Artist Masters 304 Stainless Steel Sculptures with Miller’s Dynasty® TIG Welder
"My objective was to do something extreme...shock and awe artwork, beauty on a large scale." Kevin Stone
It's almost a modern-day fairy tale. A senior fabricator, his welding skills honed from years of working on everything from structural steel to ships to pharmaceutical equipment, is asked to try his hand at a metal sculpture. An investor allows him to purchase Miller equipment to pursue his art.
The artist's medium: 304 stainless steel. His tools: a Dynasty® TIG welder from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. His objective: "Shock and awe artwork. Beauty on a large scale." By large scale, picture a 85-ft.-long stainless steel dragon or a bald eagle with a 32-ft. wingspan.
|"The Power of Flight" is made completely from polished stainless steel, a difficult but rewarding metal to work with, according to Stone.|
Artist Kevin Stone says that, "I've always been able to pretty much draw anything." He came from an artistic family and drawing was a hobby since childhood, drawing cartoons and fantasy art. Art didn't seem a viable career choice, however, so he trained as a TIG welder at Camosun College in Victoria, BC, Canada. After years of industrial work, his employer asked him to take on a special project that would show off the welding talent they had working in their fabrication shop.
"A few people mentioned my artistic abilities to the staff and they asked me to build a special sculpture for the roof of the building," says Stone. Although Stone's only previous attempt at sculpting was a soapstone dragon's head, he took on the project: a 6-1/2-ft. high, 8-1/2-ft. wide stainless steel gargoyle (see photo). "It was a challenge for me, but I think it turned out well," Stone says.
Stone continued welding full-time until 2005. Then, as an independent artist, Stone wanted to create a piece with large appeal to an American art-buying public.
"I have always found the bald eagle to be an inspiration to me both artistically and spiritually," he says. "Eagles signify incredible power and dominance in their environment, and yet at the same time are the most graceful, beautiful and elegant species of bird I have observed."
After six months of work, Stone unveiled "Power and Authority," a 20-ft. tall, mirror-polished stainless steel eagle with a wingspan of 32 ft. (see photo). More than 2,000 people attended the unveiling, and it gained attention in media as far away as the Boston Herald. The asking price of the sculpture: $1 million.
|The Chinese Dragon's head, part of Stone's work in progress, which he hopes will find a place in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.|
With financial backers liking the eagle concept for its beauty and salability, Stone built "Power of Flight," his second eagle sculpture, at his home in Chilliwack, B.C. He says that, "It turned out much better than the first one. I learned from the first experience."
With Power of Flight complete and on the market, Stone has moved on to his third major sculpture, an 85-ft. long, 12-ft. tall Chinese dragon (see photo), inspired by both Stone's lifelong interest in fantasy art and the upcoming Olympics in Beijing.
|This Gargoyle, commissioned by his employer to show off his welders' skills, brought attention to Kevin Stone's ability and allowed him to move from fabricator to professional artist.|
Once Stone decides on a project, there are very few intermediate steps between the idea and the creation.
"I'll take a few photos to get ideas," Stone says. "I check on the Internet for reference photos, but I primarily build from my imagination. I have a blueprint in my head that I follow. I visualize five to 10 steps ahead of what I'm working on. I picture what the overall shape will be and try to think of something that will fit inside that shape, yet be structurally strong."
On the dragon, the first piece of stainless Stone bent was the inside of the mouth (see photo.). Then he built the tongue and set that aside and started building the crown of the head and went on from there, slowly building it, piece by piece.
"I do a lot of paperwork, paper transfer. Now that I have one piece done, I'll take a piece of paper that represents the next piece, cut it out with scissors and then transfer it onto a piece of stainless. That saves a lot of wasted material and helps with fit up."
Once the pattern is transferred to 16-gauge, 304 stainless steel, Stone cuts it using a power shear. He then shapes the pieces by hand and starts tack welding them into place several inches apart with his Dynasty 300 TIG welder. When he's happy with the fit up, he'll add more tack welds between the existing welds until there are welds about every half-inch. He'll eventually finish-weld the pieces together, welding 10 in. in one place then moving somewhere else to keep down the heat put into the thin metal and to ensure proper fit. He'll finish by grinding down the welds and polishing the pieces.
|Close up of his eagle's talon; TIG welds add texture.|
The head, the legs, all the accessories and pieces that go into a project are hand cut and hand formed. Stone turned to his former employer to help engineer the complex coils that make up the armature ("skeleton") of a sculpture, which adds strength. Stone TIG welded the armature from 3-in. structural stainless steel tubing. For easier shipping, items such as wings bolt on with stainless hardware.
|Kevin Stone standing amid the components for the dragon's body.|
"Stainless steel is one of the more difficult metals to work with," admits Stone. "Very few people can weld thin stainless. It will oxidize quickly, overheat and burn through. It requires polishing to bring out its beauty and it is very labor intensive. Very few people work with it. However, as you can see by the eagle, it's worth the effort. Plus, once it's polished, it can be out in the elements and it won't corrode, rust or lose its mirror-like quality. My vision is for them to be mounted over water to bring out the reflective qualities of both while color lights could be used for added effect."
