems to go into neutral then restart. After shooting this video, I rebalanced the load. The pauses still happen, but not nearly as often.

One clue is found in the motor's behavior if you grasp the outer frame and stop its rotation. The motor changes direction. Microwave ovens might need that feature. If your turkey bumps into the wall, you don't want the plate to stop rotating.

There is no easy way to declutch the mechanism to balance the load. I have to remove the motor from its connection to the axle. Which means I have to unscrew it from its wooden mount. That's a pain. If I ever make another one, I'll consider that requirement.

The infrequent pauses should not compromise the casting process. I've cast by doing the rotation manually. No way was I less erratic in my rotations than this machine will be.

Next step is to actually cast something and see how it works. That means I have to remake the molds. The ones I have now leak. It was bad enough getting urethane all over my clothes. I don't want it gumming up my cool new machine.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The workshop is cleaned and orderly again. Again? When was it ever orderly? Never mind, it is now. I don't know how long that will last, but at least now I have room to work and can find things.

The rotocaster project is well underway. The motor arrived in the mail a couple of days ago, completing the collection of parts I purchased online. I thought I had a tap and die kit hidden away in all that clutter, but when I cleaned the workshop, it did not surface. I need a 5/16" tap to thread the mitre gears. Right after I buy one, I'll find the tap and die set. It's probably in the garage, which is in about the same condition the workshop was in. Are you beginning to understand my cluttered mind?

Did you ever wonder how those guys on public TV keep such neat workshops when they show you how to build a cabinet or restore a chair? I bet if you visited them when the cameras weren't due in, you'd see a different picture.

Back to the project. There migh be some clearance and binding problems as the contraption gets closer to completion. I am expecting that. Unless you buy really expensive wood or have a joiner/planer, you can't get perfect wood. And measuring for precision holes is a challenge when your eyes are past their prime. We'll see. In the meantime, here is the frame assembly, which I temporarily assembled to see if it will even turn.

And here is the base with one of the supports clamped on and setting up.

Off to the hardware store to get a 5/16" tap.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Where did the time go?

I had to take a day off from building my rotocaster. Well, it might turn out to be more than a day.

I cut some wood, and it's ready to be drilled and assembled. Here it is.

I moved to the part of my workshop where I do the drilling. At that point I realized that there is barely room to move around in the workshop, the metal shed where I do all the dirty work, sawing, sanding, and so on. The workbench is piled with clutter. I can't find anything.

That shed is also where I store the lawn equipment and a lot of junk. Every cardboard box that the UPS guy ever brought here is in that shed. Every computer monitor and printer that ever stopped working is there. I have stored there a ton of obsolete computer books and software, too.

It's time for spring cleaning.

I spent most of this morning hauling junk out to the curb. This is Florida and it's hot. It's maybe thirty yards to the curb. Some of that junk is heavy. Consequently, I've also spent a lot of time resting.

That's not all of it. Most of it is still in the shed.

Time was a job like this would take maybe a morning. Time was. Where did that time go that was? It was only, what, twenty-five, thirty years ago?

I asked my wife what that wet stuff is on my back, face, and under my arms. She said, "It's sweat. Don't you remember that? Get used to it."

Excuse me, I have to go for a nap now.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

About being back...

Thanks to all who sent email to welcome me back to blogging.

Someone asked why my blog morphed into being mainly about building ventriloquist figures and less about performing with ventriloquism. The answer is easy. Virtually everything that can be said about the craft of ventriloquism has been said countless times.

Maybe that's why the discussion groups frequently descend into politics, religion, personal health, and inspirational stories.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More rotocaster progress.

I went to Home Depot today and finished out buying parts. I have everything except the motor, which is on its way. The picture shown here does not include a few tools I bought, which don't really figure into the cost of the project since I'll use them for other projects. It also does not show the two boards. I don't need to show the two boards. Everybody knows what a board looks like. You'll see them after they're cut into the wooden pieces for the stand and two rotating frames.

Don't count the nuts. One of them fell off and rolled under the table. I'll get it later.

I'm tired after all that shopping. Maybe I'll start building tomorrow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Yet another update

Not much happened since my last post. But the roller skate bearings arrived in today's mail, which adds to my collection of unassembled parts.

I don't need that many bearings, but that was the minimum quantity I could buy. Maybe I'll take up roller skating.

