Fabricating Five Identical Pieces
This week I made Blockheads: 5 men who’ve held up progress on climate action around the world, rendered as identical rectangular wooden heads on sticks, mounted together.
The men represented, though there’s dozens more who deserved inclusion:
- Rupert Murdoch, for bringing climate denialism & delay tactics mainstream in conservative media
- Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, supporting slash & burn of the Amazon rainforest & stalling environmental legislation
- Vladimir Putin of Russia, draining the oil reserves of Russia as the permafrost thaws
- Robert Murray of the USA, a coal company owner who poured his fortune into climate denialism as his company went bankrupt, helped entrench the desire for coal in the US, and sued his critics
- Scott Morrison of Australia, producing utterly insufficient climate plans for Australia as the country is ravaged by climate-fueled wildfires
I started with a rectangular piece of scrap wood, which I measured & divided into 5 sections. Following Julia’s advice of recording measurements as I took them indeed saved re-measurement throughout the project! I knew I wanted every edge sanded, so I sanded the long sides of the wood before cutting to make that process easier. (Spoiler alert: it barely helped.)
I used the band saw the cut the piece into the 5 heads. 4 of them are within a millimeter of each other, 1 ended up slightly smaller, the primary (accidental) difference in the series.
Next, I got to work sanding using a block with sandpaper. I wanted every edge & corner of every piece to be smoothly rounded, which I found more difficult than expected to do consistently by hand. I covered myself in sawdust, got a small blister on my thumb, and listened to more than an entire album in the extended duration it took to sand all 40 edges (then both corners after rounding, below, for another 20). These rounded edges are less visually noticeable than I was expecting, so the effort didn’t feel as worthwhile as I’d hoped.
But I’ve used the band saw & sandpaper before, and wanted to use a new tool this week. Part of my vision of the rounded edges was rounding the top two corners of the heads, as many of these white men are balding, emphasizing their dome-shaped head shapes. I used the belt sander on a piece of scrap wood to get a feel for having my fingers within two-ish inches of the belt sander, and attempting to make elegant, continuous curved corners. I then got to work rounding the corners of each blockhead, which was as challenging to do consistently as I expected. Doing the curves in successive passes helped to avoid overshooting on any of them.
At this point, I drew on their mean faces with simple pencil drawings. This isn’t my strong suit, but they don’t deserve art; they are robbing humanity of beauty, after all.
While the Blockheads stand up on their own, I thought installing them onto one mount would help the piece stand alone, plus give me practice using the drill press with consistency.
I found a long, thin dowel in the scrap box that would fit inside the blockheads, measured its thickness, & recorded that. I used a pencil to mark out different-sized pieces to cut, and the shop staff confirmed the band saw would be an appropriate tool as long as I held both ends of the dowel (since the guard wouldn’t help).
I found a scrap piece of MDF, and used the band saw to trim a rectangular piece off the end. (It had two small holes drilled in it by its previous owner, but I didn’t think they took away from the project.) I measured out 5 evenly-spaced holes, located the correctly-sized drill bit (finding 13/64” in the unorganized mess of the drawer took more minutes than I’d have expected) & drilled each out to a depth of “it’s in there but didn’t drill through the bottom,” dusting each hole off. The consistency of the drill distance didn’t matter as I wanted to mount each of the heads at a different height for a more visually-exciting installation. Here’s my sketch of the drill press, including from the perspective of the MDF:
Drilling each of the heads with a hole of the same size in the same spot went smoothly, after I marked the spot with a pencil on each. I flipped two heads before drilling, putting the hole in the same spot but on the opposite side, to balance the installation side-to-side once they were mounted. (Proud of my foresight on that one.)
I sliced 5 segments of dowel with the band saw where I’d marked. The one segment’s side I didn’t hold down while cutting indeed went flying across the room, but I had safety goggles on.
Finally, I put them all together! The goons’ creepy pencil faces felt sufficiently unsettling all staring around.
While the heads are nearly identical as fabricated objects, my drawn faces aren’t recognizable enough, and in the installation they were undifferentiable. The solution? Hair!
I cut a lock of plastic brown hair from a deeply-creepy wig on the junk shelf for Bolsonaro. The rest of the crew was grey-haired, balding, or both, making their heads more challenging to differentiate. A small plastic bag I cut in two, with an end serving for Putin’s head, the rest rolled up served as Morrison’s more generous allowance, some inked scraps of curly plastic looked bad enough for Murray’s sideburns, and Murdoch’s baldness received extra dowel to emphasize his dome-a-ture. I attached each headpiece with hot glue and reinstalled their heads on the block.