I am looking for recommendations on a casting set up on a budget. I am looking to cast jewellery with some detail, but not to the level of filigree. Is there any kind of equipment that would run less than $1000? And which resin would you recommend?
The answer is yes, it can be done.
There are older technology methods that can be relatively inexpensive.
What I would recommend you look at depends on the answers to some questions.
Are you talking about occasional use or daily production use?
Sand casting or lost wax casting?
Size of the pieces you want to cast?
Do you have a torch or kiln already? If so, what kind? (And be specific.)
Do you have a yard or a work area outside your living quarters? (An attached carport or garage counts.)
Do you have access to horses or cows and are you finicky about what materials you work with. (No, I’m not kidding.)
Thanks for the response!
The casting would be occasional. I have two applications:
- Lost wax: up to the size of a ring, silver
- Sand casting: up to 10cmx10cmx10cm, brass
I don’t have any equipment yet. I have a large yard, and there is a horse stable down the road… I’m happy to get my hands dirty.
Ok. I’ll dig up the relevant reference works and get them to you tomorrow or the day after, depending on how long it takes me to find them. (We moved and the books were just stuffed on shelves with only a smidge of organization – and we have a lot of books.)
Do you have access to woodworking carpentry tools like a jig saw, hammer, drill, and such, or have a friend with that you can sweet talk into helping you for an afternoon?
Unless you go with a charcoal powered forge, your biggest expense will be to melt the metal.
A 1000 cubic centimeter chunk of brass is a LOT of metal. If you buy something to do that you’ll spend a pretty penny. According to one website an ounce of brass takes up 3.33 cubic centimeters, A 1000 cubic centimeters of brass would be 18 and 3/4 pounds. That’s outside my experience in casting. I’ve seen some casting rigs for bigger melts and though they are technically simple they damn well better be made 100% correctly. I suggest you start smaller or get professional training, that’s enough metal to kill yourself with. If you really meant 10cm by 10cm by ONE cm, that’s a different story.
David Gingery (Gingery Publishing) did a series of books on making a charcoal forge and your own crucible. Or on making an oil-burning forge that works of stale french fry grease that you might be able to get for free from a restaurant (because otherwise they have to pay to dispose of it). What your neighbors or family members think of that smell is a different topic. My wife nixed the oil-fired forge idea. http://gingerybooks.com/ You’ll find all kind of awesome stuff there so if you want to make your own equipment, this is a good place to start. He’s even got a multi-book series on making your own metal working shop pretty much from scratch, starting with a charcoal foundry, using the foundry to make the lathe, using the lathe to improve the lathe, and so on.
Another way is to use a propane based ammunition (ammo) can forge to melt the metal. I learned from a friend of mine who wrote up how to make one at https://www.solvarr.com/projects/ammo-can-forge. This requires a store-bought regulator and propane tank and hose, plus some firebrick and kaolin insulating blankets. You can buy or make a burner for it. It’s pretty straightforward, some friends of mine got together and we made about 10 in a day. I would only work outside with it though. I used this for a number of years.
Next up would be an electric melter. An example of one is this, which I have. I like it because I can pour indoors and it’s safer, too. This one will handle 120 cubic cm of metal at a time. They have smaller ones at lower prices. Good service from them. Consider the crucibles to be a consumable. http://www.tabletopfurnace.com/product/quikmelt-pro-120/
I’ll get the book references on older methods of casting to you tomorrow.
Amazing!! Thank you for all of this. I do have every woodworking tool under the sun.
Oh, that’s wonderful. You’ll easily be able to make the cope, drag and cheek for your sand casting frames in whatever size and shape you need. Purchased frames are fairly expensive.
Oh, have you done any casting before? What experience do you have? Don’t want to tell you what you already know!
Sweet! Very excited. I don’t have any experience.
Ok, then it’s probably best to start with sand casting. It’s cheaper and simpler and faster. It’s easier to learn on your own when you get feedback (good or bad) faster. This is the single best book I’ve ever found on sand casting. You can re-read it every year for the next decade and still be learning new stuff. Chock full of practical skills and advice.
Plenty of you tube videos out there that can help you with the overall general process, but Ammen’s book will help you solve the technical problems you have with specific designs.
The same author also has a book on lost wax casting and I expect it’s as good.
For any casting, in addition to melting the metal, you’ll need crucibles, tongs, and welding gloves (or better). Natural fiber clothing (no plastic or polyester!). Leather shoes, not sandals or plastic shoes. At the temperatures you’re working with the plastic will melt INTO your skin, which is not the way to have a pleasant day.
For sand casting, you’ll need casting sand (ProCraft sand is a good start, 5-10 lbs of it), parting powder (talcum will work), and a variety of small items you can cobble together from your woodshop tools. You can make your own casting boxes out of wood to the size you want. You’ll need a hacksaw and/or jeweler’s saw and or snips to cut the sprues off and a file to smooth them over.
SAND CASTING GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Button A reservoir of molten metal that will be gravity fed into the mold as the metal cools and contracts. It counter-acts the contraction. Or, depending on context, something one fastens one’s clothes with.
Cheek A middle section of a 3+ part Flask.
Cope The top section of a Flask.
Crucible A container that the metal is melted within.
Drag The bottom section of a Flask.
Flashing Thin bits of metal that creep into the seam lines between the cope, cheek and drag, or into the risers and cool into a solid there.
Flask A container that contains the mold made of molding sand. It is made of 2 or more sections that separate so the model can be removed from the sand prior to pouring molten metal.
Follow Board A board with a hole in it that allows the pattern to securely rest in it whilst sand is packed onto the pattern.
Model A 3-dimensional, full sized representation of the item to be cast. It may be made out of one or more pieces.
