By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

While teaching Waterjet Technology courses at The University of Missouri-Science and Technology, each year I used to task every student in my classes to make a work of art (using waterjet cutting) as a final class project. Towards the end two new trends in that work were developing.

The first is that of “folding art,” by which I mean the ability to cut a complete shape in a thin sheet of steel, and then to fold it in such a way as to create a work of art. In the example below the initial cut and final “Missouri mule” are shown.

Folded art created through waterjet cutting

Figure 1a. Missouri Mule – shape as cut. (Jason Zhao, 2009)

Folded art through waterjet cutting

Figure 1b. Folded Missouri Mule (Jason Zhao, 2009)

The next step in this process is to treat the metal within the sculpture so that it reflects light in different ways. For a steel surface this “micro-etching” of the surface can be done at around 20,000 psi with plain water, and different light effects can be achieved with a three-tone picture created by running the jet once, twice or three times over the metal. (We have done this with bronze, aluminum and steel surfaces with good effect, as well as on polished samples of different rocks).

The surface indentation of the picture is quite insignificant, so that were this to be used more universally, for example to inset a bar code or small company logo, it would likely not affect the performance. However it can be used in combination with the “folding art” to texture different parts of, for example, our mule. On the other hand, one of my last students used a cleaning feature to the animal parts of the piece while leaving the rusted surface of the original metal for the fence, in making a country scene that begins to illustrate the potential that this new tool is likely going to be capable of in the future.

Of course the students we see have an engineering background.

As previously mentioned in last week’s blog, Vanessa Cutler, with her new book “New Technologies in Glass” (, works with world-class glass artists, so it will only be when we invite the art classes from local schools and colleges to participate that this new frontier of opportunity will begin to develop more fully. And it has the advantage (as Vanessa found with some of her art pieces) that, since it is all done under computer control, if something goes wrong with the original, it is not that difficult to make another one.

Waterjet etching

Figure 2. Rural Scene (Kernan Shea, 2009)

Re-posted with permission from KMT.


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