Samurai – a kinetic photonic appliance

Samurai is an experimental luminaire design created to explore the interaction between tension mechanisms and the design possibilities associated with traditional Japanese crafts – specifically Samurai armour designs. The twin structural members of the mechanism also serve to supply current to the luminaires source of illumination.

Respectful Samurai
A tension mechanism controls the bending action of the luminaire. The concept calls for an upright resting position which gently settles down into an illumination position when switched on. The design originally sought to utilize halogen lamp sources but is being reconfigured to make use of LEDs which offer additional thematic potential to the design.

Samurai – head shot
The shapes which influenced Samurai’s design come from helmet and stirrup designs. But since such things are highly subjective, it has often been suggested that the shade design in particular is reminiscent of other influences – the veil of a nun’s habit and Darth Vader spring to mind!

Open mold for Samurai shade lamination
Mold inner surface
The Samurai shade is made in an open mold made of silicone with a surrounding fiberglass mother mold. Embedded wooden blocks provide additional stiffness and means to hold the mold in a fixture.

Samurai shade – inner surface
With the shade out of the mold, finishing operations have begun. The attachment points for the shade have been epoxied in place in a fixture that fits over the mold allowing their precise alignment.

Samurai base
A somewhat more elusive influence would be the forged iron stirrup of the Samurai’s horse tack. It inspired the shape of this base for the luminaire.

The silicone block mold for the Samurai base
Opened view of silicone block mold
The Samurai base is a single cast urethane part made in a one-piece silicone mold. The mold has a number of embeds designed to create mounting locations for hardware. It also includes locations to mount the elastomeric feet. Typical of molds made for jewelry casting, this mold has a wavy part line cut into it after the mold is cast in one continuous block. The part line varies from nearly straight at the part to very wavy at the outside edge. This serves as an index to allow the upper and lower halves to fit back together precisely for casting the final urethane part.

For this casting work it is very handy to have a vacuum chamber for degassing both the silicone mold and urethane casting materials. The process of mixing these materials introduces air into the mixture. Pulling a vacuum on the mixed material draws out the air (which during the process looks like a great head on a freshly poured beer) and prevents the bubbles from forming in the final cast mold or part.

The inner cavity of the Samurai base
With some of the final finishing under way, the Samurai base underside reveals the cavity for the mechanism, the installed electrical components, holes drilled and tapped to accept the cover plate and the three foot-mount recesses. As with the shade, the original pattern for the base is a wooden carving finished in essentially the same fashion as a final part.

A final influence of traditional craft comes from the beautiful traditional lacquer finishes on many domestic items. Although that particular finish is an urushiol-based lacquer requiring very elaborate procedures to handle the allergen associated with poison ivy and it’s relatives, Samurai uses a somewhat less hazardous material – nitrocellulose lacquer. A prefered finish for contemporary craftspeople from luthiers to auto restorers, it still requires a substantial amount of handwork to apply.

Leave a Reply