Sometimes I step back from metalsmithing and think, “man, this job is fun.” Casting, for me, sums up perfectly what I do and why I love it. It combines heat, melted metal, some stress and a lot of luck to create something beautiful and unique. Tuesday, I got set up to cast some monkeys for a customer and thought I’d show you the process. Most of the time I carve pieces out of wax and cast them (I’ll show those soon) but this time I’m casting a found object. You may recognize these as the plastic drink monkeys A & W used to put on their root beer jugs.
It all starts with the sprueing. Wax sprues are used to create a tunnel for the metal to flow. You always sprue at the thickest point of your piece. In this case, the monkey’s rear. Nothing like saying you have to sprue some monkeys in the butt!
Next, plaster is made and poured over the mold into the flask. I forgot to take pictures of this! Anyway, the flask is put into a kiln and heated for 5-8 hours. This is called the burnout. During this time, the plastic monkeys and wax sprues melt while the plaster hardens around them leaving the image molded. Now, the fun begins. First, we set up the centrifugal casting machine. This will use force to thrust the melted metal into the flask.
Next, is my favorite part of casting: melting metal. Molten metal is a beautiful thing. It’s mesmerizing to watch solid silver turn liquid and I never tire of it.
Next, the flask is put aside for a few minutes until the button, which is extra silver, isn’t red/orange any more. Please excuse this photo as I was trying to cast and take pics at the same time! The orange spot on top of the flask is the button.
Next, the flask is plunged into water where the plaster dissolves leaving you with your casting. If all goes well, you should have an exact replica of what was sprued in the beginning. Because I cast in silver, the piece is dark grey due to oxidation. Now I have to cut the monkeys off the sprues and the clean up begins!
Aren’t they cute?!