Sep 14 2011 12:12pm

The Birth of Steam-WoT: Steampunk Perrin

So, anyone who has seen me, especially bearded, can tell I am a natural born Perrin from The Wheel of Time. Okay, maybe not natural, but I’m sure not Rand or Mat, so I’ll take what I’ve got. There has always been one major problem to me doing a Perrin Aybara costume, though. I don’t have golden eyes, nor can I tolerate anything in my eyes, thus discounting contacts. So for the last several years, as I’ve attended Dragon*Con and JordanCon, I’ve had a burning desire to dress up, but couldn’t.

Then, something hit me, like a divine message from the Light. If I can’t have golden eyes, how else could I represent golden eyes? Glasses! Or, to be more to the point, goggles! And from this idea, I decided that I would create Steampunk Perrin. Now, the costume for the most part was fairly easy to do. I have a seamstress friend who made my coat, breeches, vest, and cravat, and I bought the boots, belt, hat, dress-shirt and goggles. But these alone, even with my spiffy Serpent-and-Wheel buttons for the vest, would not sell Perrin. No. A steampunk needs his gadget, and Perrin needs his hammer. And thus I decided to embark on my first ever prop-making experience. And I documented it, so you can both use my techniques and give me pointers!

Exhibit A: the materials I gathered.

I had a decent idea of what I wanted to do with the hammer. First, I wanted to be as true to the real book version from Towers of Midnight as I could, so I read that scene a couple times to make sure I had the idea down. Perrin’s hammer is described has having a three foot haft, and the lump of metal he turned into the head was about the size of his fist (and I imagine “real” Perrin has some massive paws). The head also had a wedge on the back, like a tool. After that, I needed to add something steampunky to it, so I got the showerhead’s hose and some extra round bits of Styrofoam. I used a toothpick to push out a hole in the round bits of foam so I could slip them over the PVC pipe. They would be the pommel, the middle part that marked the end of the “grip” and the start of the steampunk bit, and the base of the head.

I then made the head, tracing out the general design I wanted to use. Since I used dry green foam—the kind you use for a floral arrangement—it was really soft and easy to cut. I used the back of a steak knife. Dull, but straight and rigid.

I then used some gorilla glue to bind the pieces together, pommel, haft-piece, and head-and-base. Yes, I used Wheel of Time books to provide the weight/pressure. Why not?

While those dried, I went about making a spiral out of the shower-hose and wire hanger. And I must remark, cutting through the hose (it was twice as long as I needed) with a pair of kitchen scissors isn’t easy.

When the foam pieces were solidly dry, I went about applying a coating to them. I did not want it to easily appear that this hammer was made of foam. Thus, I looked around online for how to make foam not look like foam, and I came across this forum for tabletop gaming and how to make terrain pieces. In that, they suggested mixing white glue and sand to provide a coating. Well, sounded good to me!

As an FYI, it was pure guess and check work on how much sand to use and how thick to make the glue layer. The sand to glue mixture was not hard to figure out, really, but as a word to the wise, you only need a thin layer of glue on the foam, or else it will never dry.

Once the glue was dry, I broke out the metallic spray paint. This stuff I found claimed to actually come off with a burnished, uneven look, which was perfect for what I was after. So, I wrapped the PVC haft in duct tape, put the middle-piece on, and started spray painting everything!

By now, you can see what I was planning with that shower hose, eh? My idea was that since Perrin is a Thor analog, his hammer should shoot lightning! Although, some people just thought “steam-powered hammer, why not?” Both work, I suppose. Anyway, here is the nearly finished version.

And here is the version with the wolf painted on it and some other accent painting done. The gold paint I got didn’t show up too well against the brassy spray paint, but the red and black were quite nice, I think. You can’t see it in these pictures, but I also put some black paint to cover up where the shower hose entered the hammer head, since I gorilla glued that some, too. Ended up having a bit of a welded look, which was neat.

So, I went to Dragon*Con, I dressed up as Steam-Perrin for the parade. My one comment: riding boots ain’t walking boots. I still can’t entirely feel my big toes a week later from all the bruising and beating they took in those. Next year, gel inserts, and I won’t wear the costume all day long either.

Sadly, the hammer did not survive the con. As cool as it looked, it was just too fragile. Paint on the haft had a habit of coming off on my hand, and the green foam couldn’t even tolerate mild bumps that well. When the hose came lose, I knew it was time to play Taps.

