The Burning Army
AndoAuthor: Jared Bouck
Project Cost: $20.00 – $25.00 Per Soldier
Est Construction Time: 2.5 Hr Each
Required Skill Level: All basic, but you need to be careful.
In May of 2008 I had one of the most transformative weekends of my entire life. But it all started months before when I had an idea that I couldn’t get out of my head. At that time I was working my life away for a company that just didn’t mesh with my personal views of “Ethics”. I was over worked and under played; basically at this point of my life I was just a joyless robot going through the motions of life.
The change came when I started quietly learning about burning man and the culture surrounding it. It is like I was hearing something that connected part of me to something that I was missing. After some time I decided to do something I had heard about and I wanted to do myself. So I set myself to the task of making an effigy of myself that I would burn. This effigy would represent everything I saw in myself that was negative, undermining, I needed to move beyond, remove or leave behind.
Having this in mind I set to the task of designing my version of an effigy that would burn in the way I wanted it to, and after a lot of trial and error I accomplished this task. Now this article is about that process, but I wanted to at least share some perspective on the reasons why I felt motivated to do it. The process, task and journey opened doors for me, created friendships I treasure and changed who I am in a way that couldn’t have happened any other way.
In life when we reach a wall or stop living we easily can fall into a rut that is a life of going through the motions but we are not living at all. Sometimes we need to be courageous enough to do the things that are big, hard and scary because I have learned the outcome seems to always be positive in the end.
Once I had arrived at my concept I spent months testing different materials, formulas and processes tiring to find a low cost long burning fire for this crazy idea I had. After testing several different compositions, ranging from liquid paraffin and news paper to various waxes and fabrics I arrived at my first successful combination. Successful being defined as a clean, calm burn that lasted at least an hour with no smoke or dangerous flare ups. Using 100% cotton baby fleece and canning paraffin from the big box store I was able to build my personal effigy experiment that inspired scaling up in a big way.
The effigy would be about 6 feet tall and constructed of a 1/2″ wood dowel core, wrapped tightly in fabric and then tied with cotton yarn to hold it securely. Next each segment would be boiled in wax to impregnate the fabric. Once cooled then I was able to use wood joints to finish the assembly.
The finished result looks quite striking and I was very very happy with it.
So on to the burn test. This time I knew my technique would work well and I invited a few friends to see the spectacle.
Quite the spectacle in the end.
Checkout the way the fire totally surrounds and wrapped the legs. Damn it looked cool. But when it was done I realized that it was something that could be done bigger, better and for more people to enjoy. So back to the drawing board to figure out a way to make a whole army of these things and not go broke doing it!
Now it was time to scale up! And big time! My goal was to make 50 soldiers standing in formation. This was going to take a lot of work and new ideas. The technique for building the soldiers was spot on, but the cost was not even close at more than $75.00 each. Most of this was solved by bulk orders of wax and some more testing and finding burlap as the ideal fabric.
Burlap has become my favorite pyro material. It wicks and absorbs the wax perfectly and being a thirsty natural fiber it holds onto it as it burns and wont leak as it heats up. Its relatively inexpensive and can be purchased in bulk. While researching burlap we found that most burlap is treated with chemicals as its used in landscaping. We had to do a little more homework to find a company that sold burlap in bulk that was untreated but got lucky online with a good company. In the end we ordered 18 rolls and had a couple left over.
All of our segments are wrapped around a 3/4 pine wood dowel that come 32″ long. we would just cut bundles down to size for each segment length.
For our lacing to tie each bundle up so it wouldn’t unravel we used just simple cotton yarn from your craft store. I think it was a #7 hook size for you croshayers our there.
GW 415 Pure Soy Wax 50 lb case. We used about 7 cases total. The reason we used the GW 415 wax is because its melting point is about 120 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. During the day in the desert or on the playa it can easily get up to 120 degrees. We didn’t want the wax melting or draining out of the army in the hot sun and this was the best answer for the price.
