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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Sandblasting Challenge

I've spoken often enough here already of the various challenges we've faced when putting together this new workshop in the US out of what donations and loaner tools we were able to scavenge, plus what equipment we could afford to bring over from France.  One of our biggest losses was our old sandblasting compressor, which was quite powerful and which was key to the really deep blasts I am known for.  We have a compressor here in the states, but it is a loaner, and undersized for blasting.  I am not complaining in the slightest about a gift compressor, because without it we'd be doing no blasts at all, but it did present us with a challenge - How to deal with the problem of less pressure?

Well, one simple way to do this is just to make a lot more smooths.  I'd been a bit frustrated by our low rate of output these first couple of months, even beyond the unfamiliarity with the new workshop, until I realized it was partly because we were doing so many more smooth pipes than usual, and they took so much more time.  Back when I first got started, I immediately identified that a good sandblaster was going to be the make-or-break linchpin of a profitable pipe business, and that factor hasn't really changed, even though we've gotten much faster at finishing smooth pipes over the years.  So, apart from any other solution, one of our most pressing priorities is to make enough money to buy a proper-sized compressor again.

That isn't going to be possible any time soon, however, so there was a pressing need to look for other solutions in the meantime.  The most simple of those is to find new ways to make our sandblasts interesting, without having to rely so much on gross horsepower to hammer the wood away.  Two possibilities interested me the most - Using finer media for finer surface detail, and applying some more complex grain-staining techniques to bring out the grain of the briar beenath the textured surface of the blast, as can be seen here in these photo examples. 

I haven't done this much before, since deeper blasts effectively remove all the stain and make any that remains virtually invisible in the maze of surface texture, but on a lighter pressure blast like this, it's very possible to apply deep penetrating grain coloring which can then be blasted away at the surface, leaving it to color the grain of the wood only.  This is particularly effective on crosscuts, which can normally make for rather dull blasts, but the example above shows how this method of staining brings out the grain itself, beneath the rings.  Also, the sheer detail possible with finer media at lower pressure produces a fascinatingly detailed surface, as can be seen in the first pic above.  The situation is something of a microcosm of life itself, really - No sense moaning about your current limitations, but rather, find something new and interesting you can do with what you've got.