Mold A shaped hole one can pour molten metal into and get air out of, and then remove the now solid metal from.
Molding Sand Fine grained sand with some additional elements added to it to cause it to stick together nicely.
Pattern Another word for Model.
Riser The pathway for air inside of the mold to get out so it can be replaced by molten metal.
Shrinkage Molten metal, being hot, has expanded. As it cools it contracts. Each metal has its own shrinkage rate. On small jewelry sized pieces it’s not generally a problem. On parts that must be finely fitted into a machine it is.
Split Pattern A pattern or mold that is composed of multiple pieces. Typically, this is to overcome issues that arise because of undercuts.
The pathway from outside the flask for the molten metal to follow in order to get into the mold. It will be filled with metal.
Undercut A space formed by the removal or absence of material from the lower part of a pattern or model. It is important because molding sand will fill it and that can make it hard (if not impossible) to remove the pattern without disturbing the shaped sand around it. 3+part molds are a way to attempt to get around this problem.
Sources for casting tools and materials
General purpose jewelry supply company. Good service, reasonable prices on most items.
Inexpensive supply company. Has a starter kit for sand casting.
Sells electric melting units.
Have some chores to do before I go find the books on old-timey, inexpensive lost wax casting techniques.
What part of the country are you in? If you’re near Fayetteville, NC, I give free lessons on this stuff.
This is so great, thank you!! I am in Vancouver, Canada, so it would be a bit of a commute. I ordered the book though!
Ok, I dug up some books. I’ll annotate the list and that way I’ll know if I found all the ones I’m looking for.
Lost-Wax Casting: A Practitioner’s Manual, Wilburt Feinburg. ITDG Publishing, 1983.
ITDG Publishing stands for Intermediate Technology Design Group, an organization inspired by E.F. Shumaker’s economic work Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Anything Schumacher wrote is worth reading from a purely human point of view. Schumacher’s point (among many excellent ones) was that the 3rd world didn’t need the super-fanciest equipment to get ahead, it needed tools and technologies that regular people could afford and maintain. So this group publishes books on technology that people in the 3rd world can build, maintain and use. I mention this because they may well have newer books that are even niftier and better for your purpose.
This specific book details building a melter, burnout kiln and pouring mechanism. Whilst oriented towards someone who wants a small foundry as a business, you could scale down the technology to make one suitable for jewelry or small sculpture sized work. And, of course, you’ve got (I assume) a Formlabs printer so you don’t need to make your waxes by hand. You could, however, make molds with the printer and use their methods.
Time for dinner, I’ll add more later.
Making Crucibles, Vince Gingery, Gingery Publishing, 2003. A short, simple book on making your own clay-based crucibles. Depending on what you build or purchase for a burn-out kiln or melter, you can use those to fire the clay crucibles. Crucibles aren’t cheap, especially the bigger ones you will need for larger casts.
Build an Oil Fired Tilting Furnace. Stephen Chastain. 2005. Teaches how to build a furnace that could run off of french fry vat oil (or similar fuels). Meant for larger, oil-drum sized units though you could scale it down. There’s something about free fuel that’s nice but the smell might not be.
Iron Melting Cupola Furnaces for the Small Foundry. Stephen Chastain. 2000. This is suitable for brass, bronze and cast iron. I have a friend who uses a cupola furnace for processing civil war-era iron mine ore into ingots, then he forges the into swords. Of course, you could use your own mold instead of an ingot mold. The intent of this book is for larger pieces, I don’t know how well it would scale down. But it will certainly melt the metal in great volume.
Lost-Wax Casting: Old, New, and Inexpensive Methods. Fred Sias, Jr. Ph.D. Woodsmere Press, Pendleton, SC, 2005. A good introduction to lost wax casting in general. Contains an explanation for inexpensive steam-casting instead of (or as a supplement to) vacuum casting. It also contains a solid chapter on Ashanti Casting, an ancient form of lost wax casting that’s still in use today in western Africa. Remember that horse or cow dung? (Although there are some modern clay-based formulas that don’t use dung that you can also use to make the mold. Interestingly, this technique makes it possible to cast some items that are very hard to cast using more modern items! Married with an inexpensive way to heat it up (found in other books), you’ve got yourself a very inexpensive method of casting.
Li’l Bertha: A Compact Electric Resistance Shop Furnace. David Gingery. Gingery Publishing, 1984,2011. Instructions on how to build one in various sizes. Because electricity is involved plus modern coils for heating, it will cost a bit more to build. But you won’t have to feed it charcoal or french fry oil either, so there’s that.
Lost Wax Investment Casting. C.W. Ammen. Tab Books, 1977. Ammen’s book on Sand Casting is the single best one I’ve found. I’m not as familiar with this work but it’s stuffed full of solidly useful, pragmatic information – the kind that’s pretty much glossed over in other books on casting that leaves you to learning it the hard way. He discusses how to build some of your own equipment as well, but I suspect that you would want to supplement those instructions from other books on that task.
I posted a link to Solvarr’s page on building an ammo can forge. The two biggest expenses are the regulator for the propane tank and the burner, which is the metal bit that you light on fire and place in the forge. Solvarr’s article includes a link to purchase the Z-burner. We found plans for one a similar type of burner online a decade ago and it was pretty simple to build. A friend knocked out ten of them in short order when we had our mass forge building frenzy. I didn’t go looking for plans because, well, you can read about the Z-burner and go google for yourself.
And one more:
Metal Casting: Appropriate Technology in the Small Foundry. Steve Hurst. ITDG Publishing, 1996, 2006. Another excellent ITDG Publishing book, this covers a variety of inexpensive methods of casting as well as some solid technical explanations of likely casting problems and what to do about them.
I hope this all helps you get started with your casting! Attach some photos to this when you make your first pieces!