Thursday, September 8, 2016

Don't Try This! - Dremel Lathe

***Don't try this at home! It was done on a lark, and is potentially dangerous! This post is intended as a look at the wacky stuff we try in the name of cosplay!***

Assembling my own Rey staff was absolutely the right call for me and my cosplay. Good internet versions are upwards of $150 and still need to assembled with a wood or PVC core, and weight and scale was important to me.

 Also, the fun of assembling PVC pipe fittings into a staff on the floor of a Home Depot was a fun group activity. (as well as the  $100 savings...) The store associate had a lot of fun helping me select PVC couplings.

Of all the things in the fittings collection, I could make all but four parts of the staff. The parts I call 'fins' required some craft foam and hot glue, while the little angled bits are worbla formed around shot glasses, and stuffed with craft foam rounds.

Then, there's that bit in the middle, which became the bane of my crafting existence.  I cheated it for CTCon with a styrofoam craft ball and a paracord wrap, and it did the job. No one who hasn't made this staff even knows this part exists (other than the folks on the internet who think it bears a resemblance to a lightsaber, and therefore a key to Rey's parentage)

Action shot! That bit I'm holding forward is the temporary fix.
The biggest challenge of the part is that it is both continuous, and shaped in 3D. It's exactly the sort of thing a 3D printer could do. Or a lathe.

You know what's not made to do this? A Dremel.

Guess which one I used?

Yeah... it seemed clever at the time
That's my Dremel 7700, a length of scrap PVC the same size as the end of the staff (I used 1/2" for the ends, 3/4" for the center part), and a cylinder of floral foam.

The original plan was to hold the pipe and brandish the Dremel like an electric knife at a Thanksgiving turkey. That might have worked, if not for my entirely lacking art skills.

I tried to envision the universe where this actually worked out like I planned, as I sat on my living room floor, holding both of these things in my hand.

And then I shoved the PVC pipe on the end of the Dremel sanding end.

Why? I don't know. (Real answer? Because it fit perfectly, and I couldn't pull them apart without disassembling the Dremel tip)

The new plan was -- use the Dremel like a lathe, carve the foam with the heavy cardboard template I'd made in hopes of keeping the hand carving even. The cardboard-drag was too much for the Dremel motor on low. (I kept in on low to avoid displacing the PVC pipe)
So... I got a blunt dinner knife, and started carving.

Before and After
Cardboard Template Result
Dinner Knife Result

I have no long history of wood-turning, but as far as 'ideas that go exactly the way you thought they would,' this was a home run. I used the butter knife to trim out the extra bulk around the middle, and coated the whole thing in layers of mod podge.

Safety glasses are NECESSARY for this project. If I'd known how much debris would go flying, I would have worn a mask too. All of this is also probably a million different violations of the Dremel manuel. Be safe people -- don't try this at home!

Is it perfect? No, it's still too big, and where I cut out the extra bulk could have been sanded instead of scraped out, and it might not have left such an obvious mark.

But, as far as I'm concerned, it's pretty darn good enough for a part no one but someone who has made the staff will ever notice, and cost me $2.99 in floral foam and an afternoon vacuuming the whole house.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tea Test: Welcome to Night Vale

I love tea. At any given point, I easily have a dozen varieties in regular rotation, a full cup sitting somewhere nearby, and a kettle warming in preparation for a new pot.

I also love it when fandom extends beyond the medium of the original source material and is expressed in new and interesting ways. It's especially fun when that fandom is expressed through an entirely different sense. That being said, Adagio's fandom teas have been on my radar for some time, but with so many to choose from (and an overflowing tea chest), I never quite got around to trying them.

That changed over the holidays when Kitty gave me a sampler of the Welcome to Night Vale tea set created by Amy Van Siclen

I couldn't wait to get a taste of the small desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and strange lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.


I let a half teaspoonful of each tea's leaves steep for 3-4 minutes and watched the water take color. I took note of how the scents developed. Like a certain scientist with perfect hair, I decided to approach this taste test with deliberation and documentation using forbidden writing implements.

Welcome to Night Vale

Description: peach and almond oolongs, hojicha for the freshly cut wood, and rose hips for tartness

Scent: Dry, it smells musty and strangely familiar. The peaches from the description are very present, as is a mild creaminess - almost like a forgotten dusty packet of peaches-and-cream oatmeal forgotten in the back of the cupboard. When steeping, the steam has a distinct sweet peach scent.

Taste: Very dry and earthy (probably from the almond oolong or the roasted flavor from the hojicha), with the peaches and rosehips giving it an alternately sweet and tart notes.

