Experiment: The Raw Materials

Material: Desirable Qualities

I have made a shortlist of potential materials that conform to the requirements of the project although these materials need to be tested further to find out exactly what properties and potential is available for use – both independantly of one another, and also in combination. For example – mixing molten wax with sugar will create objects that erode in an interesting way and might potentially house certain insects.

• Mineral Clay powders (potentially many colours including white, black and red)
• Iron: powder, sand, filings
• Seeds (quick flowering annuals, small shrubs, trees)
• A liquid manure saturated with various fungus spores – this will solidify and burst into a spread of mushrooms
Mosses
• Natural vegetable waxes (bees wax melts ~45℃, carnauba wax at ~80℃)
• Sugar (melts into caramel at 150℃)
• Insect Eggs (ants, butterflies, beetles)
• Fibres to give structural integrity to waxed shapes
Alginates derived from kelp can be used inside the structure as a binding agent to give it strength – until water comes along, at which point they will expand and could be used to deliberately break open the structure to reveal an interior structure.

There will be both structural materials, and aesthetic materials. Structurals will begin as a liquid and solidify in some way, while Aesthetics can remain unchanged if need be e.g. seeds or insect eggs. Certain qualities are required by whichever materials I use. • cheap and readily available • variety or colours, natural and non-toxic • convert to a liquid from a powder form – either by melting, or adding water

Here is a group shot showing the collection of most of the material experiments leading up to the point at which I am now satisfied with the mix.

 

Toffee, hessian cord, sawdust – 24 May 2012
METHOD
Cook sugar into toffee. Mix molten toffee with sawdust. Stir in hessian cords. Mould into shapes and leave to cool.
OBSERVATIONS
Structures were never that strong. Insects arrived days later rather than immediately which was surprising. Energy-use to produce materials was excessive. Sawdust and fibre are the key agents to the success of the structural forms, not the cold hard toffee.

 

Pure Corn Plastic – 30 May 2012
METHOD
4 tblsp Water,  1 tblsp cornstarch, 1tsp glycerin, 1tsp vinegar.Cook up plastic. Pour into square mould to set.
OBSERVATIONS
The material is interesting – it is 100% natural and biodegradable, and dries into thin sheets of transparent material. No strength, but will explore as a binding agent. The material contracts considerably (by 10 – 15%) when dry. Sets within a couple of hours.

 

Corn plastic & sawdust – 1 June 2012
METHOD
Mix corn plastic with sawdust (1:3). Leave to set in square mould.
OBSERVATIONS
A very hard material was produced once completely dry. Took a week or so to really set solid. Shrunk by about 10 – 15%. Deformed only very slightly despite the shrinkage.

 

White clay – 1 June 2012
METHOD
Push damp clay into cube mould and leave to dry.
OBSERVATIONS
Drying time was about a week altho the form wasn’t hollow. Its strength is good. I purchased the material so its cost per unit will be higher than other options. The cube I made was a quarter smaller than the cube size I am making now, unlikely it would retain its strength in larger shapes.

 

Corn plastic and pulped paper – 1 June 2012
METHOD
Shred newspaper, mix with corn plastic (1:3). leave to set.
OBSERVATIONS
The drying time for this material was excessive. A week later it forms a slab with good strength. Contracted by about 10% on drying. Uneven surface. Haven’t tested its durability under damp conditions but I assume it will be poor.

 

 

Corn plastic and ash – 7 June 2012
METHOD
Mix corn plastic with ash (1:3)
OBSERVATIONS
The drying time for this material was excessive. A week later it forms a slab with good strength. Contracted by about 10% on drying.

 

 

Straw with sawdust and corn plastic – 10 June 2012
pic
METHOD
Mix straw with sawdust and corn plastic (3:1:2)
OBSERVATIONS
Initially the material performed badly – drying time was about a week. Now it is a happy home for ants. Its a large cube – 15 litre volume – and the basic principal of fibres and a viscous plastic (mixed with ash, soil or sawdust) is proven in the structure.

 

Beeswax and sawdust – 12 June 2012
METHOD
Melt beeswax, stir in sawdust (1:3)
OBSERVATIONS
The drying time was extremely fast. The structure had far less strength than I expected – the sawdust crumbled quite quickly and the structure broke in two at one point. Smells nice.

 

Grass cuttings, sawdust, mixed seeds, corn plastic – 6 June 2012
METHOD
Mix corn plastic with dried, cut grass. Add seeds when mix is cooler, but before setting into a mould.
OBSERVATIONS
Material worked very well. Set very quickly. Has a good texture and colour. Has begun to mould quite soon after becoming dry.

 

Cut grass and corn-starch – 14 June 2012
METHOD
Dissolve corn-starch and heat until a glue-like paste. Mix in dried grass stems and push into mould.
OBSERVATIONS
Drying time was excessive. I thought the material was a complete failure because it never seemed to set hard. A week or so later it is hard and looks quite good. It is quite strong. Similar to a small hay-bale.

 

Fermented grass, corn plastic and soil – 18 June 2012
METHOD
Dried, cut grass was left in strong vinegar overnight and then cooked for an hour. The grass was then drained and mixed with corn plastic and soil (2:1:2)
OBSERVATIONS
A soft material to begin with although perhaps this will improve under compression. Set into a form solid enough to manhandle within 20 minutes. Good texture and retains geometric mould shape well.

 

Iron filing and bees wax – 21 June 2012
METHOD
Melt bees-wax. Mix in some sawdust. Pour in iron filings (2:1:4)
OBSERVATIONS
Sets very quickly. Wax makes the structure waterproof which prevents the iron from rusting, but sawdust expands on contact with water which opens up the structure to a slow decay process. After a week it has begun to rust nicely. The dark brown of the original mix is becoming stained with bright orange as the sawdust gradually weakens the structure.

 

Forest soil, sawdust, corn plastic – 19 June 2012
METHOD
Mix corn plastic with sawdust and forest soil (1:1:3)
OBSERVATIONS
This material smelt great from the outset – strong pine smell from the soil. It set very fast – within 20 minutes I was moving the cube around. Good texture, good strength.

 

Composted soil and corn plastic – June 22nd 2012
METHOD
Mix corn plastic with composted soil (1:4)
OBSERVATIONS
Drying time was good – 20 minutes. The composted soil had no strong fibrous content and so lacked strength. Although structurally rigid, it stood up badly to manhandling the following day (even after 8 hours in the direct heat of 35 degree sunlight). The 1:4 mix is good, but the mix requires more compression, and some fibrous content through the cube.

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