Cut, Polish, & Finish

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

No, I’m not talking about anything to do with filmmaking! I’m actually talking about fabrication. Many Steadicam Ops (myself included) have gotten involved, to some degree, with fabrication of parts and/or equipment. I must admit… its a blast! Seeing that shiny new part in use is quite a high. But of course, if you end up with a heap of junk… you’re note going to find yourself receiving too many compliments. So what’s the key to making good looking parts?

The first is a good cut. This is too complex for just one blog entry, but if you are cutting the part yourself you need to be sure you:

- hold the part well
- use the right machine for the job
- use the correct cutting tool
- set the machine to the proper RPM’s
- use cutting oil when appropriate
- feed the part or cutting tool at the appropriate feed rate

It’s taken me quite some time to figure it all out… and to be honest, I am still learning. It’s a bit Zen! Your best bet (if you are doing it yourself) is to buy some books, rent a video, and or google as much as you can on the topic. AND BE CAREFUL!

Second… Polish! This is so important, and seems so obvious, but the key is how… STEEL WOOL! Even a great cut, which produces a pretty good finish, will benefit from a little polishing. What most novices don’t understand is that the bright anodized finish they see on camera equipment results from anodizing a shiny part. Anodizing does not inherently made a dull finish look brighter. It’s not glossy paint. If you have a dull, ugly, matte finish… anodizing will just make that same finish black (or whatever color you choose). So you need the brightest finish possible before sending it off. The key is Steel Wool. Buy yourself a bag of coarse, medium and fine wool. Then go at it.

Finally, the finish. This is the key to making your part look professional. I have to admit, I don’t always do this myself. Often times its because I’ve installed electronics in the part that would require a ton of work to remove, or because I’ve put a part into use right away, and remembering to pull it out and send it in is a challenge. Another issue is that any plating company you hire to anodize or plate your work will chart a batch or lot fee. This means it will cost the same to process one piece as it will to process a couple dozen (typically about $75). So you want to send a bunch of stuff in together. This is difficult seeing as you probably won’t have a bunch of things ready all at once. So you’ll start using some, and then forget to get them plated.

Here are some things to remember when getting your parts anodized or plated:

- plating companies charge a lot fee… so save your parts up and do them all at once
- try and use the same alloy for most of your projects… you’ll pay a lot fee for each alloy (I like aluminum 7075)
- if you’ve been using the part and the finish is dull, hit it with some steel wool before sending it off

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