Making the Basket Stool is when I built an intuitive relationship with machine and material. I have decided to source for a cellulose-based bioplastic as a means of scalability of algae bioplastic. Instead of processing plastic in the conventional industrial manner, handcraft is introduced to work together with machine. There were many unforeseen circumstances and challenges. Firstly, this bioplastic material is totally different from the algae bioplastic I have been working on. That means I would not understand how to best manipulate the process of the material until I physically worked on it. With the help of Dr. Chris Liauw, Dr. Hashim Bhabha and Dr. Michael Green, the results were of satisfactory albeit dissimilar to initial expectation.
Knowing that metal and wood moulds will be very costly, fabric was found to be a potential option. Before receiving the bioplastic and realising the ambition of making a stool, I was speculating on how plastic can be blown like glass. And what if the mould is expandable? I was also presuming that there will be opportunity to hand-molding plastic in fabric. Clearly, I had no idea how plastic behaves. After having experience from making the stool, I realised how fast plastic cools down. Revisiting the theoretical process, this is another hypothesis, it may likely be achievable with fabric if pellets are poured into a ‘fabric sock’ before introducing high temperature in a cooking drum. Perhaps then can be blown or spun to shape in the drum.
The very first thing I am advised to do once I got the bioplastic pellets is make sample tiles by compression moulding. Under the supervision of Dr. Hashim, I was inducted to the process by following the specification provided by the supplier. We did two samples to familiarise ourselves with its properties and another two to observe the consistency. After discussing on a feasible methodology with Dr Chris Liauw and Dr Michele Edge, we came up with a turntable idea that works like 3D printing done manually with a mould for the bioplastic to lay over.
Noticing rope as a resource readily available on the boat, I used it to build up a mould around a CNC-ed structure. The rest of the turntable machine is made out of scrap wood. A few anticipation from this method was to see how the bioplastic responds to the rope texture and to build the basket stool in 3 layers – vertical, lateral and vertical again.
And of course, it did not turn out as expected. The turntable does not actually work well with the extrusion machine, the reason being is the plastic cools really fast, hence needed to be handled quickly to have the strands sticking to one another. Secondly, the position of extruder is not far enough to reach the width I am achieving- 175mm/half of 350mm; it shall work if the extrusion is coming from straight above. With regard to the restrictions, I put the turntable aside and watched how the extrusion behaves. The bioplastic came out from the extrusion tip at 200°C. Any physical handling will require As the extrusion barrel works with a rotating corkscrew mechanism, the molten bioplastic is extruded out in a spiraling manner. It built up slowly in height but its weight began to cause the rising cylindrical tower to slant. This was when I came in with gloves to sculpt the form.
After a few trials, I have familiarised myself with how I can work with the material to its best efficiency for a basket stool. If the speed of extrusion is increased, I am able to quickly configure the molten bioplastic and make them stuck to one another in time. While my hands have to be agile to keep up with the constant flow, my mind is constantly analysing what I was doing. I spontaneously developed a repetitive hand motion to achieve a coherent pattern. I also used the rope mould as a reference for size and a landing base. When it reached the legs, the mould is removed and the hands are responsible for simultaneous supporting and sculpting.
Recounting the laborious process, it has certainly realised the intention of promoting value to the material that we once perceived as cheap and unappreciated. All in all, I considered myself fortunate to have enough material for failures and 2 stools successfully made.
To view the final design, head over to daecantee.com