Monday, February 13, 2012

Welcome to the (Ray) Gun Show

The ray gun John helped me built for my Dragon*Con costume has been sitting forlornly on a back shelf, waiting for a proper display stand so visitors might behold its majesty and goggle at its glory and just generally laud our crafty prowess.

Well, last week, it finally got one:

Behold! Goggle! Laud!

The gun handle is actually inserted into the base about an inch, which helps support it and keep it from tipping over sideways.

Here's how we made it:

First, we clamped two pieces of 3/4 inch poplar together to form one thick board. After the glue dried overnight, John used a router to give it a pretty edge.

We needed the base to be thick so that the gun handle could fit partially inside it, but you might not need this for your own display. Plus, you can buy ready-made wooden plaques from most craft stores for just a few dollars.

We measured the exact size of the gun handle (you'll see how in a sec) and traced the paper template onto the wood:

To get this template, we simply jammed the gun handle into a block of floral foam, which you can see here:

Then we rolled on some black paint around the hole, stuck a piece of paper to the foam to transfer the paint, and cut out that shape to form our template. (You can see the piece of paper up there in my second photo.)

I used my trusty Dremel to carefully carve out the hole to match the angle and depth of the gun handle. My floral foam came in handy here, as I reference it frequently to get the interior shape right. I also had the gun nearby so I could keep checking the fit.

Next, the barrel support is made from copper plumbing pipe:

John bent the top edge like this to form a curve, which we then filled with epoxy putty:

This gave us enough surface area to epoxy on the rounded support piece that the barrel would rest in.

That support piece was made from the same copper pipe, which John cut and hammered into a C shape:

To pad it I cut a small piece off an old leather belt:

The leather was thick and stiff enough that no glue was needed: I just jammed it into the curve of the metal.

The copper tarnishes fast, so we polished it and hit it with a quick coat of lacquer to keep the shine.

Next John drilled the hole for the pipe:

And we gave it a quick test run:

It works!

Believe it or not, the hardest part was still to come, though: figuring out the wood stain.

Take it from two former professional painters: staining is hard. Different woods grab stains differently, the color is never quite what you expect, wood putty stains too dark, and if you don't know exactly what you're doing, odds are it's going to look pretty awful.

John spent over a week playing with samples in the garage, some with pre-stain, some without, mixing colors, and then experimenting with two or three different kinds of clear coat to get the right sheen.

In the end all that trial and effort paid off, though, because this is the best stain piece he's ever done:

John used a wipe-on polyurethane for the top coat, and it gave the wood a beautiful subtle glow. Sooo much nicer than all the brush-on and spray products we've used in the past!

Oh, and can't forget the finishing touch:

This solid brass plaque only cost $8 from our local trophy shop. Isn't it gorgeous? They have several different edges and corner details to choose from, plus at least 20 different fonts you can mix and match, and 3 or 4 different brass finishes. I usually buy everything online when I can, but this was totally worth the drive. (Unfortunately the shop doesn't have a website.)

And if that name looks familiar: yes, it IS an homage to Marvin the Martian's ray gun. It was John's idea. And he might have begged. A lot.

Marvin's gun was named the Illudium PU-36 (Or Q-36, depending on who you ask) Explosive Space Modulator. I changed the PU to SP for "steam powered" and tacked on the Aether because I thought it sounded cool.

The copper pipe and brass plaque pick up the copper and brass in the gun, and the wood stain is different enough from the handle to provide a nice contrast without clashing. All in all, a success!

I hope seeing our process helps any of you out there who have your own prop gun to display. As always, be sure to send me pics if you give it a go!

Friday, February 10, 2012

This Friday ROCKS

Today just got a million times better:

Itty bitty banana munches! I die.

(Thanks to Andrea for posting this on the Epbot FB page! Shot by Birdchick)

More reasons today is awesome:

1) It's FRIDAY. Aw yeeeah. High five!!

