Things I’ve Learned About Sand Casting

As the cost (and hassle) of commercial lost wax casting climbs I’m using my sand casting setup at home more these days. It can take as little as 2 minutes to ready the mold and a further 5 to 10 minutes to melt a quantity of scrap silver ready for pouring. It’s a fun way to make jewellery but it takes time to perfect. I’m not there yet but I thought I’d pass along some things I’ve learned along the way so far…

First off though if you aren’t familiar with sand casting here’s a start to finish video from Melissa Muir who’s better at showing the process than I would be…

So now that you understand the basics I’ll move along…

Sand Casting Is Like Christmas

No matter how many times I do a casting it always feels a bit like christmas when I pry the flask halves apart to see what the molten metal has done. If the sand casting gods have smiled on me then I’ll find the mold has completely filled on the first go. If they aren’t smiling then I’ll have either a partially filled mold or the more annoying situation where all the molten silver will be caught in the funnel of the flask. Really annoying! The great thing about sand casting though is that you can always scrape out your burnt sand, reset your model into fresh sand and start again.

Mustard Seeds & Peppercorns

I’m in a perpetual search for texture in my jewellery and recently started adding mustard seeds and peppercorns in and around whatever object I’m casting. I doubt that I’m the first person to try these things but I wanted to show you that they do leave a texture behind. And being organic and available from my kitchen pantry they don’t give off harmful fumes when heated to 1400 degrees. Instead the studio is filled with a peppery aroma which is nicer than the smell of burnt sand alone.

Casting with mustard seeds
Casting with Peppercorns

Gemstones

It’s not a great idea to cast expensive gemstones with this process unless you’re ok with the possibility of having them crack and or discolour with the intense heat involved. An inexpensive option to use are cubic zircons, which I’m trying (and not having too much success with anyway)

Casting with Czs

Cheap Sand

Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be economical with your materials. You can buy authentic delft sand for example which is uber fine and has just the right amount of binding oil in it to hold the finest details of your model. Or you can buy a cheaper version of delft sand and regret every single grain of it. The rings below are an example of pretty rough detail captured in cheap sand.

An incomplete fill of the mold
Casted disk soldered to a shank
Casted disk, sawn and drilled

And that’s where I have to leave it for now. I’ll continue my exploration into sand casting and encourage you to give it a try. And if you do let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you 🙂

Silver + Heat

In my small world there’s nothing quite as beautiful as organic texture; like the chunky rough planes of a mountain rock face cut in light and shadow, or the layered hide of a tree trunk, gnarled by decades. I find it difficult capturing those surfaces on a piece of metal though. Yes, I’ve carved a replica of a natural texture in wax and although I’ve not tried it I could make a rubber mold of an organic object and cast it. Or there’s sand and surface casting that make some great textures too.

Pink Wax Texture Experiment
Blue Wax Carving

Sand Casting of Coral

But is there a way to transform a smooth piece of sterling silver wire or sheet into chaotic gorgeousness without all that fuss and equipment? If you own a propane or acetylene torch and a ceramic brick then the answer is yes…because sterling silver + heat = texture.

It’s good to know (especially if you’re new to jewellery making) that sterling silver is made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (added to increase hardness). As you heat it with a gentle to medium flame it begins to glow dark red. At that moment the piece is annealed…previously disorganized molecules become more organized. With continued heating molecules of copper in the piece which have a higher melting point than the silver begin to migrate to the surface. You’ll know this because the surface will turn from silver to black.

Copper (AKA Fire-scale) on Sterling Silver Wire

If you quench the piece (in water) and pickle it (in an acid solution which removes the fire-scale) and repeat that heat/quench/pickle cycle 10-15 times, a layer of pure silver will gradually accumulate at the surface while the copper beneath (remember it has a higher melting point) will begin to ripple with the silver flowing over it. And that’s where the weird wavy patterns on the surface become apparent. The process is called reticulation and you can read more about it here. I love the randomness of it and am playing with my heat level and the surface I’m melting on – ceramic brick, charcoal etc. So many variables and so much fun.