An Artist Picks Up His Brush
Like most artists, Stone chose his equipment with care: a Dynasty 300 TIGRunner (a 300-amp TIG system with a water-cooler mounted on a cart for mobility; the Dynasty 350 has now superceded this model), a Miller Spectrum® 3080 plasma cutter (which he uses to cut thicker material), a Millermatic® 350P MIG/Pulsed MIG all-in-one welder, a Miller Elite™ auto-darkening helmet and Miller Arc Armor™ TIG gloves.
"I just love the machine and its controllability," he says of the Dynasty. "I could have purchased any machine I wanted. I've worked with all the top brands in my career, but this is the best machine I ever used."
"The Dynasty has a nice arc start, so I can start off slowly and still have good heat control," Stone says. "With my sculptures, there are few welds in a flat position. I weld in the most awkward positions, conditions and shapes you can imagine. This level of control and reliable arc starts makes the Dynasty ideal for what I do."
|Stone rarely changes the settings on his Dynasty 300, finding that the factory settings work fine for his needs.|
While the Dynasty comes with controls to precisely tailor the arc, Stone says he was able to be productive with the machine "right out of the box," using the factory default settings for the material thickness.
"The setting for stainless steel is usually around 160 amps, from 60 to 160 amps is controlled variation for the work that I do," says Stone. "And the nice thing about having a foot pedal or having a torch-mounted switch is your amperage isn't limited to what you want to work with. You can weld from 5 to 350 amps."
Stone prefers using a thumb control so he doesn't have to be tied to a foot pedal, and he prefers a water-cooled torch.
"I found that in welding thick materials, the water-cooled torch keeps my hand cooler. It actually gives me a smaller torch than with an air-cooled torch. I really enjoy it."
In addition to the Dynasty, Stone bought a Millermatic 350P all-in-one pulsed MIG welder, which he uses for heavy welding or structural welding around the shop. Currently, he's using it to build a dune buggy for his kids.
|Stone chose a Millermatic® 350P MIG/Pulsed MIG welder for welding projects around his show. Here he's working on a dune buggy for his children.|
"It's a good all-purpose machine," Stone says. "It can run heavy plate. It can run aluminum. It can run mild steel. It can run stainless steel. I don't buy things. I make them myself. With the 350P, I can build and fix them myself."
To top it off, Stone chose Miller safety equipment, including a Miller Elite™ auto-darkening helmet and new TIG gloves.
"I like the big window of the Miller [Elite] helmet," Stone says. "I like its reaction speed. They work great, even at low amperage. They'll darken all the way down to five amps. And I especially like the Auto-on function. On my previous helmet, I was constantly forgetting to turn it on, so I was flashing myself a lot. For this type of work, you have to have this type of helmet. There's so much tacking, especially with stainless. I recommend a Miller helmet to anybody that's doing fitting work because you don't have to be lifting your shade and wrecking your neck. After 20 years of welding that way, I have a pretty bad neck.
"I also like the Elite series because they have four arc sensors," he adds. "In this work, with the different positions I weld in, having multiple pick-ups on the helmet is very important. It would be easy to obscure a sensor with my arm or a part that I'm working on and flash myself. Plus, it has a grind setting, which is very important with all of the grinding that I do."
As a final touch, Stone chose Miller's TIG welding gloves because, "These are probably the best TIG welding gloves that I've ever come across in my twenty years of welding," Stone says. "They're durable. They're comfortable. They have extra supports where most gloves wear out right away. I think they're the best gloves that have ever come out for TIG welding."
Other than picking the right equipment, Stone has some advice for the aspiring sculptor.
"Practice your trade skills," he advises. "I have 18 years of welding experience, which allows me to weld stainless. It's not easy and will take practice. If you're doing artwork, practice drawing. Practice drawing and practice drawing more. It helps you visualize. Drawing can actually help sculpting dramatically because it helps lock in and define your vision."
More information on Stone's art can be found at http://www.metalanimation.com. For more information on Miller TIG welders, visit http://millerwelds.com/products/tig/.