2) My new steamboat Willie toy arrived in the mail:

Already he has mastered the art of riding my baby AT-AT. :)

3) The nice people at Instructables asked me to join their site and submit my penny desk for their furniture challenge contest, so yesterday I finally did, and today they featured it! MY FIRST EVER INSTRUCTABLE! Woot!

'Course, now I'm anxiously watching the comments for someone to tell me I screwed it all up and I'm an idiot. Heh.

4) As I mentioned on FB, I decided to start an Epbot Pinterest board since I'm spending [mumblemumble] hours there a day anyway. It's been fun going back through all the projects and tutorials on this blog - so much stuff I'd forgotten!

Anyway, for some reason my flip-flop hangers are INSANELY popular over there. As in, everything I've put up has maybe 3 or 4 "repins." The hangers? Seven hundred and sixteen. I don't understand it. But I'm not complaining.

Anyway, I think I'll go eat some chocolate now. [eyebrow waggle]

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Radio Romance, Part 2

You've probably forgotten all about that old radio cabinet I last mentioned ages and ages ago, but believe it or not, we've still been working on it! I'd hoped to do a grand unveiling with it completely finished, but 90% is close enough, right?

So, just to jog your memory, this is what we started with:

(Ever try to take a picture without a cat in it when you have cats? IT'S VERY HARD.)

And here's a shot of it (mostly) finished in our dining room at Christmas:

We scored the empty radio cabinet for $45 at an antique mall. You can see how we painstakingly repaired the front lattice work here.

Last year we were fortunate enough to have my parents in town for a few days, and we immediately put my dad the former electrical engineer to work, wiring up some speakers to make the old cabinet functional again:

My dining room table during The Project.

We used a set of small powered speakers that we already had for our iPod. Because they were battery powered, Dad had to re-wire them to plug into the wall, among other fun things. (More on that in a minute.) We purposely chose low quality speakers because A) they were cheap, and B) we wanted the sound to be kind of low quality, the better the match the vintage look of the cabinet.

John mounted the speakers to a new piece of plywood, and then attached that to the back of the front cabinet panel:

Kindly refrain from commenting on my husband's balls of steel, if you please.

Here's the front of the panel:

Next John painted the exposed wood a plain brown, so it wouldn't show through the mesh:

We replaced the old speaker fabric with brass mesh. It was an expensive upgrade (nearly $20 for a single square foot), but I like the look:

While we were buying the supplies needed to rewire the speakers we also picked up some vintage radio knobs and a pull-on power switch. (The knobs are purely decorative, but the switch actually does turn everything on.) All of those goodies and more come by the bucket load over at Skycraft, a local parts warehouse that's any tinkerer's nirvana. We also picked up some LEDs for a little surprise feature I'll show you at the end of this post.

To hook our iPod up to the speakers, we simply threaded the wire through a pre-existing hole in the right side of the cabinet. (I think it was originally for a microphone or a crank or something.)

But I couldn't just leave our iPod sitting out on top of the cabinet, now, could I?


So I spent six months scouring Ebay for an affordable vintage cigarette case to convert into a small iPod holder.

I never found one. (Grrr...)

Ironically, I eventually stumbled across the perfect solution back at the same antique mart in Virginia where we bought the original cabinet. It looked like this:

This is an antique copper watch case. It's solid metal, and hinges open like so:

Plus it was only $10. SOLD!

I harvested the solid brass name plates to decorate the outside, along with a little extra bling from my jewelry stash:

I carefully sanded off the rough edges and bent each piece to match the curve of the case, and then used tiny dabs of epoxy to secure them:

The velvet interior pops out easily, which allowed John to screw the back of the case to the side of the radio cabinet, directly over the small hole that we fed the iPod wire through:

Ready for the best part?


I used the existing velvet, and just added a band of elastic to hold the iPod in place. Easy peasy! (And I can't believe it took me six months to find.)

I made a special play list just for this radio, and we only play old fashioned big-band music from the 30's and 40's on it. Not usually our kind of music, but it just sounds so RIGHT coming out of those speakers.