So, what have I learned? Well, I need something stronger than white glue and sand to cover the head, even if only to be between the foam and the glue layer. The green foam is probably still the best for molding the head like I wanted it, but perhaps some resin or Bondo to coat it for strength. Also, I need to figure out some sort of sealer for the paint on the haft so it doesn’t want to just keep peeling off on me. Alternatively, I guess I could wrap the haft in some leather, but I kind of liked the black “metallic” haft. Maybe I am just lazy, though.

So, thoughts? Critiques? Suggestions? I did this whole thing in half a day, and as I said, it was my first ever prop making experience. I eagerly look forward to making the Mark II for JordanCon, and, with any hope, I will have inspired some others to do Steampunk Wheel of Time characters too. I know a Steampunk Min and Steampunk Egwene are in the works, at least. After all, why should X-Men and Ghostbusters get all the fun?

Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and ridiculous fan of his new coat. He also writes an illustrated, serialized steampunk novel series, “The Tijervyn Chronicles”, that you can read for free on his website, along with several other short stories and his blog on writing. He also has twitter and facebook, of which he tends to make decent use.

Kurt Lorey
1. Shimrod
Even though I'll always think of you as a reprobate Rickroller, this - was - AWESOME!

A brilliant adaptation for not wanting to wear contacts, and Steampunk, too.

Today, you da Man!

2. Hammerlock
Cool concept and execution!

-Perrin's hammer is supposed to be some mammoth thing that makes regular people go "holy hell I do NOT want to get hit with that"--so for hammer v2.0 you'll want a bigger head to it. Probably not anime-huge, bigger-than-your-head size, but maybe 1.5-2x the size it was.

-For material, any foam is going to have the durability you experienced, which is to say none. You might want to try out some light woods with an epoxy coating, or if you can find any pourable plastic/epoxy. It'll be heavier than foam, certainly, but it'll be able to take casual punishment and should still be very manageable holstered/on your back. At the least it'll dissuade people from swinging it around...
3. sarwolf
What an awesome idea. I love Steampunk Perrin!
Sarah Wolf
4. SWolf
I love this idea and think I will try a Steampunk Star Trek Commander for Halloween.
5. kantoka
Steampunk Perrin needs a Steampunk Faile next year.... *cough cough* hint hint. =)

-Team Moiraine #1
Richard Fife
7. R.Fife
Thank you all. Shimrod: I'm still an unabashed Rickrolla', although my evil influence is spreading. At the WoT Karaoke party at D*Con, I didn't Rickroll or Rebecca-Roll, but other people did. (I was running the Karaoke, so I knew about it ahead of time and laughed).

In defense of the hammer size again: Historically, war hammers actually had pretty small heads. The physics was meant to be more like a golf-club, using the angular momentum and relatively small but non-edged striking surface to deliver a non-glancing blow to hardened armor that would richocet traditional swords or axes. Additionally, real blacksmith hammers really aren't that large either. A couple pounds of steal doesn't take up much room, and blacksmiths also had to make precise blows with those hammers.

And, again, from the text, Perrin's hammer, while having a larger head than a normal blacksmith's hammer, only used a piece of metal the size of his fist. I'll grant, my first thought was that the head should have been twice the size as what I made, but what I made was actually already about 1.5x the size of my fist (not that I have the massive paws "real" Perrin probably does).

I'd imagine this misconception of how big a warhammer is comes from video games (Final Fantasy especially), and anime. Oh, and the old "Arnold" Conan, where one of the big-bads uses a hammer with a head larger than his torso. The reality of these weapons, though, is that they'd be horrible unbalanced (think of where the center of balance on them would be), and easy to dodge or deflect because they'd move so slow. The "impressive" size of Perrin's hammer comes from the 3 foot haft and the slightly larger than normal (a bit bigger than a real sledge hammer) head. Trust me, you wouldn't want hit with that, either. Especially if it was wielded by real Perrin, who's arms are probably 3x larger than mine.

As to the construction tips, I'll consider that Hammerlock. I plan on taking more time than half a day for the Mark II, and if I can't find a reliable way to harden the foam (which is just the easiest for forming the shape), I'll go to the effort of making the head completely out of a different material. I could always just pay the cash for a machine-shop to make me the head. Perhaps even hollow it out so I can use it as a hidden flask... yes... *rubs beard in thought*
8. Freelancer

I would suggest several possibilities for the increased stability of the hammer head:

1. Balsa Wood. Easy to cut, insignificant weight addition, and a more solid foundation for the hose attachment. Can be glued to the foam base with many inert adhesives, preventing foam degradation.

