The Distilled Library [MAIR #3]

The Distilled Library is an interesting case over on Walking Papercut, and comes with an equally interesting set of random tables to create a multitude of book titles for your games – enough to fill a library! Now, let’s see how one would go about recreating this as a real item.

the distilled library, an ai-generated artifact that consists of a glass dome over a bunch of small books covered with sand, and a watery explosion bursting through a crack

The Base – Woodworking

It is probably easiest to start out with the base, since it dictates the shape of the dome later. As far as I can tell, the base in the image is not symmetrical. I would start with a piece of wood of sufficient size. A band saw with large enough throat would be ideal to create the wave of the base, but a belt sander* with an aggressive grit would work as well (albeit with a much bigger mess).

Once the shaping is done the surface needs to be sanded smooth, although some of that can be left to lacquer since there is no need to make it look like polished wood. Make sure to keep a flat spot large enough to provide stability to the final item.

Alternative: Woodturning

While the piece is not symmetrical and cannot be turned easily on the lathe*, there is a way to approximate it by turning a larger piece – at least twice the diameter of the desired base. Imagine the piece you want sitting off-center to the side from the rotational axis, and create the shape you want there.

Finally, you need a band saw, a scroll saw*, or a coping saw* to remove the piece from the larger turning. Sanding and finishing applies to this one just as it does above, and remember the flat spot.

The glass Dome – Recycling

First of, it may be possible to source a glass piece that looks vaguely like the one needed, but I would caution against it. This part needs to fit onto the wavy wooden base, and getting glass into shape, while possible, is asking for trouble in my opinion.

Instead, I would go with a plastic bottle, preferably one without additional design elements near the top. That one you can cut with plain scissors and shape just like you need to match the curve of your base. And if you mess that up for some reason, cutting up another bottle would not be such a big investment either.

The Crack – Soldering Iron

This may not be the time to add the crack yet, but I want to cover it here because it’s part of the “glass” piece. The easiest way to do this is to use a soldering iron*. Just make sure to have good ventilation, because the plastic will not give off friendly fumes as it melts. If you have one that can be regulated, try to set the temperature as low as possible to avoid these fumes.

Start by marking the line you want with something that writes on plastic, and make sure the line fits whatever it needs to fit later. Then carefully melt that line open. The edge is secondary as it will most likely be covered by the explosion later.

The Plug

After trimming the top of the bottle to remove the threads I would use a hot air gun* to gently roll up the edge. Be careful not to overheat the plastic, and do not burn your hands. Wearing gloves is highly recommended. Make sure the edge looks neat and it not too warped.

To make the plug, the first go-to would be an actual plug made from cork. Turning or cutting one from wood would work well, too, although turning one would make finishing it a lot easier. Eventually, this should be glued to the bottle, but for now, I would leave it loose just in case something goes wrong later and the bottle needs to be replaced.

When placing the plug, it would be a good idea to heat the plastic up just a bit until it is soft enough to form around the plug. It does not need to be really hot for that, and a good connection might even be enough to keep it in place.

The Books – Wood- & Paper Craft

The easiest way to make the books would be to create a paper box with the desired textures and text printed on them. Personally, I would use Inkscape for that, but that’s mainly because I have created paper models in the past. But while paper craft is awesome, it is also prone to smushing. Hence, I would cut pieces of board to the size of the books, and encase that with the paper. With some sanding, this would also yield bent spines to make things look more realistic.

Doing the paper book sleeves yourself would allow you to add the titles you want to the spines, although at that size, they might as well have no titles or just blurred text. Another good source for images and inspiration would be an image search for scans of actual books.

Placing Literature

When it comes to placing the books inside the dome, go for a random pattern. Also keep in mind that the sand will need room, and that some books could be bisected by that layer. Cut them loosely along that line, which is another rood reason to have a piece of wood inside them. I would use a hot glue gun* to place the books and keep them in place. That allows you to keep the glue mostly hidden, and also hold bisected books in place for the next step.

The Sand – Sand…

For the “sands of time” or whatever you feel this layer represents, you need a base first. For that I would use thin acrylic, cut to the appropriate shape. And it is not an easy shape to guess. Not only does it need to be at an angle, but it is also bent to meet the crack.

You could work with a piece of paper to figure out the shape, and start over without issue if necessary. You can also glue pieces back together to “undo” a cut, and keep working on it until the result fits the description.

Keep in Shape

The tricky bit is to keep the piece of plastic in shape during the next step. Once the sand is added, it will not change shape anymore, but until then, it needs to stay the way we want it to stay. The easiest was I have found to do that is to cut two pieces, add glue between them, and keep them in shape until the glue sets. As such, it should be a glue that has at least a couple of minutes of working time that also sticks to plastic. Epoxy should do the trick, but to be sure do a small test bit first.

