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Aluminum

April 7, 2014

If you did a site search of my website, you would find the most common word on it is aluminum. It is my favourite material by a long margin. It is soft, light, durable, easy to work, easy to machine with and polishes well. It has limitations – the biggest being you cannot easily and seamlessly weld it. But this drawback is one of the many things that perversely, draw me toward it. I like the challenge of figuring out a way to gracefully mechanically attach two pieces together in a design. I always strive for an elegant solution to a problem that ideally turns a materials weakness into a positive feature.

Aluminum is a man-made material which requires vast amounts of electricity to produce, so much so that big producers in Canada in the seventies built huge dams in Quebec and British Colombia to provide enough electricity to power their facilities. My father worked as an electrical engineer at Alcan for most of his career solving some of the myriad problems that arise when your company uses and produces more electricity in a month than some European Countries use in a year.  The ecologist in me winces at the impact that kind of industry has on the environment, but the areas affected by the dams were somewhat less than sparsely populated remote North locations… the double plus is that aluminum is virtually endlessly recyclable. Just chuck it back in the furnace and pour it out into whatever rod, tube, sheet or ingot you want, over and over again.

It is the endless array of extrusions that fascinates most about the material. You cook up a batch of aluminum, and when it’s molten you press it through a dye that is whatever shape you what. Ever play with Play-doh? When you pump it through a hole? Same idea, bigger mess.  The beauty for me is the infinite variations in size, thickness and shape.

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