Below is my latest sampling of textured bits and pieces; 2 twigs that I sand casted, a large (6 gauge) link (bottom left), a twist of brass wire I fused with sterling silver (top centre) and some molten silver plops that formed when I heated them on my brick. And it’s those plops that have me all excited about trying to make larger pieces. It’s that particular gritty texture that I’m looking for. It’s not a mountain cliff or a tree trunk but it’s getting close. 🙂

Cheers.

Reticulated Samples

My Work – Sandcasting

A note before I get started here – Thank you for following my blog. From today I’m moving it from twice weekly postings to a single post on Saturdays; not because I’m running low on makers but because I’m the first person to admit I get annoyed when my inbox fills with blogs I don’t have time to read. Do I hear monthly anybody?

And now, for this week’s post…we return to the fascinating world of sand casting. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I’ve been attempting to learn this process, first with a delft 2 part aluminum cylinder flask that I had to modify by drilling a hole into each half to create a wider pouring channel…

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$144 (CAD) for this and a 4.4 lb. bag of delft sand – horrors!

And then with this larger iron flask which already has a wide mouth for easier pours…

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$55 (CAD) – and it works 🙂

With this new flask I’m finding my pours are more successful – in other words the molten silver fills whatever form I make completely. And, I’m having fun making my own forms out of whatever I find around the house, such as squished up tin foil…

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tin foil form with resulting silver cast (bud removed) and the characteristic burnt sand after pouring

So now I have one more trick up my sleeve when it comes to casting which is what I wanted in the first place. The only issue I have now is getting my hands on enough silver to melt down, which means some of my earliest lost wax cast rings are finding themselves in the crucible 🙂

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progress – sand cast link on a hand forged chain

Anouck Van Puyvelde

This is some of the work of maker Anouck Van Puyvelde. And I must admit as a beginner sand caster I’m in awe of her aesthetic; liquid silver flowing in and around bits of stone or brass in gorgeous random paths. Or rustic silver forms on their own. All so inspiring for someone like me who’s still amazed when a simple ring form completely fills during my regular attempts at this haphazard process.

As you can see none of the pieces are titled as per her website. And for some reason my stupid translate option isn’t translating her dutch into my english so I’ve very little information to pass on here. All I can say is check out her website.

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Ambroise Degenève

2015, silver, synthetic spinel, niello

Ambroise Degenève…his amazing work says it all. Mon dieu and je l’adore! If you like to keep up with his latest pieces you can follow him on Instagram here.

2015, ring, synthetic spinel, niello
Ring, 2015 : silver, synthetic spinel, niello

silver, synthetic spinel
Ring, 2014 : silver, synthetic spinel

necklace, 2012, recycled paper, silver
Necklace, 2012 : recycled paper, silver

earrings, 2013, iron, gold, crushed silver, avertine
Earrings, 2013 : iron, gold, crushed silver, aventurine

necklace, 2014 - patinated silver, enamel
Necklace, 2014 : patinated silver, enamel

silver synthetic spinel, niello
Ring : silver, synthetic spinel, niello

Where Are You Yanis Turcarelli?

This post begins with the image below, found on a random page I stumbled onto the other day which then led to my search for the maker of these stunning bracelets, Yanis Turcarelli.

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Chrysalis, bracelets, copper 2016 (via alchimiablog.com)

Now, most makers leave a trail to follow across the internet – little crumbs of images, webshops, blogs etc. But this Yanis guy was nowhere to be found. So I wondered…had he suddenly decided jewellery wasn’t his thing anymore? Did he meet a tragic end after graduating from Alchimia Jewellery School in Florence? How could he just vanish like that?

But wait…after some detective work (google search results page 2) I came across a reference to a Yanis Turcarelli’s alter ego…Francesco coda!  Case solved. I recommend watching his sand casting video while there (if you’re into sand casting like me! me!) and maybe following him on instagram here.

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Ring, from Alterego collection

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Ring, from Alterego collection

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Ring, from Alterego collection

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Necklace from Jean-Michel Basquiat Tribute

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Ring, from Alterego collection

PROVA2
Prova2

ANTWERP
Antwerp