Fabricating a Large Metal Sculpture

big metal sculpture

Boynton Beach, FL #2Bethesda Hospital
Large Metal Sculpture

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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One comment on “Fabricating a Large Metal Sculpture

  1. Ken Griffin

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