The Cast: Erich (the Beaker), Myself (the Bunsen).
For those not familiar with Jim Henson or The Muppets, there are two characters that have been dear to my heart since I was a child, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker—his loyal assistant. Bunsen would come up with some new device and Beaker would be, uh, *ahem* willing to assist Dr. Honeydew with the testing of it. Usually, the end result was the same. Bunsen would apologize and Beaker would be “Meep”ing while smoke would billow out of his head. But then in the next episode, the two would be at it all over again. Busen explaining and Beaker “testing”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oc1iIRKZE9w
I am explaining all this so that roles can be understood. As the builder, I know how to use the device, I know all the little quirks in the prototype. So, taking the time to explain all the subtle nuances to someone else would be time-consuming and probably not worth it. The potential for misunderstanding is high. So, for those of you who felt a little sorry for Erich last week while I pummeled him with the P.A.W., repeatedly, don’t. He volunteered—he always volunteered.
Well, as promised, I shall now tell you the second part of the story: The Tiger’s Claws. While the P.A.W. was like a yo-yo (well more like just a yo), the claws have lasted the longest.
If you don’t like Wolverine, raise your hand, then slap yourself with it. Shame on you!
Wolverine is awesome, and few people have enjoyed him more than my friend Erich. Erich would have even liked to have had Wolverine’s claws. No, that is not true. Erich would still like to have his claws. Well, as Erich’s superhero identity was “Tiger”, claws made sense. And Wolverine provided that inspiration. Now my ability to graph adamantium onto bone is good, but Erich doesn’t have bone claws—that I know off—so that won’t work. Plus adamantium is fictional—sorry kids.
So, I needed some metal. Something pretty indestructible. But metal bends, and sturdy metal is costly… I didn’t have that kind of money. Then one day as I was raking my lawn of leaves I watched the metal blades of the rake bounce as I brushed it over the subtle dirt bumps of the ground. Then I began to ask myself: Self, have you ever known a rake-blade to bend or break? No, no I have not self. That’s what I thought self. Good work self. No, good work to you, self.
Fortunately for me, well more for Erich, while we were cleaning out The Turtle Tower, part of an old metal rake had been found—and held onto. You never know when you need spare parts, and my mother was always asking me to make repairs of everything that broke, so I had kept the rake. Well, now I had a new use for the metal.
I measured the length of the main support beam of the rake as well as the width of the top of the back of my hand and the bottom. When added up, all the lengths, in total, were the exact length of the main support beam of the rake. I would have just enough, and only one shot at this project. The metal blades would need to be supported by something solid, like metal. And exacting holes would need to be drilled, and 25ish years ago, in a small farming town, I didn’t have the technology to make it myself. I would have to use all of the rake and there was no room for error.
I found the eight best blades, the ones with the least amount of rust, cut them free, and cleaned them up. Then I carefully measured the exact widths I would need, then began to cut the main rake beam into the four needed pieces. Next, I tried to figure out how long the blades would need to be—more correctly, how long the claws would need to be.
The claws would need to be long enough to be useful but not too long as to get in the way. Erich would still need to be able to grab his swords or get into his pockets, access his gear, etcetera. So I set the curve of the rake blade to be just over the fingertip. That way Erich/Tiger could make his claws “pop-out” by making a fist.
Once the blades were cut, I fit them into the braces of the rake beam, coated them in a wonderful epoxy, fit them into the braces and then I had 12 hours to hammer the braces into the exact right shape. I had to get the curve of the metal to fit the exact shape of the back of the hand. So I hammered and hammered. The epoxy oozed and splattered. It got everywhere. It was messy and gross.
As I hammered away, the blades would shift and I would have to realign them time and again. Saying it was difficult is an understatement. That epoxy goo got all over The Sewer’s floor. But I kept hammering and hammering. Eventually, I got the claws set “just right” and they were left alone to let the epoxy cure.
The next day, after the epoxy had cured, I filled the gap between the braces with more epoxy and created a mold by using electrical tape. Because of the tape’s adhesive, it would peel away and not get bonded (I had tried this particular technique before). After another 12 hours, the “creamy middle” was solid and ready for shaping.
At this point, I just cleaned the whole thing up. I trimmed away the flash and sanded—or filed—the rough edges into smoother sides. I didn’t have a grinding stone so I couldn’t sharpen the claws. Additionally, we were trying to be kinder heroes, so sharp blades weren’t really needed.
Lastly, I would need to find a way to mount them to the back of a hand. They would need to be stable and solid in position. A glove wasn’t form-fitting enough. I needed something tighter. A custom glove was needed. I set elastic loops to fit each finger and thumb to a piece of cloth. Attached to the bottom of each cloth was a bit of sturdy elastic and a wrist strap. Then I drilled some small holes into the epoxy, between the blades, so that I could sew the devices onto the gloves I had created. I did that with some wire and a leather pad so the “thread” couldn’t tear through.
I put them on, and they felt alright. We would just need to see how sturdy they were and what they could stab through. Once Erich arrived to test them out we discovered that the claws could stab through a lot of surfaces. Cardboard, some plastics, fabric… Now, how about human flesh? But who would test it? Neither of us were willing to go to Dr. Armstrong and ask for stitches because we took turns stabbing each other with homemade claws. So, we would have to wait to answer that question. (When the opportunity finally arose, they did a fantastic job!)
Erich loved his new toys. Over time he had the idea to twist the tips of the blades, added some grooves into the ends, then sharpened them into a vicious tool. Eventually, he would fit them onto a form-fitting glove with some very solid wrist straps.
It only took Erich a short time to get used to them. He got snagged a few times, at first. After that, they became a formidable weapon in his hands. Or more accurately, on his hands. They would prove to be a useful crime-fighting tool for many years.
While they never did break or bend out of shape, sadly, somehow, over the years, the right set of claws became lost. So, as a sort-of birthday present, I remade another set of claws and added a brass plate of blades to the back.
Every Busen has their Beaker. Erich has been a good friend for over 30 years and some time ago his wife asked me to stop testing things out on her husband. I have complied with her request (only because they live in a different state than I do).
Thanks for all your help over the years buddy!
Illustration by Jay Fosgitt.