Trying the lost wax method of silversmithing…it’s a long one.

March 17, 2014

So this has been a very interesting experiment in yet another thing I knew absolutely nothing about.

This two day process isn’t as easy or as straight forward as all that and I can tell you right now that I’ve had a more epic fail than success with it, but the success is so astounding, (to my little butterfly brain anyway), that I’m not giving up. No way! I will find a way to make this work. πŸ˜€

I’ll try to describe it to you here although I can only tell you the basics.

Day one:

To make a silver cast I used organic matter, two sea shells and a branch, plus a wax ring form, understanding that all of this will be destroyed in the process.

The first step in the process is to fill the bottom of a rubber cup with a bit of wax. I did this by heating up the little sharp tool and touching the aqua wax buds till they melted.

Then the organic pieces are glued to a piece of wax stick with a tiny bit of yellow sticky wax, (peeking out of the upper left hand corner), using the same heated tool. Then they are weighed to determine the quantity of silver needed.

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Then a small part of the aqua wax is melted and the organic pieces stood up inside it.

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Here you see the organic pieces, the outside metal cylinder and a small lamp for heating the tools in.

It’s very important to keep the organic pieces away from the sides and well below the top of the metal cylinder and they mustn’t be touching each other. This is a bit of a juggling act.

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Then the pieces are sprayed with an alcohol coating to prevent bubbles from settling. Remember, the trick is to force molten silver into a mould and it’ll go into any bubble spaces.

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The metal cylinders are fitted into the rubber bowl around the organic bits and wax.

A white powder, called an investment, is mixed with water in a rubber bowl to the thickness of something like pancake batter…remembering to not mix in air and create bubbles, and the mixture is slowly poured down the side of the cylinder. Here Walt is demonstrating.

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The cylinders are filled to the top, or at least a 1/2 inch over the organic bits and the cylinders are tapped all around to dislodge any air bubbles.

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And now we wait overnight or so for the investment to harden.

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Day two:

This is a good way to use up all your silver scraps. The silver is measured out to the amount needed for each mould. Oh yeah, did I mention that one needs to keep a journal of this? One does. πŸ˜€

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This is the machine which will deliver the molten metal into the mould. It winds up clockwise and is held by a pin and, at the right moment, the pin is released and the metal is forced into the mould thru a centrifugal force.

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This is the bucket of water for the finished cylinder and for any emergencies.

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The crucible which will hold the silver is heated to make the melting easier.

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Heat proof tools are at the ready.

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The metal cylinders, with rubber bottoms removed, have been fired in a kiln to burn and destroy the organic matter leaving a mould.

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Now they are removed one at a time and placed into the machine.

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The silver scraps plus some fresh silver nibs are heated till they melt and are a red hot liquid. This is one of the most beautiful sights.

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Here it is puddling already, I know, not a terrific shot. It’s really hard to get the molten silver to pose for a portrait.

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When everything is red hot and glowing, the pin is released and the machine spins the silver into the mould.

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Then the cylinder is removed. Here you can see the molten silver in the space left after the rubber bottom was taken out.

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The cylinder is plunged into the bucket where it fizzles and spits and generally does its best Vesuvius impression.

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The water turns milky white with the melting investment and the silver pieces are released.

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Here in the first cylinder you can see my branch…which broke into three pieces…and the shell which failed to break down in the kiln process, and so failed to act as a mould.

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The process was repeated with the remaining two cylinders with epic fails each time.

Oh well, the silver isn’t lost and can easily be reused, and a lesson well learned so all good.

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Not willing to give up on my branch, I took it to the jeweller’s desk and placed it on a fire brick.

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Made a jump ring, fired up the torch and soldered the broken pieces back on, and threw it in the pickle for 20 minutes.

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Then, three hours later, it was time to go home.

So here is a rough silver branch. Unfiled, unpolished, (that’s all to be done still), but I think it’s rather spectacular.

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I love how this process made a one-of-a-kind silver branch complete with lichen and moss. I love the delicate simplicity of it, I love that I made this…with Walt’s generous help. I can’t wait to try this again.

So there you have it. If you ever wondered how this is done, it happens something like this. Pretty cool, isn’t it? Hope this has made some sense, and at least given you a small idea. πŸ˜€

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Spring is in the air
Hello from Sunday night

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30 Comments

  • Reply Joanne March 17, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Wow! It’s a process all right πŸ™‚
    Congratulations on the gorgeous lichen branch – it’s beautiful.
    x

    • Reply Veronica March 18, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Hi Joanne. Thank you so much. Shall we give it a try together one day? I’d love it. πŸ˜€

      • Reply Joanne March 20, 2014 at 10:12 pm

        I’d love it too!
        xx

  • Reply eganj1 March 18, 2014 at 12:06 am

    Hi Veronica, what a great read, I found it fascinating, thank you

    • Reply Veronica March 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      Me too Jill, I’m fascinated by it too, and equally fascinated by the beautiful doily bowls you’ve been making. Must go back to have a better look and read. πŸ˜€

  • Reply b_young March 18, 2014 at 2:34 am

    Neat. I always thought lost wax was a simple, low-tech, technique. The twig/lichen detail is amazing, elegant. Too bad about the shell. You could do another series of molds, cast a shell in soap or some such, and use that duplicate as your organic. But that sort of defeats the immediacy thing.

