Alan Ross is an artist and sculptor in steel and he has used Metalcraft tools to complement his welding and engineering skills to create amazing sculptures and commissions. He is also a regular contributor to the www.mig-welding.co.uk forum. To find out more about Alan’s work we recommend a visit to his highly inspirational web-site www.artinsteel.co.uk.
This is Alan’s account of his introduction to Metalcraft tools:
About 10 years ago I did a 12 week night class in welding, I figured I would have a go at it and see if I could make some simple sculptures, I needed a new hobby and this seemed like a good idea. I finished the course and was hooked, I bought my first gas welding kit and got stated. I sold a few items which paid for more tools, and found that I had a bit of an aptitude for this game. The main restricting factor was being unable to shape and bend steel.
About this time I read a book 'The Thames and Hudson Manual of Direct Metal Sculpture', in which the author described an approach to metal sculpture in which the material is used as it is supplied, making a feature of it's properties rather than abusing it with heat and violence as typified by Blacksmithing. This made complete sense to me as I had been anxious to avoid that avenue of work. I was getting more interested in more contemporary styles of work. I may also be a bit lazy.
But how to form the metal? I then came across Metalcraft tools and could see immediately that this was what I needed. I acquired a Master strip worker.
My first impression was not so good. Is that it? so small and portable. Then I had a go with it and realised what a powerful tool it was. This is the first thing I made, after bending most of my stock into small rings and curves. (pic framework man 1) I knew that I had made the right move, I could make curves and rings easily and accurately, I had escaped from straight lines. This was about 8 years ago, ok the proportions are a bit off but he still 'works'. I could see then that I was making something that might be called 'Art'.
Then I had a look at another life long interest, Fishes. Having the ability to bend large pieces of strip gave me the option of moving up to large scale sculptures, Here is a Striped Sea Robin (pic alanross2) measuring 2.5m long, made of 25x3mm strip and 1.2mm sheet with details applied with a Mig welder. having made large sculptures I felt the need to go smaller so I had a play with some 3mm gas welding rods, and made myself a present, I have always loved Angler Fish, The Common Black Devil 900mm long (see pic melanocetusjohnsonnismall) in real life she is about 5" long. I was deeply upset when somebody bought her at an exhibition.
This is something the Master Stripworker excels at, working both large and small sections of metal and switching from one to the other, and going from working strip to bar. The punch, bender and shear are always useful, the punch especially. Need a hook to hang something on the wall? POP, bend job done.
Two years ago I moved into a workshop with a few blacksmiths as neighbours 'Oh is that you bender' says one of them dismissively poking my orange machine. So I made a ring of 30x5mm strip for him. He swore and left, then came back later to use it. That was a satisfying moment.
As my skills developed I found the machine seemed to grow with me. My work become more complex and three dimensional. I developed an interest in Plankton inspired by the drawings of the Victorian naturalist/artist Ernst Haeckel. I came across an image of a Saddle Diatom, a single celled plant, and spent a year with it stuck on my workshop door. One day it clicked and had to be made. (pic copy saddle diatom postcard) (picdiatom4) I doubted I would be able to make it at all, but I was able to roll the complex curves of the outer frame with no problems, getting it right first time.
My first big job in the new workshop was 'A Thingy to hide a water butt you know an interesting Thingy' I often get briefs for jobs like this. Eventually the 'Thingy' idea was refined into a Giant Triffid with tentacles, to be made in stainless steel, abut 2.5m tall. (pic triffidtentacles) I made an armature of 10mm stainless bar along with the tentacles and stings, then skinned it over with large scales (pic triffid small image). No water butt visible. (IT bods; note, the couple in the photo will be ok with the picture being used).
One project that I made with the tool did surprise a lot of people. I had been looking at 1950's American bikes and admiring their flowing lines, and figured I shall have a go at that. (pic ratking) this bike has been ridden and even raced downhill, with a frame made of 13mm box section mild steel. The curved elements of the frame were rolled in gentle stages to get the required curves.
Over the years of using the Master Strip worker I was continually impressed by how simple a machine it is, how easy it is to use and how reliable it is. To me it represents British Engineering at it's best, using intelligent design over brute force. I did a week long sculpture residence at a school in the Cotswolds, and spotted some Metalcraft tools chucked in a corner. 'Why are you not using that' I asked the teacher a former 'engineer' 'Just a toy' he said. I then got one of the smallest girls in the group rolling curves and hoops out of 20x3mm strip. He went quiet and rescued it from the corner.
Over the years I have had a lot of stick from Blacksmiths for using this equipment as there is no 'history' or 'tradition'. Perhaps there isn't any. But I feel as long as I am not trying to imitate forged work or recreate things I am being honest to my materials and using them to their best with as far as I am concerned the best tools for the job. I also know I have influenced a few traditionalists and made them look at their methods of working.