Last year, my little corner of the world was having our very first Mini Maker Faire and I wanted to make sure that there was something awesome and fiery at the front gates to really make a strong first impression.
Initially, I didn’t know what I was going to make. I spent a lot of time dreaming up different complex ideas — many outside my skill set and resources. Ultimately, I decided that I would just build a sculpture that looked neat and belched flames.
I’ve always been inspired by tire sculptures (such as Chester the art car) so I really wanted to explore old tires as a medium for art.
Collecting tires was easy. Bike shops actually have to pay to get rid of all of their old tires. If you walk into a shop and ask for old tires, they’ll more than likely want to give you more than you’ll ever need. I loaded up a small pickup truck with used tires of all sizes and shapes as well as inner tubes. I had more than I could want, but still no subject to begin working towards.
Always Keep an Eye Out for Interesting Shapes
While wandering around an antique shop with my wife, I spotted this old bit of scrap metal. It was the front axle of a little red wagon. The wheels reminded me of eyes and the rotating mount reminded me of a crown and suddenly the idea of a kind of frog prince made from scrap metal and old tires jumped into my mind.
I gathered a few other things that I thought would really bring together the shapes I wanted. The frog’s back is an old steel pogo stick with bike sprockets welded on in various spots. I was vaguely mimicking the Missouri toad, which has large bumps all over its body.
I enlisted the help of a friend named Ryan Fitzpatrick, who goes by PlatinumFungi online (and makes incredibly cool custom retro game systems) and began work. We started by piecing together the bare frame that would hold all of the tires. If you saw the completed piece, it might not be quite obvious, but the toad is actually hollow.
Each Tire Offers Multiple Surfaces
A tire is a fantastic medium to work in. Not only are they incredibly tough and can hold up to the elements quite well, they offer a wide range of textures. On the toad, the rough tread of the tire was used on the back, while the sides were constructed from the sidewalls. The soft belly and head were covered in inner tube as it was the smoothest.
Use Metal Sheers to Cut Tire
Cutting through the rubber can be incredibly difficult. This is especially true if you are using tires that have steel belting in them. Most bicycle tires have a small metal rod that goes along the lip. If you use a standard pair of metal sheers, your work will go very smoothly. You can cut the side walls off and make fairly precise cuts to get curves and manageable sections.
Sheet Metal Screws Are Perfect for Tire Sculpture
Ryan and I experimented with a couple different ways of fastening the tire to the frame. We tried twisting wire through holes and that worked pretty well but was labor intensive. Most screws would push all the way through the tire if there was any tension. Sheet metal screws, however, have a very wide head that holds the tire in place quite well.
Fire Always Draws a Crowd
I knew I wanted fire. For this, I created a standard fire poofer, or “boosh”. This is simply propane being released with an electronic valve and ignited. As far as fire effects go propane is relatively safe, but it is important to remember that it is still dangerous. Fire, in any form, should not be taken for granted. If you’d like to learn more about working with fire, we recently published a fantastic book on the subject that covers safety and construction of exactly the same boosh I used.
The fire toad was on display at the Ozarks Mini Maker Faire last year and is returning again this year. If you can make it, come up and say hello! We’re actively looking for Makers and volunteers for this year’s event, so if you’re in the area, apply as soon as you can.