    • Reply Veronica March 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Hello there Barbara, how lovely for me to have you visit. I so want to go and make loads more castings until I get it just right. I’m fascinated with the process. I see you write wordles. I keep meaning to get back to the Sunday whirl. Miss it so much; must find the time. Off to check out some of your posts now. πŸ˜€

  • Reply Christie March 18, 2014 at 5:14 am

    amazing! thanks for sharing the process.

    • Reply Veronica March 18, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks so much Christie. You are so artistic, bet you would do really well with silver. πŸ˜€

  • Reply Catherine Llewellyn March 18, 2014 at 7:38 am

    yes – this somewhat explains my multiple fails in various crafty activities over the years – the extremely detailed requirement for kit and materials and the right setup for it to all work – none of which is obvious when I see a beautiful piece of jewellery or something on sale – salutary (I think that’s the word I mean … ) X

    • Reply Veronica March 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      I know what you mean Catherine. I walk around that lapidary studio looking as various bits of equipment thinking, “OK, this is useful…somehow…no idea how, but it’s here so must be of some value…) πŸ˜€ X

  • Reply roberto March 18, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Hi Veronica, what exciting process! Are you jewelry?
    My daughter is jewelry, she lives in New Zealand. look here, please:
    https://www.facebook.com/juliamarinjewellery

    Have a nice week!!!

    • Reply Veronica March 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Hi Roberto, I checked out your daughter’s page and followed. She seems lovely. I have my hands in all sorts of art forms and never limit myself to one thing or another and also don’t bother with labels. The main things I love are photography, painting, (mostly with oils and watercolour pencils), and saving bits of discarded ephemera by giving them value with my art. (Like my maps: here) Silversmithing is something relatively new to me but something I’ve wanted to have a go with for a couple of years now. Hope your week is wonderful too. πŸ˜€

      • Reply roberto March 18, 2014 at 3:18 pm

        Thanks!!!!!!!!! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Mascha March 18, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Wow! You got it all right to go get in such a short time. Much of this work takes a lot of patience and skill (which I do not have) …
    But such a small furnace I have still in the basement. I do not know why. Somehow saved at that time, while we had to throw everything away after the death of grandparents, entire workshop, no place to store it, housing shortage (which was still in the GDR) and authorities demanded clear up in 3 days … sigh! You could all use now … but probably better to buy new things, more modern …

    • Reply Veronica March 18, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Aw Mascha, that’s such a sad story, but I completely sympathise with you. My family had to leave everything behind when we escaped the former occupied Czechoslovakia and so understand authorities and communism. Actually, I prefer old machinery to modern equivalents. Such better craftsmanship and durability. I hope one day you use the little kiln you still have. I hope you use it and make yourself something beautiful. Big hugs. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow March 19, 2014 at 3:29 am

    well it is just beautiful! πŸ™‚

  • Reply daryledelstein March 19, 2014 at 7:47 am

    what an exquisite pin that will make

    • Reply Veronica March 21, 2014 at 7:11 am

      Oh yeah, I bet it would. πŸ˜€ Oh no, now I’ve got too many ideas of what to do with the branch.

  • Reply Hootin' Anni March 20, 2014 at 4:15 am

    This is absolutely amazing. What great work…a piece of art and yet so very natural in its beauty!!!

    • Reply Veronica March 21, 2014 at 7:08 am

      Thank you so much Anni. It’s so fulfilling to learn this. I think I’ll keep going. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Sara v March 20, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Lichen is one of my favorite things! And this branch is so magical!! Love it πŸ™‚

    • Reply Veronica March 21, 2014 at 7:08 am

      I love it too Sara. Robert said we should encase it in a block of Lucite and shine a light thru it. While I want to wear it one day, I do think he has a brilliant idea. (Now I have to form a relationship with molten Lucite…lol) πŸ˜€

      • Reply Sara v March 21, 2014 at 7:10 am

        That is rather brilliant, kind of a fossilized in amber look, prisms…I can see it! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Molly April 22, 2014 at 8:16 am

    I’ve been here for about an hour, in between cooking supper and wrangling small girls to bed. Came over from Julie (MPC), why have I never before?
    Just read this whole post to my nearly 7 yo, with explanations where necessary, she was fascinated. One of my best friends is a jeweler so I’ve witnessed this process before but never tried it, a lovely story with great accompanying photographs. Thank you.

    • Reply Veronica April 22, 2014 at 8:28 am

      Hi Molly, so lovely for me to meet you. πŸ˜€ I’m only just figuring this silversmithing thing out, but so far, it’s been great fun.

      • Reply Molly April 22, 2014 at 8:45 am

        I loved the beach glass ring you made for Chloe!

        • Reply Veronica April 23, 2014 at 8:58 am

          Thank you so much Molly, C loves it too. I’m not that good at it yet, and it definitely looks HOMEMADE…lol, but maybe there’s a charm in that. πŸ˜€

  • Reply Claire September 23, 2016 at 7:30 am

    How hot does the kiln need to be when you burn it out?

    • Reply Veronica September 24, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      I don’t remember Claire. I think it was an automatic sort of thing. Sorry.

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