Saturday, November 23, 2019

Carried away

In the run up to this year's Jennifer Show, there was a lot of talk about travelling with your show string. I think everyone's familiar with that process now, so today we're moving on to the next model horse travel challenge: safely transporting clay sculptures. Thank you, Melanie Miller for letting me share this post!

Carried Away: Create a Carrying Case for Soft Clay Sculptures

by Melanie Miller

As any sculptor knows, taking a sculpture out of the studio can be a risky proposition! The jostling, exposure and extra handling practically beg for disaster. But for those who would like to travel with sculptures, all is not lost. By creating a protective carrying case, one can tote a work in progress with impunity!

To begin, you will need some sturdy wood, cut to your desired dimensions. For my case, I used a dense 5-ply oak board cut to the following dimensions. The wood can be cut right at the hardware store, usually for a minimal charge per cut.
Screws will suffice to strongly assemble the case, but they won’t look beautiful. If you have the means and inclination, you could fit the pieces together with some elegant box joints. For assembly, you will need an electric drill with an appropriate sized drill bit for your screws. For the nicest look, use a countersink bit to sink the screw heads flush with the wood.

A handle will be necessary – you can create your own, or purchase a handle at the hardware store. The handle used on my case was intended for a drawer. It is a little small and difficult to hold for long periods, so try to find the largest rounded handle you can.

To secure the top of the case to the base, ratcheting straps work very well, but are a little complicated to use. If I were to make another case, I would instead use latches for faster assembly. If you plan to check the case on a plane (yes, it can handle it!), make sure it does not lock or TSA may break it.
To dress up the otherwise utilitarian looking case, you can add a cover. I created mine from leather. If you also choose to create a leather case, I recommend Wickett & Craig. You will need an entire side to finish one case.


Always wear safety glasses when using an electric drill. 
If you have long hair, tie it back. 
Use a respirator, and if possible, sand and drill outside or in a well ventilated area.
Never force a drill – allow it to work at its own pace

Box Assembly

Before assembling the wood case, sand thoroughly first with rough grit sandpaper, and work down to a finer grit to finish. Once the pieces are sanded, you will need to pre-drill holes for your screws. Using a bit slightly smaller than the screws, drill holes according to each diagram. Getting the first two sides started is the tricky part, since the wood pieces will tend to shift the most at this point. You can minimize potential problems by bracing the wood against a wall, or by having a trusting helper hold the boards (in a safe place of course). When starting to drill the first set of holes, set up the boards in the configuration shown below:
With the first hole drilled, tack the first two boards together. You do not need to tighten completely yet; the boards only need to be fitted together. With the first two long and short sides together, drill the second set of holes to secure the other short side.
Screw these together, turn the box around, and finish the remaining six holes on the opposite long side. Once the sides are all tacked together with screws, tighten each screw down to complete assembly of the box.

With the sides completed, the top can be added. Place the top on the assembled box sides, and pre-drill holes as shown below.
Attach with screws as before, and tighten. To finish the top, place your handle in the center, and mark where to drill the holes. Remove the handle, and, using the appropriate drill bit (usually these handles come with nuts and bolts, not screws, so your bit should be the actual size of the bolt), drill all the way through the top. Place the handle back over the drill holes, and install with the nuts and bolts.

Now you have a completed surround for your sculpture that will fit over the base. Your base will be left as a separate piece, with the assembled box fitting over the top when it is time to travel.

Base Assembly

The base assembly is simple; a floor flange screwed into the center of the base board, shown below. You can use this base to travel with any of your sculptures that use the same diameter nipple pipe. If you have mismatching pipe diameters, there are reducer pieces that will convert your pipes to fit, like I did here!
A Word of Caution

Larger pipes interfere more with the sculpture, but are stronger. Use your own judgment in selecting an appropriate pipe diameter, and a little testing before use couldn’t hurt! The wider the diameter of your pipe armature, the better it will be able to withstand the rigors of violent movement. In my travels, I have used 1 inch pipes, and they have stood up very well. They are, however, very bulky. I once used a 1/4 inch pipe which bent lightly during flight. I currently use 1/2 inch pipes and while I have not tested them in checked luggage, I think they would be fine.


To travel with your new case, put your sculpture on the travel base (which doubles as your armature base), and make sure it is on tight. You should still be able to remove the horse, but it should not be loose enough to swivel at all. Lay out two ratchet straps parallel to each other, and set the base down on top of them, perpendicular to the straps. Lower the box onto the base, and tighten the straps as seen earlier in this article. Your box is ready to go!
Optional Case Cover

You can create a cover for your carrying case to make it both unique and nicer to look at. You could use fabrics to make a slip cover, or to glue a permanent cover on the case. I chose to make my cover out of leather for durability.
The Quick Case

No time? There is an alternative case that can be made very quickly! You will need to use a pre-fabricated case or trunk, so you’ll have to do a bit of shopping to find a workable size. I have successfully used trunks in the past, which can be purchased inexpensively at Target. You will also need four sets of 1/4 inch nuts and bolts.

Once you have purchased a case that will safely hold your sculpture, drill four holes large enough for the bolts to fit through; one in each corner of the base. With the holes drilled, position the base in the trunk in the best possible position for your horse, and mark where the drilled base holes are on the trunk. Remove the base, and drill the holes in the trunk wall. The case is now ready to have the base attached with the nuts and bolts. The bolts should run from the outside of the case towards the inside so that the least amount of bolt sticks out of the case as possible.

Store a wrench with your makeshift case (safely affixed to a wall or stored so that it cannot bang against the sculpture) to easily remove and attach the base and case assembly.

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