Thursday, March 12, 2009

Your Turn, Dear Reader

It's time for something a little different here at Living the Frugal Life. Today I'm asking for help and advice from my readers. Just a little while ago, the google reader subscription to this blog passed 150 people. It's not much by many people's standards, but it's certainly a bigger audience than I ever expected this blog would have. It's also a large enough group of readers that I know there are plenty of things I could learn from my readers. I'm more than happy to share what I know and learn by way of my own mistakes. But I'm not above asking you for help either.

So. There's something I'd like your advice on. First, check out this funky house in Texas that features a full house curtain made out of the bottoms of aluminum cans. I want to know how to cut up an aluminum can in a time-and-effort-efficient manner that leaves me with a fairly uniform piece of metal. You see, I've had a small bee in my bonnet about trying to reproduce the house curtain ever since the good folks at Homegrown Evolution posted about the Beer Can House. Check out their post, by the way, because I think they have an even better picture of the curtain than the House's own website. We could sure use a full house curtain for summertime low energy cooling of our house. I'm willing to give it a try and see if it works for us. But I've stalled on an early production problem.

I tried several ways of cutting up aluminum cans to reproduce this feat of creative genius, but I'm not having much luck. I've already tried the box cutter blade in a closed book technique recommended at this site. It works, but it takes a fair bit of time and effort to accomplish. It would be manageable if I only needed to cut two cans. As a technique for cutting up thousands, it's a little too slow.

Another possibility that I've already rejected is filling each can with water, freezing it solid, and then using a saw to cut the can. Again - fine for a few cans, but far too time consuming for the numbers I would need. A hack saw on an empty can would work, I'm sure. But it would leave a very ragged and uneven edge that I'd rather avoid.

And yes, to all you clever canners out there, I have realized that used canning jar lids would be a good substitute. I'm willing to use canning lids as I use them up, but I don't go through all that many in a year. So they can supplement, but not replace the large numbers of aluminum cans needed for a house curtain project.

One of you out there must have a clever idea or some practical experience that I can apply to this problem. Help me out!


C said...

Have you thought about just flattening them? that's what the house's website says he does. If you don't want to do that, I don't have any ideas for you, unfortunately!

I can just envision how my HOA would react to this if someone ever tried it here...

Kate said...

C, Thank god we don't live under the boot of a HOA! I know he flattened the cans for the house siding. But I was interested in trying to make the house curtain, which is made from the bottoms and/or tops of the cans only. So he must have had a way of separating them from the rest of the cans.

Joules said...

Hi there Kate,

My Google Alert caught your blog mentioning the Beer Can House in Houston, Texas. I have been working with the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art for the past few years on the restoration of House and would be happy to share a few ideas on cutting up aluminum cans.

John Milkovisch who created the Beer Can House was an upholsterer by trade and so used many of his upholstery tools to fabricate his beer can artwork.

From what we can tell he used all hand tools and his techniques did take quite a bit of time (but he was retired and wasn't in much of a hurry!)

He set the can on its side and used a hooked linoleum cutting knife to pierce a hole in the can toward the top or bottom and then used a sawing motion with the blade while turning the can to separate the sides from the top or bottom.

During restoration, we found linoleum knives difficult to use (us not having John's level of skill) and used box cutter-type knives instead.

This process is still quite labor intensive, and the edges will still need to be trimmed, but we were unable to come up with a device that could help cut the cans any quicker than doing it by hand. (I've tried everything from homemade razor contraptions to can-openers...!)

John then pierced two holes on opposite ends of the top and bottom circles and strung them together with wire. I recommend using aluminum wire, as it is compatible with the can material and won't rust like steel.

The curtains work great for reflecting sunlight and heat. The most dense curtain ended up on the front of the house to shade the porch from the hot west-setting sun.

Let me know what other questions you have - I'd be happy to help. Cheers.

louisa said...

It may be slower than you'd like but I just use a sharp pair of scissors.

My goal is a neat, non-jagged flattened out can for crafting so I'm not doing thousands - but it only takes about two minutes.

I use a knife to cut a starting off point at the top of the can, then cut around the circumference of the top. Then I cut down the line where the packaging design wraps, go around the bottom just above the curve, et voila. I get an intact top, bottom and a flat, ready-to-use piece of metal from the body of the can.

Makes a HORRIBLE noise while cutting though ;)

MeadowLark said...

Wow... talk about from the (almost) horse's mouth!

I was going to say a laser cutting torch.

Because we all have THOSE just sitting around :)

Anonymous said...

Hello - I recently found your site and love it. But I am wondering if making a house curtain is really an effective use of your time given all else that you are doing. If you go to the Real Goods on-line catalog they have a wonderful awning-like canopy for a south facing window. I'm planning on making one this year. Last year I simply draped a space blanket (foil side out) over the southfacing windows of our kitchen & it really kept it cooler. Just a thought.

Emily said...

I think a bandsaw would probably work, if you have access to one, although you might go through a few blades.

Anonymous said...

I would also suggest a bandsaw if you have access to one. To cut down on the number of blades you go through, be sure to use power paraffin. Oh, and a jig for uniformity. That having been said, I also wonder if a can curtain is such a good idea? Where would you store it in the winter? What about obstructed views (on a cloudy summer day)? I think it would make me feel claustrophobic! The homesteading site you referenced said they were going to try a living screen--that sounds nice to me! Hmm. . . maybe something edible too!

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Kate said...

Thanks so much for all of your replies, and especially to you, Joules. Thank you so much for the detailed information! Sorry to have disappeared for such a long time. I will definitely give this project some time over the summer when the flurry of spring chores is over.