The branches and stems of my plant sculptures are made of steel rod. The rod’s natural form is perfectly smooth, like a wood dowel or the barrel of a pen. I like my sculptures to have an organic, twisty look, like they actually ‘grew’ out of the earth but happen to be made of metal. The smooth steel rod looks too manufactured, so before I can use it to make a sculpture, I grind the surface to give it texture and the ‘twisting’ appearance.
Grinding isn’t as hazardous as welding or glassworking; there are no flammable materials or unsafe fumes. Still, it’s smelly and oh so filthy – the grinding action abrades the smooth surface, and that nice twisty look I like means smooth steel has to shed millions of little steel ‘dust’ specks first.
I use a high-RPM angle grinder to roughen up the steel and get it twisty. I have to wear earplugs to protect against the decibel level of the grinder, and full-shield goggles to protect against the flying steel ‘dust’.
It’s not my favorite part of making my plant sculptures; I think of it as ‘grunt work’ since it’s repetitive, physical and less creative. But sometimes, after a long day at work (where my marketing job makes use of – and sometimes temporarily exhausts – my creativity), a little ‘grunt work’ fits the bill.
Then, when I’m ready to be more contemplative and creative, I have a nice pile of twisty ground steel, ready to go!