Welding steel rebar* framework

I wanted to create feet and legs that conceal the shape of the human inside, and present a narrow, split-toe, reptilian foot. This meant creating some sort of platform or leg extension that has the desired appearance, and can still support the weight of the person inside. I had little confidence that I could successfully construct a fiberglass frame that would handle this. Steel rebar, even though much heavier, seemed to be the way to go. Using a simple bench vise, a piece of rebar is be held secure. The steel is heated to red heat, then bent to the desired curve. The rod is then quenched in water once the desired shape had been formed.

A second rod was bent into a "V" shape, then welded to a center rod to create three front toes and a rear toe. The toes were then bent into a curved shape after welding. Welding was done using an Oxy-Acetylene torch to melt steel welding rod to the rebar. Slight melting of the rebar steel during this process seems to create the best and strongest welds. (This part has all been trial and error, but seems to work okay.)

Another section of rod was bent into a long oval, with the two ends bent down and back. This piece would become a platform to stand on - approximately in the location of the creature's ankle. The curved ends were welded to the toe section. Once this had been done, I tested the supporting capability of the feet by attempting to stand on the platforms. Immediately, I discovered that the single rear toe was not going to provide a stable base, the softened steel of the outside toes would too easily bend, allowing the foot to tip sideways.

To correct this, and increase the overall stability, a second rear toe was added. Another stand test revealed a poor weld on one of the feet, breaking the second rear toe loose. After re-welding and reinforcing all the weld points, the feet seemed to be stable enough, although still slightly soft. Each foot would have to be able to support my full weight to be able to walk. (being able to navigate steps is not very likely.)


Welding the toes.

* "Rebar": Reinforcement Bar - steel rod used to reinforce poured concrete construction

Fiberglass reinforcement of the steel framework

To provide added support to the feet, fiberglass strips were wrapped around the weld joints, and extended out over the toe rods. The fiberglass was then covered with marine epoxy. Fiberglass was also used to cover the platform area. Additional epoxy-covered fiberglass was added to the bottom and top ends of the platforms to help follow the contour of the shoes that would be attached.


Attaching shoes to the foot platforms

Once the fiberglass platforms had been built up, a layer of epoxy was added to the bottom of the shoes. Additional fiberglass layers were added between the shoe and the steel frame, then the shoes were glued to the platforms.

Since the rubber soles did not create a permanent bond with the epoxy, a shell had to be created to deal with the possibility of the shoe breaking loose during wear. To do this, duct tape was applied over the toe and heel areas of the shoes. Pieces of fiberglass were placed in the areas then coated with epoxy. Additional layers of fiberglass and epoxy were built up between the shoes and frame.


Duct tape created a pocket to be filled with fiberglass and epoxy (it leaked).

Attaching the claws is fairly basic, and the function of the spring that was embedded in the epoxy becomes apparent. Nylon cable ties were used to attach the spring to the end of the rebar framework. The spring allows maximum flexibility of the claw and the end of the toe, while remaining anchored to the foot. The process was repeated with the front claws.

Adding foam

Once the claws had been attached, I started gluing foam over the frame. For the feet, I used a very dense, firm packing foam, the kind used to ship some computer and electronic equipment in. Some of this was a square frame glued onto larger sheets. I waste very little of the foam, and scrape or pull the hot glue off the foam before use. Even the small blocks of foam are used.

To start, a block is split in half and held in place against the frame. I used a marker to outline the position of the frame on both sides, then carved a groove where the frame will pass. Spray-on contact cement was used to coat both sides of the split foam, then the piece was positioned, and "closed" around the frame. Additional blocks were added until the desired shape was obtained. The edges are rounded with a razor blade and the toe started to take shape.

The process was repeated for the front toes, then the gaps between the toes and the foam was filled in with small shaped pieces. Additional rounding can be achieved by gluing thin sheets of foam over the carved foam blocks. Small gaps between the blocks do not matter, and will be hidden by the fabric used to cover the foam. Hot glue is used between the claws and the foam to help prevent he claws from rotating.

Strips of foam were run from the front toes up over the shoe. These accent the extended structure of the foot muscles and tendons that should attach to the toes. Thin foam was used to cover the shoe, adding a minimum of width. To extend the foot to the first leg joint, a cardboard extension was hot glued to the heel of the shoe. More foam blocks were used to fill in behind the shoe.

Extending the heel.

Blocks of foam are glued around the steel frame.

The side view shows how small blocks are glued next to each other until enough foam to shape the toe is in place.

Once all the foam has been glued, the corners are shaved to round the toes and to define knuckles or joints in the toes.

A "before and after" shot of the feet.

Foam sheet is added to shape the lower leg joint. This design will allow the leg to remain in a "natural" position, even if I don't have my legs bent.

Foam sheet is added over the shoe and extended up in a fold to form the ankle joint in the leg. Thicker sheet is then built up, creating a hollow shell for the knee joint and thigh.


Follow-up Notes: The feet turned out to be a BIG MISTAKE. It is difficult enough walking around with eighty pounds of dragon costume without trying to balance on wobbly high-heeled shoes. The soft steel also had a tendency to bend and collapse in a way to make it impossible to keep standing. After Marcon, the feet were the first thing to get cut off. I managed three shuffling steps in them during the masquerade. As one of the judges said - If it can't move, it's a prop, not a costume. (I agree 100%)

For the Conglomeration Masquerade, the feet were rebuilt using lightweight PVC tubing with my feet flat on the ground. The claws were salvaged and the spring ends hot-glued into the tubing. Not only did I loose over ten pounds of weight, the balance issue was eliminated. I finished up the bottom of the leg openings, and added floppy spines all around the opening. The feet could be removed and slipped back up incase I had to navigate stairs (this was not an issue at Conglomeration, but more on this later...)

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