I have never owned an actual buckle style belt and thought I'd try my hand with one. Recently I made a picture frame out of pop cans and sat back wondering what else I could make out of the discarded cans. Somehow, with the ebb and flow of my thinking (and maybe a Geico commercial here and there!) I came up with this idea.
I'll be perfectly honest, there were different methods and thoughts that went into this. I tried using construction grade pine my first attempt but found it to be difficult to carve as it tended to splinter easily. Next, I had the idea of using lino blocks (something we used in art class when I was a teenager to make printings). I bought a set and thought it would work--it had to work!--but found that I either wasn't skilled enough or didn't have the patience to carve the linoleum and ended up cutting to deep or blowing out the other side into my pattern. Finally I looked into a good wood to use for carving came found that basswood was the best for carving. What follows is my process in making this fun bling that has gotten me a lot of high fives.
- Some sort of picture..or not! You could carve anything you can think of, I chose to use one of my 'sticker swap' stickers.
- Kinetic Sand (or some cheap alternative)
- Basswood 3" x 6" x 1/8"
- Scrap wood for making the mold
- About 40-50 pop cans, depending on your shape. My 3"x3" shape took about this many cans.
- A new or used belt
- Buckle back ring and hook 1.5-2"
- Leather glue
Tools I used in this:
- Exacto knife
- Hot glue & Gun
- Access to a forge of some kind for melting aluminum cans (or not! You could make this out of wood!)
- Drill with an 1/8"
- Spring clamps
- Belt hole punch (or you could use a drill bit or even a nail)
- (Optional) Grinder of some kind to clean up the edges and sand the back flat
- (Optional) Dremel
- (Optional) Wood carving tools
Step 1: Preparing to Carve
What you want to do here is make two pieces of the exact size as your finished buckle. If you plan on making a buckle that's round and the diameter is a little less than 3", cut two square pieces of the basswood to be about 3". Sandwich them together with hot glue. The reason I used two 1/8" thick pieces of wood, glued together, is to get a good solid depth. You want your cut shapes to have about an 1/8" thickness. Because the hot glue is difficult to cut through, it makes it easier to know when to stop cutting.
To make my carving simple, I used 4 tiny dabs of glue to keep my wood pieces from moving on the table. Remember, you're going to remove this later on...the more glue you use, the more difficult it'll be to remove it!
Glue or stick your image on to the face of that newly attached piece of wood and move to step 2.
Step 2: Carving
Next, get out your Exacto Knife and trace VERY carefully around the letters / shapes. At this point, you'll want to decide whether you want the shapes to be raised or lowered. I chose to hog out the wood around the letters so that my final buckle would have raised letters. You could very easily do it the opposite way and have sunken letters or shapes. But you have to make sure you take your time and cut slowly. One knick and you could ruin it as basswood is very soft.
Slowly Carve away the letters. You can use a Dremel to carve out the letters or wood carving tools. Most of the time I used my Exacto and found it to be far more useful than either of the other options.
A good time here is to take your time. Don't dig deep with your first past and make many shallow cuts until you get to your final depth. I can't stress this enough!
Step 3: Cut the Final Perimeter of Your Buckle
If you plan on having a square belt buckle, you can omit this step. Just be sure the edges look exactly the way you want them.
I carefully used a screwdriver and popped my newly carved image off the table and took it to the bandsaw and carved everything off that I didn't want to be on the final product.
Step 4: Making the Form and Forming the Mold
There really is nothing to this part. You're basically going to make a box with the 6th wall removed, or a half box. I used wood as I have plenty of scraps, but if you steeped the walls around where you pour with plenty of excess kinetic sand, it should hold just fine. For example, if I had that same 3" diameter shape, and I'm looking for about a 5/8" thickness, make sure you've steeped kinetic sand up 3/4" outside the parameter of your pour area.
Once that is complete and you have your sand pressed firmly into your box, or plate, etc...push down with even force on your shape into the kinetic sand. When you pull the shape out, the mold that you have formed should be tight grained and you should be able to lightly touch it without any movement. If this is so, move on to the next step. If not, read the next paragraph.
If you find that the sand is fluffy or your image is not clear, try repressing the sand down until it is flat and very rigid and try again. Try looking, as well, at your carved area and make sure you have a good depth of about 1/8" in all areas.
Step 5: Melt and Pour Your Aluminum...
If you don't have a forge, fret not! You could make a buckle out of the very wood you carved. As using a forge is a very different kind of project altogether, I will not going through the several steps on how to melt aluminum, and I'm sure there are plenty of how to guides to do that if you need further information.
If you're pouring for the very first time, be sure you don't do what I do and pour with shorts, short sleeves and flip flops. With this project alone I had two blow outs from two separate crucibles that leaked hot molten lava all over my deck. What I'm saying is be incredibly prepared for molten aluminum to splash, spill or drop on you. You need to protect your hands, legs, feet and arms at all times.
Make sure that whatever you are pouring on is something you don't care much about. Pouring this on top of your wife's brand new BMW hood, for example, would be incredibly stupid. The picnic table in the picture, is old and read to be thrown, and I'm not worried about what it looks like.
After the pour, do not touch it and let it cool off on its own. Don't submerge it or pour water on it as the rapid cooling could damage it.
Step 6: Brush and Grind
Be sure to clean all of the kinetic sand off your object with a brush or anything else that will pull the loose sand away. Grind the sides to the final shape and be sure to flatten the back, the opposite side of the carved image. Naturally, as the aluminum cools, the top of the mold will sink as it shrinks. You need to make sure you grind it flat for the next part. Any other grinding will be for aesthetics.
Step 7: Drill, Tap and Screw
Now, use the buckle back as a template to drill the holes for the screws that will hold your new buckle on. I drew lines on opposites sides of my buckle at about the center and drew a line across the back and centered the buckle back to that line. Or, at least that would have been good. I drew lines on the edges and eyeballed where the buckle would fit just right.
After marking where I wanted the holes to go, I drilled it out with an 1/8" bit and tapped with a 6-32nd tap. Next, be sure you put the buckle in before you screw the backing on! From there I put the screws in and the backing was secured.
I put the hook on the left side of the back so that when I go to hook it onto the belt I will use my right hand to buckle it on. This becomes problematic if you are use to stringing your belt through the left side loop of your pants as you will have to now string it through the right side. The other option is to face the hook on the opposite side and use your left hand to hook it onto the belt. Either way will work just fine.
Step 8: Gluing the Belt
The belt buckle now needs to have the belt fed through and glued. This is super simple. String one end of your new belt or old belt that was used where the buckle had been (the opposite side of the holes) and fold over about an 1 1/2" before laying your glue down. Get your spring clamps ready, check to make sure everything looks good and drizzle some glue on the long section of the belt and squeeze the short section WITH the buckle sandwiched between the two leathers. Grab your clamps and squeeze the ends together, applying about 4 spring clamps when you're done.
There will be some squeeze out on the sides, and that's okay. Later you can cut that off with your Exacto knife. Read the instructions about how long to let it dry, and then follow me to the final step.
Step 9: Making Holes and Putting It On
We're almost done!
The next thing that I did was actually put the belt on by stringing it through the loops of my pants, squeezing the belt over my belly and roughly guessing where I'd want the hole I'd probably always use...well, maybe not after a thanksgiving meal... I marked where I wanted that hole to go and then used another belt to map out 3 holes to the left of that hole and 3 to the right, which works well for after large meals. :D
I used the leather punch to remove all the holes and it was complete.