Another How-To from

Prototype: tunnel of rocks inside a cube

Getting to the idea.

Inspired by rock walls we saw on a trip to Sundance, Utah, Janice and I started making "cement block & rock sculptures" during the summers and falls of 2001 and 2002. These cement block sculptures opened a door that keeps pulling us back...we keep intending to get back to making more of these sculptures...and we keep getting sidetracked and pulled away by other projects.

During the spring of 2008, I started fooling around with wiring rocks and broken broken terra cotta into bowls and various other shapes and objects. I seem to have a "knack" for pulling steel wire around stuff and then wiring that stuff together. By "knack" I mean that I can do stuff that works (i.e., doesn't fall apart, actually builds up to something) and I seem to enjoy this semi-difficult semi-tedious hand labor--although the wires tend to knick my hands up. Each rock presents a challenge in wiring or "caging" and I am obsessive-compulsive enough to enjoy doing this for several hours in a row--usually while watching something on the TV.

While working on a series of projects wiring rocks and stones together, I realized I could easily wire a "tube" or tunnel of rocks together...and the idea occurred to me that I could suspend such a tube of rocks in a hollow cube...and that this would be the "inverse" (sort of) of our cement block sculptures. Instead of rocks forming a hollow cavity or tunnel in solid cement, I'd have rocks forming a tube or tunnel in a hollow block. This idea and the image I had in my minds eye was very appealing to me, so I started thinking about it and working on it. I decided to make a branching tube of rocks that would fit inside an 8-inch x 8-inch cube--the same dimensions as our last set of cement blocks. I pictured the cube as being made of small metal rods...something I would probably have to weld together (I spent several summers in college working in a machine shop and doing stuff like welding, so I can see myself doing this). Maybe this is why we had never gotten back to making more cement blocks...I was waiting to be inspired by a whole new twist or approach.

Cement Block #10 and Metal Cube Prototype #1

Making it.
Ingredients: Rocks from my yard wrapped in 19-gauge annealed (oiled) steel wire, cedar wood, screws, and 26-gauge annealed steel wire for cross supports.
Tools: Needle-nosed pliers (for cutting and pulling the wire), electric drill, measuring tape, pencil, electric table saw, and screw driver.

I first made an 8-inch by 8-inch wire cube out of 16-gauge bailing wire, but it was clear that this would not be sturdy enough to support the rock tube. But I used this wire model as a template to help me size my branching rock tube correctly. I really wanted to make the frame out of metal tubing or rods, but I don't have a welder. I started checking out new welders at the local building supply stores and on Craig's List, but it wasn't clear what type of welder I should buy and whether the investment would be worth it. There are several challenges that need to be faced before I can set up a welding area at my house--probably requiring getting an electrician to come in an extend 220 current to my garage or back deck. I finally gave in and decided I would build a wooden frame cube--something I knew I could easily do. The first problem I ran into in doing this with wood, was finding wood small enough to work with--I did not want the wooden frame to get in the way visually (why dark, small diameter wire rods will look better). I finally bought an eight foot long piece of 1 x 2-inch cedar, and then cut the lengths I needed and cut these in half to make 1 x 1-inch pieces (actually .75-inches square). I used 16 screws to secure the corners and create the block. I determinded how I wanted my rock branch to sit in the cube and then drilled holes to string three spans of wire to secure the three ends of the branching rock tube.

© 2008