Here is a un-boiled segment. you can see that we fold and then wrap the burlap around the dowel and leave a inch hanging out each side. Now you just need to make 500 of them…
Building the Army:
So step one in building the army is we had to cut a bunch of blocks from 2X2 pine. These blocks we then drill holes into so the pegs of the segments have a slot to stick into. Once drilled we boiled them up in our turkey fryer filled with wax.
And so the assembly line begins. Lisa here helps with the boiling while we cut and drill like mad.
Here we have the heads. Lisa thought the hollow head was more fun than a sold face, so we went with it and cut them out of 1/2″ plywood sheets and then wrapped them in burlap.
Here we have some leg segments cooling and dripping onto some plastic sheets. Make sure you use plastic sheets, the wax will ruin what ever you let it get on.
Boiling the legs. This sucker thinks that playing with liquid scalding death is fun… He is likely right…
Ready for things to get redundant? Here is some stuff we made and boiled.
And here is some stuff we made and boiled…
And here is some stuff we made and boiled…
And here… Its a lot of work!
Here Alicia is helping start assembling body torso segments with a brad gun. We used a couple brads per joint to hold things together. Oh, it was late and she was actually pissed I had the camera out… I photo shopped that grin on her…
Every Army needs arms! This is a heaping pile of them! We build things in segments so final assembly would be easyer and so that we could feel like something was happening… so much redundant work!
Starting to add the legs to the torsos now. All of the sudden this is starting to look like something.
Its like an army is on the deck! So many of them!
Ahh… that’s a real smile. I didn’t have to photo shop this one.
Setup and Sharing:
Once we get out onto the playa things get amazing. As I have said, this project was my first burning man culture event ever. And it didn’t disappoint. After finding a suitable location I went out and started setting up all by my lonesome. within moments I had a flock of people showing up and helping and genuinely being excited to be there! Wow how cool!
So many great people. So there is a trick here that most people don’t know about. When I set out for this event I had 50 four foot lengths of rebar to drive into the ground to hold the soldiers up with. When I got there I only had 15… I guess I-80 ate them… We used bailing wire in between them and it worked out ok.
The army standing in formation!
Some of the soldiers didn’t make it in any sort of condition to stand at attention for days in the hot sun. So we built groups out of them and it looked really cool!
The finished army ready for the burn! yay!
The fun thing about the army is the slight differences. As we built them, transported and set them up they all were effected a little differently than the others. In the end they all grew there own personality’s and postures that made them unique.
By all means the burn was the best experience I have had. The amount of excitement and elation I felt was unmatched in my life up to then. Below are some fun pics that are worth sharing. Once the fire safety crew came out and gave the thumbs up the fire performers came out and used there fire wielding magic’s to set it all aflame.
Once the fire guys said that people can go ahead and walk around them it was very interesting to see people interact with the army. So many people with so many perspectives… unbelievable and unexplainable how deep it was.
The crazy thing to think about is that these burned for more than an hour and a half. Mild and gently while people were able to walk around them and see them up close.
Aftermath and Closing Thoughts:
I have had now a few years to think about this project, why I did it and what I thought it meant to me. It seems that everytime I Ponder about it, reminiss or look at these pics I seem to find somthing new in idea or perspective. One thing I know without a doubt, when everything is said and done THIS one event broke the chains that had stagnated or at least constrained my life or would have limited me from having the faith in my self to become more today than I was yesterday, everyday. Ever scene I can see how this project, experience and journey have ultimately had an effect on every day that followed. But more importantly I can see where I would be had I blindly gone down the path I was on. Life gives us precious few opportunity to make a complete left turn and become something greater than we are at that time. And while I sit here and wax all philosophical about my experience the truth is, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world. You see the act of doing is what determines our reality and who we are. The whole reason for this site to exist is to inspire people to do something, anything so long as they are doing. Life is not a spectator sport and we geeks hate sports.
So What’s next??
Who knows… But it will be damn good!