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Victor Pelican Part 3. Webbed Feet

This was to be a puzzle. I've made many things out of metal before but a huge pair of webbed feet was to be a first. I'd done the rest of the pelican sculpture to a fairly high standard so I couldn't slap a pair of crappy feet onto his underside. I had a couple of failed attempts then decided to fall back on a process I'd devised for making flowers.

I've made a number of aluminium roses and one of the big challenges was how to make rose leaves. The leaves themselves are thin while the stems from which they hang are much thicker so I came up with a process to build up the stems with weld onto a sheet of thin material.

I worked from real flowers to get these exactly right. The florist thought I was about to enact something romantic until I pulled the leaves off the flower I'd only just paid for.

Roses, for all their beauty, are built to a very simple design with a small set of parts repeated time and again. For example, every petal is exactly the same size. It's only the way it's packaged that differs, same goes for the greenery. So I sketched around the stems and leaves and got welding.

Get the idea? That way I could have a thick stem and thin leaves. All it needed was sculpting amd finishing. What looks like a tiny leaf at the top of the pic below is actually where the stem branches off the main stem. It wraps around.

The results are very satisfying once finished and painted.

So I decided that the same approach ought to work on the pelican feet.

This might sound macabre but I have a collection of bird's feet, wings, skulls, etc. Purely for reference and in this case, having studied many pictures of pelican feet online, I concluded that the closest match I could find was pheasant feet, minus the webbing of course. So what you see here is actually a scaled up pheasant foot.

It was a great deal of painstaking trial and error to build up sufficient weld that I could sculpt the toes from it. You can see how much distortion has been pulled into the aluminium sheet by the contracting welds. That had to be periodically addressed too and the welds stretched a little with a hammer to keep it in order.

The scale effect was done by hand using a diamond dental burr washed with isopropanol as I went. I have a fairly passable dentist's surgery in the garage at home for thi sort of work. It was all very trial and error and when it went wrong I welded over the part I just got wrong and had another go. It got there in the end though. It was one of those frustrating jobs where you just master it at the point where you never have to do it again.

Once the scale pattern was complete I cut and shaped the webs, filed the claws onto the ends of the toes then gave the toes a polish. That forced the polishing soap into the burred out grooves whilst shining up the toes to give a nice contrast.

So that was the toes and webbing done. What about the legs? For those I wrapped a slice of aluminium around a piece of steel bar and welded it up the join. I did it that way because birds' legs aren't circular in section, they have tendons running up the back so they're sort of pear shaped in section. By making the legs from flat I could craft the correct shape and put a bulky weld up what would become the back of the leg to be more realistic and lifelike.

After that it was straightforward to flare the end a little for where the leg would joint to the foot.

The joint where it meets the toes, I suppose that would make it an ankle, was also a lot of trial and error and it was tacked together and taken apart a few times until I was happy with how it all looked and fitted together.

First attempt. I wasn't happy with that at all. It just didn't flow. Things in nature flow and that looked like half a foot on a stick so off it came. The second go was a bit of an improvement.

This one was better but still too flat looking so that came apart too.

That's got it. That's how you make a pelican foot. What it needed next was for the scale pattern to be added and the leg given its final shape.

See what I mean about the cross section and the weld up the back joint? I knew that was going to work from the beginning. All it needs is some careful finishing.

The finished item. Notice also how it's been grown where it meets the body, its knee joint effectively. That area will be covered by feathers once the legs are welded in so its appearance is not too important. The other job was to push and pull and bend and tweak the leg so it lies naturally against the underside of the body and the tail feathers. For all it looks natural it's anything but naturally bendy and once or twice it cracked when being shaped necessitating welding and re-finishing but it got there in the end.

Both feet shaped to the body contours. The one on the left still needs the knee finished. I did the knees last once the angle of the leg to the body was established. Not much point doing lots of welding and shaping at the wrong angle.

So that is how the feet were made. Looks easy but wasn't and it took an absolute age. I have no plans to ever make a pair of pelican feet again!


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