Now for that fun feature I mentioned:

Yep, I made John and Dad wire a color-changing LED into my antique radio cabinet. WHAT.

The light shines through the old celluloid that used to show the radio dial. Pulling the power switch turns on both the speakers and the light. It's pretty funky, and I like it.

Here's a crappy cell phone video of the whole shebang in action, taken before we installed the iPod case:

Believe it or not, though, we're still not done.

Because the new speakers only took up a few inches of space inside the cabinet, that left us with a ton of extra room to do something crazy, like, oh, I dunno - build a book shelf inside it?

John built the shelf unit separately, so it just slides into the back of the cabinet. He still has to stain it, so it's just bare wood for now. To be honest, we lost our sense of urgency for finishing the back side when we realized we had no place to put the cabinet where both sides would be accessible. WHOOPS.

So, our radio is sitting against a wall in the dining room, where it will probably stay. Still, once the shelves are stained we'll install them for extra storage, if nothing else, and hope to find a better place sometime later where we can show off both sides!

This (almost) concludes our longest-running project to-date. (Phew!) When we finish the interior shelving I'll try to remember to throw a few actual "finished" shots up for you. And to those of you who've been e-mailing asking me to hurry up and post this; thanks for being patient, and I hope it was worth the wait!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Geek Chic Bling

Sometimes we geeks need more from our jewelry than a sparkly rock on a chain.

Sometimes we need something like THIS:

Kinetic Winged Gear Pendent, $49.95 (thx to Abbi for the link!)

Those tiny gears are laser cut from wood, and they move! I can't decide which I want to do more: wear it or play with it.

Check out the rest of Green Tree Jewelry's "Gear Garb" for more cool kinetic designs - there are also some sweet pulley necklaces over there I've got my eye on.

Here's one for you MST3K fans out there:

$60 at PicaPicaPress, found via

You can insert your own picture in the frame for an instant snarky peanut gallery. I think I'd print out tiny screen shots of some of my favorite sci-fi moments. Oh! Or maybe a shot of Wesley Crusher in one of his famous sweaters. Aww yeeeah.

Dang it, now I think I have to buy one of these.

At first glance, this is just a cool Sputnik-y starburst necklace:

Blue Bursts Resistor Necklace, $22 at digiBling (Thx to Robyn for the link!)

(Is "Sputnik-y" a word?)

At second glance, omigosh those are electrical resistors! How cool!

After a while a lot of sparkly jewelry can start to look the same, but Matina just directed me to an artist with a style that is totally unique:

Event Horizon v8, $39

Youniquely Chic's industrial pendants are the perfect blend of hardware store grunge and Swarovski sparkliness. Tara uses retaining rings and wire wrapping to make the most eye-popping designs:

Ultraviolet Light v3, $39

I'm usually all about symmetry, but these asymmetrical designs are just gorgeous. There's also a small steampunk selection:

Theia v4, $55

Plus, every one of her industrial pendants are only $39, which seems like a steal considering they look like they belong in a pricey jewelry gallery. (Can you tell I'm rationalizing buying one for myself? Or two? Or fourteen?)

Now, you guys KNOW how I feel about adorable robots, so just try to imagine the squealing heard 'round the Jen & John household when Kelsey sent me a link to these:

PicoBaby "The Captain", $20 at Picobaby

SQUEE CITY. Seriously.

It took me a minute, but I just realized who that little guy reminds me of:

Tik Tok from Return to Oz!

And this next one has Sam Eagle written all over it:

"Picobaby the Junior Robot", $24


And one more:

"Picobaby the Pharoah," $38

Each of the bot's bodies are made from an old capacitor, but I couldn't tell you what the rest of the odds and ends are. I just know I want them. ALL OF THEM.

Check out the Picobaby etsy store for lots more designs.

Oh, and that last one is a larger size, which is why it's more expensive. Personally I like the smaller bots better for necklaces, though. (

Ok, that's enough damage to my bank account for one post. Have you guys seen any awesome geek bling this week? Post your links in the comments!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Hunt Is On!

