Back to Top

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

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.

IMG_1411 copy copy

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

IMG_1413 copy copy

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.

IMG_1418 copy copy

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

IMG_1416 copy copy

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.

IMG_1428 copy copy

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.

IMG_1430 copy copy

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

IMG_1431 copy copy

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˜€

031 copy copy

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.

032 copy copy

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

033 copy copy

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

036 copy copy

Heat proof tools are at the ready.

037 copy copy

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

039 copy copy

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

040 copy copy

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.

043 copy copy

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.

050 copy copy

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

051 copy copy

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

052 copy copy

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

053 copy copy

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

054 copy copy

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.

056 copy copy

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.

064 copy copy

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

066 copy copy

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

067 copy copy

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.

070 copy copy

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˜€

071 copy copy

Comments: 30

  • March 17, 2014

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

  • March 18, 2014

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

  • March 18, 2014

    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.

  • Christie

    March 18, 2014

    amazing! thanks for sharing the process.

  • Catherine Llewellyn

    March 18, 2014

    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

  • March 18, 2014

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

    Have a nice week!!!

  • March 18, 2014

    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 …

  • March 19, 2014

    well it is just beautiful! πŸ™‚

  • daryledelstein

    March 19, 2014

    what an exquisite pin that will make

  • March 20, 2014

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

  • March 20, 2014

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

      • March 21, 2014

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

  • April 22, 2014

    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.

      • April 22, 2014

        I loved the beach glass ring you made for Chloe!

  • Claire

    September 23, 2016

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

Leave a reply