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The Elephant In The Room

For me, making isn't just about building things out of wood or making furniture. It's about creating something beautiful and interesting and fun. I love client work, but I love gifts more, mainly because gifts give me the ability to try new things with nearly no pressure.

Enter the elephants.

I had been seeing this neat thing where people take forks and make them into elephant things. This was something I wanted to do really badly, and having never worked with metal I figured it would be a good foray into the world of metal. I think I might have picked the perfect entry project, but I had to really think about how I could do it. First step? Find some forks.

I went to multiple Goodwill stores, but the selection was atrocious. The forks looked like they had been dragged down the street behind a pickup truck and beat into hell so I tried to find reasonably priced new ones and I hit the jackpot with Amazon Basics and bought a few packages. Now I needed the tools I to do the actual bending. No problem there either, since I already had a nice set of beading pliers. Finally, cutting. This was where I didn't think well enough. I found a nice set of bolt cutters at Home Depot, but sadly they didn't work so well. What ended up working best was my Dremel with a heavy duty cut-off wheel.

Broken, but educational, this was attempt number 1.

I also wanted this particular elephant to be special for the person I was making it for and I figured an Om symbol would be perfect, so I bought a stamp (the kind you hammer) thinking it would be hard enough to hammer the symbol into the stainless steel fork. That was probably the dumbest idea I had. I don't know why I thought that would actually work, but suffice it to say it did not. Even though I gave a good crack with a heavy hammer on a steel bench block, it barely scratched the fork. Grand. Now what? Enter my new best friend: my Glowforge. A few months back I bought a can of Laserbond 100 spray. The idea is you prep your metal surface with this chemical and when you laser it it, essentially, etches your design into metals your laser couldn't etch into without it. I decided to have a go and used it on my first attempted elephant, which I broke the trunk off of (poor little fella) and I was very happy with the results.

Now, more motivated than before, I knew I had to keep going. I used the same settings that worked on my test piece and came out with one hell of a design. I coated another fork and carefully placed it into the glowforge, set it, and let it go and got exactly what I was looking for.

I carefully marked the hole with a nail set, added some 3-in-1 oil and drilled the eye with my drill press, then even more carefully bent the trunk. Admittedly bending the trunk wasn't a perfect thing, but the forks were higher quality than what you would normally use for something like this and, of course, that meant I couldn't do the traditional curl but I got it close enough and was happy with the final result. Next was a question of how to mount it. Typically with these, the arm of the fork is bent over into a roll and you put the keychain through, but I wanted to do something cleaner so I drilled another hole and put a swivel key ring above it, then cut the top off and ground off any sharp edges just to make it less dangerous. Then, I decided I wasn't happy with how the legs looked and trimmed them down, as well. The finished product was way better than I had hoped.

The final product was a massive hit.

This is the kind of project I love doing. Small, fun, artsy, and a gift that's unique and personal. When I gave it to my friend she loved that it was clear what it was, and she loved that the Om was etched into it. Her reaction made the entire effort worth it. I learned a lot making this thing, but most of all I learned about the importance of having enough materials to compensate for failure. I had plenty of forks, multiple ways to etch or stamp the Om symbol, and lots of drill bits in case I broke one. Even though I took my time, I could probably have experimented, failed, and done the finished product all in a weekend, but I wanted it to be as good as it could be which meant pausing and rethinking after each step whether or not it failed.

As far as the products used, I learned some things as well. The Amazon Forks are too nice for this sort of work, although I wonder if heating the trunk might have helped. I'll have to experiment to see. I do think, however, that getting cheaper forks and bending them then polishing them might give a cleaner look to the trunk.

Also, Laserbond 100 is my go-to now. I have a few metal projects in the works with my Glowforge and based on the results I've gotten with what I've done so far, I'm going to keep using it. I have some cool stuff in the works for my jewelry line (which I've not spoken about except to my wife, my former business partner, and my best friend) so I'm very excited about introducing that very soon. The first piece is already done and I have a few more coming soon. Finally, the Glowforge. It was a huge investment, but with the kinds of things I can turn out of my shop now, I can't wait to see what it can do. Thanks for reading and hopefully I've inspired you do have a little fun in your shop!

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