Dune Bull Fighting Statue
- E6000 glue
- PLA filament and 3D printer
- Sandpaper: coarse (100 – 300), medium (400 – 800) , and fine grits (+2000). A Dremel tool on slow speed can cut down your sanding time.
Create a replica of the bull fighting statue from the 2021 Dune movie. In the movie, Paul Atreides can be seen staring at the miniature bronze statue of his grandfather.
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Assemble The Base
Due to my printer (Davinci Mini by XYZ) having a smaller print area of 5.9 inches by 5.9 inches, I couldn’t print the entire base in one go. I sliced the base into four parts, drilled holes on the underside of each component, and fastened them together with bolts and E6000 glue.
The unmistakable layers of a 3D print can be charming, but in order to help the the copper plating process later and achieve a more movie accurate appearance, sanding became unavoidable. There are two methods I attempted: (1) sanding the PLA model immediately and (2) first painting the model with a rubber-like coating to fill in the gaps between layers and then sanding.
Creating the Acid Bath
First we need a bath to soak our statue in as it’s being electroplated. I found the most effective solution is one with copper already dissolved (copper-acetate), but any acidic solution should work. Note: by “effective” I mean the least time required and highest possible copper coverage.
DISCLAIMER! I am not a chemist, so unless you are a professional, I would recommend not creating your own copper-acetate solution like I did. When handling the acid, make sure to use proper protection.
Making The PLA Prints Electrically Conductive
Electroplating requires that the object you want to plate is electrically conductive, so in order to plate a non-conductive/insulator such as PLA, we need to do some overhead work. This was probably the most time difficult part to figure out. I ended up trying six different methods along with a few variations of those methods, but below are the three most successful ways to make your electroplate your statue.
(see below for tips)
Attempt 1: I tried to create my own electrically conductive paint by mixing sodium silicate and very fine (44 micron) graphite powder. This trial failed. Despite having low electrical resistance which is critical to electroplating, the homemade paint became brittle during the electroplating process and ended pealing off.
Attempt 2: I created a homemade paint with sodium silicate, acrylic paint, and very fine (44 micron) graphite powder. While this paint did not become brittle during the electroplating process, the resistance was too high and any copper failed to adhere to the surface.
Attempt 3 (BEST): Coating the surface of the statue with nickel spray paint proved to be the best method. The paint stuck to the surface, had low electrical resistance, and resulted in a smooth copper plated surface.
Before applying the nickel spray paint, apply a base coat of bronze or copper paint to hide any imperfections with the electroplating. The nickel spray paint is very conductive, so only a light coat is required.
IMMEDIATELY after electroplating, soak your statue in a bath of water and baking soda to neutralize the acid. If you don’t do this, your newly deposited copper will start to quickly oxidize into a deep green/blue color.
Resources & Tips
- For better electroplating:
- the lower the voltage ~1.5V
- add more evenly spaced copper electrodes
- only electroplate small parts. If your statue is too big, there will be areas where no copper will deposit. You may need to cut your statue into smaller pieces.
- If you’re attempting to plate something, but no copper is depositing on the surface, there are two likely reasons:
- A solid connection between your negative terminal and the object you’re electroplating is required. If you’re not getting a good enough connection, nothing will happen. To improve the connection you can add additional connection points and increase the surface area at each connection (I ended up wrapping up aluminum foil around the connection point and attaching my alligator clip to the foil).
- Your object is not electrically conductive enough. To test the conductivity, use a multimeter to measure the resistance along the length of your statue. If your resistance is greater than a couple ohms, then the surface is not conductive enough.
Fill Base with Concrete
Concrete type doesn’t really matter. Once dry, I’d recommend covering the bottom with a felt or velvet adhesive sheet.
After the electroplating, the copper will be a dull red color. To make it look movie-accurate, you’ll need to polish it before oxidizing it. For tarnish removal, I’d use Brasso. For smoothing, you’ll need to carefully sand the thin surface. Work your way from fine (800 grit) to ultra fine (2000 – 2500 grit) sandpaper.
Oxidize the Copper
Using a either a solution of vinegar and salt or a Blue Patina Aging Solution by Modern Masters, dampen all areas that you’d like to oxidize. Over the course of an hour monitor the oxidation progress. Once you’ve achieved enough patina, soak the statue in a water bath (with a tiny bit of baking soda) to neutralize and stop the oxidation.