Additive Sanding

You need to add sand to that separation layer. In this case, the best way to mimic sand is to use actual sand. If you mix it with wood glue, you can turn it onto a paste that you can then spread onto the separating piece. While wood glue might not stick to the plastic, that won’t matter once the glue has set and there won’t be any stress on the part.

If you prepared books to stick out from the sand, glue them to the plastic using hot glue first before applying the sand-mix. If you want to make things a bit more dynamic, try to shape the sand around the book as if it bulges.

The Explosion – Resin Casting among other things

Be warned, this part is going to get a little complicated and might not work at all. At the very least, I would expect frustration to be part of the deal when you endeavor making this. Also, this will be resource intensive, but to be frugal was never the objective here.

Refer to “The Crack” above regarding how to make the opening through which the colorful explosion comes out. It is probably best to create the explosion first, then fit the crack to its shape.

Option 1: 2-K-resin (somewhat recommended)

This kind of resin consists of two components that need to be mixed in a certain relation based on volume or weight. Once thoroughly mixed, the resin will harden within a number of minutes to hours, depending on the specific brand and formulation. So there is a time limit, and everything should be in place before you mix the components. There also needs to be a solid mold, which is the main issue with this part anyway.

Wax Mold cast in Silicone

For this method, you need a block of wax that you then carve into the shape of the explosion, matching the crack (if you already have one). Wax is easy to work with, can be melted down and reused (save those chips) and a little bit of hot air gun* can clean up the surface nicely.

Once you have the shape where you want it, you need to cast it in flexible, heat-resistant silicone. I cannot cover the skills required for that, because I have not done so often. I recommend checking in with someone who has (directly or via YouTube) to learn bset practice on how to make a mold, where to place air holes, and how to de-mold effectively.

Then you melt the wax out of the form. This is best done in a toaster oven, taking some time, and making sure to catch the wax in a tray. Keep in mind that the shape is prone to small parts and droplets breaking off, or wax not melting out of the mold properly. If your silicone and resin casting skills are not up to the task, at least your frustration tolerance should be.

Once the mold is clean, you can cast it in clear resin with a few drops of different dyes. Try not to mix it up too much after casting it. Let it cure, then remove the mold. If everything went well, you now have your own frozen explosion.

Option 2: UV-resin (experimental)

UV resin* cures when it is hit with UV radiation. It is generally used for SLA printing, but it can also be hardened with a UV LED or plain old sunlight. This is me spitballing, because I have tried neither of those two sub-options yet.

Pour into Sunlight

Take a container of water. Place it in direct and, if possible, harsh sunlight. Pour UV resin into the water from an opaque bottle, possible with dyes added. The hope here is that the sun will cure the resin before it can do anything other than have a liquid shape. Make sure to let it sit in the sun for a while so it cures thoroughly, and dispose of the water according to local rules because UV resin is not healthy or nice.

Plastic Bag Mold

Take a transparent plastic bag (like a freezer bag) and use a heat source to melt it together to make a 2D shape of the explosion you want. You can check what it would look like and whether the shape is tight by filling it with water. Once satisfied fill it with UV resin, add a few drops of dye, and hang it in a way that the resin will stay inside. Then cure it either in sunlight or using a curing station.

Depending on the resin you use and the thickness of the shape, this might work with 2-K resin as well. Keep in mind, though, that this kind of resin can give off heat when curing, which might damage the plastic bag. Hence I would advise caution. It might be possible to have the bag hanging in cold water during the hardening process.

Possibility: Styrofoam

A while back, I saw John Zhu making art pieces by pouring resin in simple styrofoam molds. The particular resin they used ate away at the styrofoam, and the end result was something organic and complex. I do not know whether that works with all kinds of resin, nor how much work it would be to sand and polish the final result. One option would be to dip the piece in lacquer and let it drip off. Spray lacquer should work, too, but it might not get everywhere.

Option 3: Cellophane?

Resin has a few downsides – the mess, the health risks, not to mention the weight. I think you could get a decently looking explosion using cellophane*. The idea is to layer it, and use the hot air gun* to make it crinkle slightly to add volume. This would have the definitive upside of being lightweight and very resistant to parts breaking off.

Putting it all together

Once you have all the parts, all you need to do is to combine them. For that purpose, I would go with epoxy, and take special care to dry-fit things to avoid additional stress. There was probably enough of that in the casting process, if you went that route, anyway.

Thoughts on the Distilled Library?

I am aware that these posts can be a little bit of a wall of text. I am all the more grateful that you managed to get down to here. While I would not expect anyone to try and make their own distilled library, I do think that this one incorporates a number of ideas and techniques that can help inform your next projects.

Let me know what you took away from this – best way to do that is to join me on Discord! I am always looking for ideas how I could make these posts more concise, too! There are other projects here to inspire you, too. And as always, remember to Be Inspired!

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