September 13, 2012

Butchering Veronica's Pig (complete)

For better or worse, I am rarely predictable. This seems to be especially true when it comes to employment. I have had my contractors license for a few years, so there is a good chance I am to be found on the floor if I am at work. But don't put your money on it.

I recently hooked up with Floatasia, a San Diego company that provides floats for various parades in and around Southern California. It is part-time work, mostly weekends, helping to decorate floats with the standard glittering floral decorations we are all familiar with. This past Sunday, I actually drove one of the floats in the Brazilian Day Parade in Pacific Beach.

The most artistic projects I will be working on for Floatasia will be producing props to go along with various customer themes. For example, the 'Boo Parade' coming up on October 27th is a Halloween parade. The College Area Business District float will feature, among other Halloween decor, 2-3 large pumpkins sculpted from Styrofoam by yours truly. I have already begun working on them, in fact. Floatasia delivered the material last week. Oh, they did not deliver giant foam blocks or spheres. They delivered a large... pig.

You may remember a television program named 'Veronica Mars'. It ran 5 or 6 years ago, and was filmed here in San Diego. One episode required a parade float, so the studio rented one from Floatasia. Atop the float, the studio had a huge Styrofoam pig, representing a college fraternity featured on the program. (shown below, about 2 minutes into the episode)

After filming the episode, Floatasia was given the pig for free. It sat for all these years, abused by the sun and rain, at the back of the company's storage lot. Until this week, that is...

My initial task was to cut off the head and divide the carcass into 'pumpkinish' pieces. This was accomplished by heating a large knife with a blowtorch and jamming it towards the center, along a line drawn around the midsection of the body. This was not enough to separate the two halves, so I resorted to jamming a metal yardstick into the pig, over and over, until it finally gave. I did not film the activity, and the missed comedic opportunity does not escape me.

From there, I knew I needed a tool for shaving away the areas that are not a pumpkin. While the heated butcher knife is usable, I opted for a tool called a 'hot wire foam cutter'. Being the masochist that I am, the only option I could see was to make my own. I hit the web and, numerous videos later, I had a vague understanding of how to make one. After killing no less than ten AC adapters, this is what I ended up with:

 The span is approximately 14 inches. While Ni-chrome wire was the recommended wire of choice, many suggested that guitar strings were an acceptable substitute, due to the nickle content. Perhaps I just do not have the patience, because I kept breaking them. After an exhaustive search around San Diego, I tracked down Ni-chrome wire at San Diego Electric on University Avenue. It is the hands-down winner. Even my impatient tugging does not snap this wire. In fact, rather than breaking, it actually came unwound a couple times.

The pumpkin project is now in day 3. While not quite near completion, they have truly begun to take shape (see below.) I was going to wait to post the whole thing, start to finish. I just couldn't wait to share. See you next time!

(click images to see bigger)

Update: I am finally getting around to posting the rest of the photos. I am nothing if not a procrastinator.


What they say about a sharp tool being safer than a dull tool is true. This injury would not have happened if I had been using a sharpened hand saw. Learn from my mistake. I know I have.