Upcycle Final Report: Bringing Steel to Life


Design Loop

I came up with my aesthetic by first considering materials. I had a lot of remnant steel at my house and loved the idea of using a cold, lifeless material and to represent a living, organic thing. After deciding on my aesthetic, I brainstormed different design ideas. Upon deciding on a design, I then came up with a manufacturing plan, procured materials, and then tested my manufacturing process, realizing that said process wouldn’t work. I then iterated my design by adjusting my initial design while keeping the overall aesthetic and proceeded to steps D-G.

My initial concepts consisted of a tree composed of a shoulder bolt, carpentry/brad nails, and steel wool as well as a “sea urchin” composed of a ball bearing (1/2″ diam or so) and carpentry nails. I decided to go with the tree design, sans steel wool. I decided to try creating the tree by first grinding down nails to various lengths and brazing them to one another. I soon realized that the process of brazing would be too difficult and dangerous (burned myself more than once).

I realized that welding would be the safest and most efficient way to assemble my artifact and so iterated back to the “Design Concept” phase of my design loop to redesign my artifact. I decided to increase the scope of my artifact and make an entire park-scene using huge shoulder bolts. I went to ReSource to obtain the shoulder bolts and steel blanks that I’d use for the path tiles.

Material/Tools I already had:

  • 1/16″ steel plate
  • 1/2″ square tube
  • 1/2″ steel angle
  • MIG Welding equipment
  • Table Grinder
  • Angle Grinder/Cutting Wheel
  • Air Chuck Buffer
  • Drill Press
  • Portable Band Saw

Materials Obtained:

  • Large Shoulder Bolts (varying sizes)
  • 1/32″ Steel Blanks

The following images consist of steps in my second manufacturing process:

I first cut and de-burred the tubing to use for the feet of my stand.

I then welded the feet to the 1/16″ steel plate, creating the base for my scene.

In order to insure clean welds, I had to grind residue and rust from one of the large bolts. By chance, I realized that this process added both functional and aesthetic value as the grinding process created a more organic, “bark-like” pattern on the bolt. I then performed this process on the rest of the shoulder bolts for said aesthetic purpose.

This is the first weld I made on the first tree assembly.

I began to set up the scene in order to determine where I would like the placement of the trees, bench, and path as well as to determine if the trees needed more limbs (which they did). I cut, ground, and buffed the 1/2″ angle for the bench and welded 3 X 4-40 bolts to it to create the bench.

After deciding on a pattern for the path, i marked, labeled, cut, and de-burred the tiles for welding. Using C-clamps to keep each tile flat to the base let to the creation of stresses in the base from the welds, bending the base. This was solved simply by bending the plate such that the feet all sat semi-flush with the table (a process that I had to again after welding the trees and bench). I then used the angle grinder to clean the welds and the air-chuck attachment to clean the tile surface and weld residue.

The “trees” are attached to the base with 6 welds each while the bench is attached with just one. It wasn’t until after finished assembling the first tree that I realized the function of the artifact as a jewelry/key rack. You can see  in the image above my keys hanging on the left tree.  I 

I finished the artifact by using the small air-chuck buffing wheel to clean the welds and give the “grass” area of the scene an interesting finish texture. I plan to add rubber to platform feet to ensure that it will damage whatever surface it may sit on.

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • Definitely one of my favorite upcycle projects, it’s so different from a real tree but somehow gives a very strong “tree” feeling, the chairs has very nice details!

  • This is a really cool idea. It looks like you put in a lot of effort into manufacturing and assembling this. The fact that this project required a specialized skillset (welding) makes it that much more impressive. It also demonstrates a major aesthetic, recreating nature with metal. It’s also great that it can have a functional use, such as a jewelry holder or screw on attachments and maybe hold photos.

  • Maxfield Scrimgeour
    February 19, 2017 1:48 pm

    This is a really cool project and it looks like a lot of work went into this. I like how there is a whole scene included in the project and not just one tree as i originally thought there might be from the progress report. It would have been cool to see the steel wool incorporated like originally thought of but the final design is great. nice work.

  • Alexander Lien
    February 18, 2017 1:52 pm

    I think this design is great. Your inclusion of photos in the report is very helpful to visualize your process. Grinding down the steel worked really well for you – especially the bark effect it gave to the trees. I also think deviating from steel wool and going with the winter scene helped bring the trees to life by allowing you to add details with exposed branches.

  • Alexander Thompson
    February 13, 2017 4:05 pm

    This is a truly impressive piece of work! This obviously took a lot of work and skill to weld the branches and everything together. I really like all of the materials you got, it really feels like a winter day in the park. And great job buffing the bolts to make them look like they are covered in bark. It worked out great! And it really shows that you went above and beyond for this project. I hope your girlfriend enjoys it. Overall, fantastic job!

  • Really cool design. It is impressive that you have the manufacturing capabilities in house to do the whole project. I enjoy how you chose the landscape instead of just one tree. This will be a great gift!

  • Preston Marcoux
    February 13, 2017 12:22 pm

    Your presentation was very well thought out. From your design process to the final iteration of your design, it seems like you were organized and had a good handle of your vision to finish the project. I really think you have nailed your aesthetic in bringing the steel to life, the trees add in a really nice touch, but my favorite part is the chair posted up on the walkway. It adds a really nice touch and works really well with your work.

  • I like your design loop. Looks very similar to mine. Seems like it worked well with the multiple revisions. Adjusting your design in order to manufacture the product more easily. The “Happy accident” of the angle grinder making the big shoulder bolts look like tree bark is a very nice touch. It seems very functional. If you are going for more usability then maybe decreasing the footprint would be a place to start but it is an excellent piece of art. Your girlfriend will like it a lot!


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