Tomorrow it's off to Home Depot to buy wood and hardware. At which point I can begin building. The microwave oven motor will be here next week. I hope to have more progress to show by then.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Parts for the rotocaster project

The UPS guy came yesterday. This time the package was for me rather than for my quilting, crafting first lady. He and I were amazed that it was for me this time.

Here's what I got.

The four white round things are miter gears. I need only two of them, but they come in a package of four. The two black round things are timing pulleys, and the black belt has teeth that fit the pulleys.

In case you want to build one along with me or just want to understand how all these components fit into the project, here's a link to the website with plans and directions.

Rotomold Machine

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rotocaster Status Report

Here's where I am on the rotocaster project that I introduced earlier.

I'm baaack! With a new and challenging project

My friend with all the tools says the project should be easy to build.

I ordered parts online

  • A microwave oven motor from Martin Microwave
  • A box of 16 skate bearings from
  • The miter gears, belt, and pulleys from

I have yet to buy the wood and hardware to complete the assembly.

So far I have spent $88.48 on the project including shipping and have nothing except optimism to show for it.

It looks like an investment of around a hundred bucks will do it. If you have an old microwave or rotisserie oven with a working motor, some old roller skates, unused shelf board, and miscellaneous hardware, you can do it for less.

More to come.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Almost two years ago I built a figure for a client to the client's specifications. I describe the project in an article titled, DeadEye Albert and Friend.

Here's what he looked like.

The client decided after a year using the figure that the dead eye was disconcerting to his audiences. He asked me to retrofit a regular eye. So I did. Here he is now, looking meaner than ever.

So, which one do you prefer? Send me an email.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Back to Troy

Last July I asked in this blog for a Florida ventriloquist to get in touch with me. I had his dummy and couldn't remember his name or email address. The owner, Tom Dahl called me, and the project is completed. Here is Troy following a facelift and with a new wig, new hands and a new body.

He needed a haircut, that's for sure, so Tom took him to the barbershop.

Here's Troy all trimmed and ready to go home.

Friday, March 06, 2009

An update on Sonny

Last summer I rebuilt Sonny for Michael Harrison. You can read about Sonny. Scroll down to Previous Posts at the bottom of this page, start with "Not Far From the Tree," and read that article and the ones above it. If that article has scrolled off, use the archives and start in March of last year.

Some of you asked me to post how that project turned out, so here he is.

The new Sonny holds the original Sonny's noggin in his lap. All I did to the original was replace the leather patch under his jaw and give him a new hairpiece.

Michael uses the new guy in his shows. He tells the story of his great-grandfather and how he came to be in possession of Sonny.

About Michael Harrison becoming famous. He appeared on "America's Got Talent." He made it to the second round. The judges seemed to blow him off in that second session, but actually they liked him. Some creative video editing gave him about two seconds of airplay followed by some dismissive comments as the judges seemed to be commenting on his act. Actually, they were talking about someone else. I guess they didn't want another ventriloquist getting a shot at the big time. Who knows?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I'm baaack! With a new and challenging project.

It's been quite some time since I posted here. I've been busy with other projects not related to ventriloquism.

I also have been dealing with an allergy problem with the chemicals I use for casting, and that has kept me out of the workshop. I think I might have the problems solved. Time will tell.

The point of this post is to announce that I am about to undertake the construction of a small rotocast machine, one big enough to cast heads and hands. I got the idea from discussions with fellow figuremaker Les Lamborn. He sent me a link to a website that tells how to do it. I also read everything else I could find on the Internet and watched every youtube video I on the subject.

I have not decided whether to motorize it. A hand crank would be acceptable if I did not plan to make a lot of casts. But then why bother making a rotocast machine for only a few projects. I'm back and forth on this one.

I made a commitment to the project to the extent that I have ordered all the parts I need. The other materials—wood, hardware, special tools—will come from the local Lowes or Home Depot.

It looks to me like the woodworking and hardware installation requires a certain precision that I might not be ready to undertake, both in skill and tool inventory. This contraption cannot be allowed to bind up as it spins around. Not to worry. I have a close friend who builds radio controlled model airplanes. He has every woodworking tool imaginable and is skilled in their use. I will tap into that resource as the project proceeds.

And, of course, I will let you know how it goes.