Jan 152013

We (my intrepid assistant and I) fabricated a very large metal sculpture from aluminum and shipped it in October 2012 to the new Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida. I photographed each of the steps in the metal sculpture fabrication process and share 24 of the photos, with commentary, with you in this article.

A large metal sculpture is a great joy to make. A big sculpture is an exuberant celebration of the human spirit for me: the ability to imagine the design of the metal sculpture and to foresee it finished; to work out each step of the fabrication process in advance; to foresee possible and probable problems in the near and far future (including severe weather, vandalism, people climbing on the sculpture); to find quick and good solutions to each unforeseen obstacle as it arises; to maintain energy, strength and morale in the face of tight deadlines; to coordinate crating, shipping and installation; and of course, to manage all the relationships involved and get paid properly as well.

Please click on any image to enlarge – then click on the right side of the image to cycle through all 24 images with commentary.

Metal Sculpture Fabrication Concerns

I was particularly worried about high winds torquing this metal sculpture. The two parts do reinforce each other structurally, but the bottom four feet is a large hollow square tube made of 1/8″ aluminum. Could that survive an 80-100 mph gale for 24-28 hours? This metal sculpture is designed for Florida, after all. I decided to reinforce the bottom 4′ of the metal sculpture with 1/2″ x 1/2″ solid aluminum rod, annealed to shape to conform to the insides of the sculpture and welded securely in place. That should do it. The 1/2″ square rod is aluminum 6061 alloy. It has the strange property, after being annealed and shaped, of time-hardening to its original very stiff temper.

The mounting plate was also an area of concern and it was reinforced with a square of 1/8″ aluminum seam-welded in place to the underside of the sculpture. The sides of the mounting structure were made with 1/4″ aluminum for extra strength.

Warpage is always a concern with aluminum. Thicker metal requires more heat to weld it, which causes more warping. Clamping the metal in place with 1″ steel bars helps, plus quick cooling. I usually bolt the metal sculpture to its various bases. Eight 5/8″ bolts is equivalent to one solid 5″ bolt. That should do the job.

Estimated time to completion for this large metal sculpture: About 200 hours.

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John Searles

Metal sculptor and metal artist John Searles lives in Southwest Michigan where he creates and ships his art sculptures around the world. Specializing in custom designs, sizes and materials and utilizing his expert fabrication techniques he enjoys every day transforming his imaginative ideas into metal.

  One Response to “Fabricating a Large Metal Sculpture”

  1. Wow – love the photo sequence. Thanks for all your great posts!

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