Last weekend John and I started working on our WDW Magic Kingdom scavenger hunt again. Now that the weather's nice and we don't have any book tours or deadlines looming I'm hoping to make some serious progress. (WOOT!!)

In addition to the clues and questions and general trivia tidbits for each area of the park, I'm also working on some park-wide riddles. I'm having a blast writing them, but it's hard to know what's too easy and what's too difficult. So for a test run, here's one of the harder ones:

I’m rude and high and mighty,
And can only be found
Where children screech in glee
And sparkles line the ground.

Who (or What) am I?

The riddles do require a familiarity with the Kingdom (and again, this is for Orlando, not CA), but you don't have to be in the park to know the answer.

Please don't spoil the fun by posting the answer in the comments, but do let me know if you think you know what it is - and whether it's too easy or too hard. Thanks, guys!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fashion Bloggers For Geeks?

I have somewhat quirky taste in clothing.

Like, my-favorite-shoes-are-slouchy-yellow-superhero-boots kind of taste. And I don't wear heels because a) my feet are so small anything over a 2 inch heel is excruciating, and b) I think most heels are kinda ugly anyway.

I'd like to say my style sense is "bad-ass geek girly-girl with a dash of whimsy," but to be honest, I have no idea what that looks like.

As a result, I'm always looking for a fashion blogger to assure me I'm not a complete freakazoid - or at least to wear something stranger than me and still look good in it. I can't claim to have found her yet, but here are the ones I check in with regularly:

She's wearing a beret and yellow tights. Love.

Layers and boots and geeky glasses. Mmm.

Chandra of Modern Day Charm:

With most fashion bloggers I find myself liking maybe one outfit in ten, but Chandra is close to being my style soul mate. If I thought I had a prayer of fitting into her clothes I would track her down and steal most of her wardrobe. (Wait. Was that creepy? No?)

It's such a shame she stopped updating her blog about 6 months ago. Come back, Chandra!

Elsita of The Hidden Seed:

Vintage petticoat skirt!

(If you hadn't picked it up by now, I really, really love boots.)

Funky cool.

Lilli prefers lots of patterned dresses that aren't really my thing, but sometimes she'll feature more layered gems like this:

And sweet casual outfits like this:

It's also refreshing to see a fashion blogger with a body less stick-thin and more, you know, like mine. I've looked for more blogs like Lilli's, but other than a few of the most famous plus-sized blogs, I've come up empty. Anyone have any recommendations?

Another blogger I love who doesn't post many fashion updates anymore. In fact, this is going back a loooong way, but Zo used to do a column for The Suicide Girls called What's Zo Wearing?, and a few years ago I inhaled every bit of those archives, they're all so amazing.

She still has that layered gothic badass look going today, but it's a bit more accessible and modern:

When I first started following Doe's blog a few years ago she looked like this:

Which is still one of my favorite looks from her.

Now she looks like this:

And posts photoshoots like this:

Needless to say, her photo shoots are the stuff that dreams are made of: pure eye candy. Since she started her new makeup line Doe doesn't post them as often, but it's a huge treat when she does.

And on a personal note, Doe is one of the few bloggers I follow who've I've actually met in person, and we "clicked" almost immediately. So much so that John and I spent two days with her and her husband Mark while they were in Orlando last year, and she and I couldn't stop talking the entire time. Heh. I find fashionable people intimidating in the extreme, and I don't think Doe reads either of my blogs, so I figured we'd have nothing in common. C'mon, a geek who can't wear heels and a fashion model? - but within a few hours I felt like I'd found a long-lost sister. Doe is quiet and introverted, like me, and we share so many of the same fears and anxieties that come from working online.

We haven't kept up since then, but I mention this because Doe gets a lot of flak online - I believe undeservedly so. She's humble and approachable and cares passionately about her work and the people it affects. If you ever hear differently, take it from me: the person saying so has never met her in person.

[stepping off soap box]

Ok, so tell me, fellow geeks: what other fashion bloggers should I be following? Help a girl out, and tell me in the comments!