2. Paper Mache. Messy to work with, but that appears to be no issue for you. Built up in layers, can be kept to any shape desired, extremely lightweight but with reasonably good structural strength. If you choose to stay with the sand outer coating for appearance, it will work well.

3. Structural Foam. Requires practice to use well, a spray-on material which can be built up to any thickness you wish. Lightweight, but with more density than your foam base, and hardens to a strong solid. You would want to start with the same foam base, though somewhat smaller, then apply the spray foam to a larger mass than you intend for the finished product. Then it can be sculpted as you did with the open-cell foam. Can be painted or coated however you wish.

I once worked with a guy who spent about $15,000 each year making a haunted house at his home, and he used all sorts of methods to craft temporary structures and miscellaneous things. You mentioned Bondo, but you could even use fiberglass, though the resin activator would eat the open-cell foam instantly, so you'd have to use another material for the base shape.

Good idea, and good luck.

Oh, and about the Conan movie and a guy with a huge hammer, that was Ben Davidson (Oakland Raider all-pro defensive end) as Rexor. He spent most of a year working out with Franco Columbu and Arnold to gain muscle mass/definition for the part.
Pirmin Schanne
9. Torvald_Nom
I'd advise to use soft foam (similar to the foam used for sleeping mats, but it can be more dense) and a thick layer of latex paint. That's what's usually used for LARP weapons (at least in Germany), and while the head will remain somewhat soft (you can still hit people with it without doing harm), the construction is very durable, and thanks to its flexibility, can deal with a lot of punishment.

Don't use wood; in the case of balsa, the durability won't be a lot better than your original floral foam due to its inflexibility and softness, and if you use harder wood (or add a thick coat of epoxy) you're creating an actual weapon, which I guess you don't want to do (there will always be someone who'll swing it around and hit another person on accident).
10. Michael R. Lockridge
If using the soft high density foam it might be interesting to include one of those electostatic plasma balls with the structure of the head to give it a power hammer look.
11. Solitary Cricket
So normally I'm just a lurker here, but I can't pass up a creative challenge.

The kind of pink foam you find in home improvement stores carves up ok. (Its usually sold in sheets from 3/4" to 1-1/2" thick.) I've used it for prop/scenery work in the past. If you have a sharp cutting tool and a lot of patience, that might be an option too. Like anything else, you could always cover it with somethng to get the right texture and its much more durable than the green floral foam.
Skip Ives
12. Skip
I used to split a lot of wood with a 8 pound maul axe and a 12 pound sledge hammer, I think you are right about the size. Perrin's axe is probably smaller than your design, but people think of war hammers being the size of a loaf of bread. It looks like you struck a good middle ground. I'd hate to swing anything that size, and I'm not a small man.

As for construction, I would use fiberglass. It is light, durable, and can be colored. Start with an actual 36" fiberglass axe handle, like this one. Color it with something like Plasti Dip. That only leaves the head. Foam and fiberglass don't mix well, so you can do one of serveral things. You could do the shape in foam and coat it in something that the fiberglass would adhere to (more Pasti dip or liquid driveway crack repair wouldn't be bad), then wrap the shape with fiberglass tape or cloth and cover the hardened head with colored gel coat. The result would be a very deep color that wouldn't peel or scratch.

Alternatively you could create a mold (positive or negative) for the fiberglass. Mold each half and then combine them with more fiberglass tape. You can use slow curing hardener if you are not used to working with fiberglass. If you do use a mold, I would suggest filling the hollow head with something for impact resistance. Expandable foam is good, just don't use too much.
13. unseeliepixie
A pretty useful thing to have when making things, which also might work
well for sealing the haft, is ModgePodge. It comes in both shiny and
matte finishes and seals pretty well.
I almost forgot to add, the pumpkin carving tools you find around Halloween time work really well for cutting different foams as well. It takes a little time and I'd recommend doing it outside though, because it is MESSY! I used them on craft pumpkins, so the foam was of the sturdier persuasion, but they also work on more porous foams.
j p
14. sps49
Love the outfit!

/cgl/ is a decent source of tips, too.
Richard Fife
15. R.Fife
Did... did you just direct me to 4chan? Technically "work safe" part of 4chan... but 4chan all the same? Wow...
Martin Cohn
16. arixan
Saw the costume at D*C and it did look great. (Mentioned it to you at the Perrin Panal.) Costuming/character tip, remember to play the "weight" of it. The haft of Perrin's hammer is also solid steel and iirc there is a solid steel "strap" holding the head to the haft.

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