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Metal Cutting

Right now I have two new sculptures I’ve gotten started on, but it’s been a little tough going. I moved to Portland in March and got right on it and made two new freestanding pieces and a wall piece. But since then I’ve been feeling swamped with work and stymied by the cost of getting started again.

Back in Oakland, as I was getting started figuring out my stainless steel process, I worked closely with my buddy Lou. Lou has a CNC plasma cutter that was able to do a decent job cutting my stainless, and we worked together as I sorted out how to go from the computer drawings I was making to files he could actually cut from. There was a lot for me to learn and it was great to be working with a friend. Once we got over the initial hurdles we got a lot of work done together, almost all of my stainless steel sculptures were made from parts he cut.

Here in Portland I don’t have Lou’s help anymore so I needed a new service. My shop here is shared with Jason Jones, a stone sculptor and art restorer. When I was looking for a place, Jason’s wife Marissa Jones suggested to me I check out The Stone Center. I worked with their waterjet team to get about a sheet’s worth of steel cut, enough to make the two freestanding pieces and the wall piece I’ve done since moving here. Their work was excellent, especially compared to the plasma cutter. However, it cost a lot. I was expecting my costs to go up because I’m not getting friend rates any more, but it was enough money to really make me think twice before kicking off more sculpture. I dragged my feet and slowly got together the files for a couple of new pieces but waited on starting building.

Cut pieces for one sculpture laid out and ready to go.

At the beginning of November I saw a mail that Julian Voss-Andrae was looking for some temporary help getting a couple of pieces ready for Art Miami. I decided it’d be a good experience to work with him a bit. Julian was great to learn from, and it was neat seeing his construction process. I’ve spent so much time thinking about different ways to do things, it’s very surreal to see where another sculptor has ended up when confronted with the same problems. I only ended up working for Julian for one day since it was hard work and I didn’t want to get too behind on my day job, but in the process I got a recommendation from him that changed a lot for me. He told me that laser cutting is far preferable to waterjet, both in terms of quality and price. In fact it’s so much so that the money he spends on material and cutting is no big thing compared to labor. It’s hard for me to price out my labor, but that didn’t feel like the situation I was in.

I had a cutlist all ready to go, so I got in touch with the company Julian recommended, Profile Laser. The quote they got back to me made me feel like a chump for getting as much work done with the waterjet as I did. Turns out waterjet is just much less efficient for the cutting I need to do. It’s slow, so I’m paying someone to babysit it for a long time, and it uses a large amount of consumable garnet abrasive, which I’m also paying for. Laser saved me tremendously.

Not only was the cutting far cheaper, but Profile has a relationship with the metal supplier since they buy so much from them, and is able to get far lower prices than I am. No such deal at the Stone Center. The amount Profile was able to charge for metal + cutting was about the same as I was expecting to pay for the metal in the first place. I didn’t hesitate to tell them to get going with it.

I got the pieces after returning from the Thanksgiving holiday. They look beautiful and have been a joy to assemble. Sure is great to get a piece of good advice once in a while. 

Alignment tabs, freshly cut. Such beautiful clean lines. For scale, the metal is 0.105” thick.

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