The Birth of a Missing Link Bicycle Chain Creature

Missing Links are fantastic creatures made from bicycle chain, welded stiff with pieces of silicon bronze. Bicycle chain is an interesting medium: it is limited in it’s pose-ablility, yet it is a simple building block. I look at it almost as a potter looks at clay: no inherent form but lots of flexibility.

I weld all my art with a TIG machine, which gives me ultimate control and precision over the weld.

missing-link-chain-breaker

Used bicycle chain is easy to come by: bike shops have have worn out ones in great abundance. The less rusty and greasy the chain is, the easier it is to weld. For separating the links, I use a chain breaker, which is more expensive than a chain tool, but much faster. For someone who enjoys making a fair amount of these critters, it’s worth the extra money, but a chain tool works just as well.

As you can see, the chain isn’t cleaned very thoroughly.  Chemical solvents are nasty and time consuming, and sandblasting takes away a lot of the dark worn qualities of the chain. I just wipe the chain down with a rag. The downside to this technique is that the welding is more difficult and creates nasty smoke: however with proper setup and adequate ventilation, everything works out fine.

missing-link-legs

Bicycle chains have an outer set of plates, and an inner set of plates. I always end on the inner plates. Two pieces of equal lengths of chain make up the four legs.

missing-link-ready-to-weld-legs

Once the chain is shaped to what I want, I add a small amount of bronze to fuse the chain.

In the above photo the weld wire is pointing right at the spot where a small dab of molten metal will freeze the link. it doesn’t take much.

missing-link-legs-welded

Here we have the legs welded. Note that the legs aren’t symmetrical. It’s best not to over-think the anatomy here, unless you are trying to make a specific reproduction of a real earth-creature, of course.

missing-link-body

Here is the body of the Missing Link. The head is to the right.

missing-link-welding-legs-to-body

Now we are ready to weld the right-side legs to the body, using the left set of legs to support them so they are in position. I used a spoke to create a little wider stance.

missing-link-body-and-legs

Once one side is welded to the body, I balance the critter up onto all fours and weld the other set of legs. This can be tricky balancing the two pieces, like a small metal house of cards, however this technique assures that all four feet are touching the ground.

missing-link-alignment

Once the legs are tacked, it’s good to double-check the alignment. This little guy leans a bit to the left, but it’s within tolerance.

missing-link-head

Sometimes I like to use the extra bits of leftover chain to add horns or scales. It’s important to tack the pin to the plate of each one, as the pins are just pressed into the plate hole, and will eventually twist and fall out if not secured.

missing-link-horns

This little creature is getting lots of scaly pieces. Not all of them do. That’s the fun of it.

missing-link-completed

Here’s the completed Missing Link. Once the welds cool it is ready for the polyurethane clear coat. I use a high-gloss finish, as the metal tends to look oily. The interesting thing is that the dirt and oil from the chain mixes with the clear coat, and gives it a beautiful dark color. I used to do a lot of finish work, and I find that I’m willing to experiment a lot in order to avoid doing any more.

When I think about missing link creatures, I think of how enjoyable it is to be able to create little personalities from things that no longer serve their intended utilitarian purpose. Simply put, if I can get someone to smile using only eight inches of discarded bicycle chain welded with one inch of bicycle spoke, I’m satisfied as an artist.

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