Comments: I wasn't quite sure what to make of the flavor when first tasting it. It was pleasant and interesting enough, but I never quite associated Night Vale with peaches before. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized how clever this blend was: the earthy roasted notes were perfectly representative of a desert community, as was the unsettling, indescribable familiarity. Plus, despite any strangeness, everything really is just peachy.

All Hail the Glow Cloud

Description: citron green tea, lemongrass, and vanilla green tea accented with marigold and safflower petals

Scent: Initially vaguely herbal and medicinal, it develops into a citrus-y lemongrass scent, with just a little bit of vanilla creaminess around the edges.

Taste: Nowhere nearly as sharp or astringent as I might have expected, this blend is very smooth and bright, with a yellow-green citrus flavor.

Comments: The bright citrus flavor made perfect sense to represent the Glow Cloud's glow, while the vanilla and flowers gave it smooth, fluffy cloud edges. It was a surprisingly soothing tea and an early favorite of mine during the taste test, despite the fact I don't normally care for lemongrass teas. Clearly, it was enacting some mind control. All Hail.

Radon Canyon

Description: peppermint, chamomile, and decaf vanilla with ginger and lemon verbena

Scent: Even dry, this blend is dominated by cold, tingly mint, with just a little bit of vanilla at the edges. Once steeped, the vanilla dissipates and the steam is just chilling mint vapor.

Taste: This is a very nice mint-chamomile tea, at once cooling and soothing. My taste test didn't pick up much of the ginger or lemon verbena, but the overall blend seemed like it would probably be very good to settle an upset stomach.

Comments: Radon Canyon is a mysterious place marked mostly by its high levels of radon gas. The flavor and chill of the mint capture the intense radioactivity very well.

I Am A Scientist

Description: black tea with caramel, Earl grey lavender, and cream, accented with lavender 

Scent: Very dark. There is an earthiness, but more of a burnt caramel scent, with a little bit of dark citrus at the edges.

Taste: The burnt caramel is front and center, which mixes with the bergamot of the Earl grey, giving this blend a strong dark flavor that plays between bitter and sweet. There is a light creaminess to it, but I don't pick up on much of the lavender.

Comments: I had high hopes for this blend, since "a scientist is always fine". Conceptually, this blend is a perfect tribute to perfect Carlos, dark and sweet, with a bit of a mysterious edge. Flavor-wise, however, it didn't quite work for me. While I was glad I didn't get much of the lavender accents, I just couldn't get past the burnt-caramel flavor. A second try may be worthwhile, though; I imagine it might be better if taken with cream and sugar.

The Moonlite All-Night Diner

Description: strawberry black tea, strawberry herbal, and peppermint with strawberry pieces

Scent: Strawberries. Sweet, sweet strawberries with a little bit of a coolness coming from the mint. When steeped, the steam carries the strawberry scent a fair distance.

Taste: It tastes exactly as it smells, juicy and fruity, full of sweet and tart strawberries.

Comments: The Moonlite All-Night Diner is well known for its pies. Specifically, its visible and invisible strawberry pies (you hate invisible pies). This blend beautifully captures both. The mint serves double duty, giving the sense of invisible pie and acting as an amazingly on-the-nose reference to how the Night Vale landmark has been described, "The Moonlight All-Night is radiant green. A slab of mint light in the warm darkness."

Water Failure

Description:  vanilla, cinnamon, and almond black tea with a hint of cardamom

Scent: A blast of cinnamon, with a tiny bit of fruitiness that I can't quite figure out given the description. It reminds me of chai.

Taste: This blend is a smooth, chai-like cinnamon vanilla, lightly sweet, not too spicy, with the black tea giving it a little bit of a bitter edge to ground it. It is a surprise favorite of the set and would probably be even better at double or triple strength with cream and sugar.

Comments: As an episode, Water Failure was fun but not entirely memorable, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this tea. I thought perhaps the blend was intending to be a joke, evoking a brown, muddied flavor to reflect dry pipes. Revisiting the episode (and the blender's notes), it appears this flavor was a much more direct reference: "In Night Vale, if you are more than 60 days behind on your water bill, carbon monoxide starts coming out of your faucet instead of water-- except it smells like French Toast, just to make the experience a little more pleasant." The flavor was wonderful to begin with, but the specificity of the reference made the tea that much better.

~ ~ ~

Overall, I very much enjoyed the Welcome to Night Vale teas. With things like this, it's hard to know what you're going to get - everyone has their own interpretation. While not all of the blends were flavors I would have naturally chosen for myself to drink or even imagined in relationship to the people and places of the podcast, they were well-considered, both in flavor and reference. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness that Van Siclen put in to developing her blends and, especially when I understood what she was doing, it made the experience that much more fun. 

I look forward to trying other fandom teas from Adagio someday, and perhaps even the other Welcome to Night Vale set that is available. What sets have you tried? What other sets would you like us to review?