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Make a master...Make a mold

Assemble an array of found objects to create a prototype for lost-wax casting
Make a model make a mold

Kit bashing is a form of collage, assemblage, and free building. Its origins are in the scale model community, where makers combine parts from different kits to create entirely new forms. Like many kids, I combined my Lego sets to yield larger, more detailed Lego cities. My earliest memories involve experimenting with the possibilities of dollhouse miniatures, doll accessories, Legos, and collages through sleepless nights watching The Dick Van Dyke Show reruns. A photo of me at age six shows me standing next to a Lego building sporting a big ring on my finger and a big grin across my face.

I’ve carried that kit-bashing instinct into my life as a jewelry maker. Working with objects sourced from around the world, including toys, game pieces, imported miniatures, and organic materials, I create sculptural rings that convey a narrative or story.  

SUPPLIES
  • Found objects
  • Relief wax
  • Metal rod, approximately 8-gauge (3.3 mm), 1–2 in. (25.5–51 mm)
  • Injection wax pellets

Tools & supplies

  • Craft knife with extra blades (#11 blade preferred; any blade is fine)
  • Jeweler’s saw with blades, including a spiral wax blade
  • Cyanoacrylate adhesive (super glue)
  • Cotton swabs
  • Acetone
  • Metal dental tools
  • Alcohol lamp or candle
  • Mold rubber 
  • Mold frame
  • Rubber mold vulcanizer, 110 Volt
  • Silicone RTV system (optional)
  • Mold-cutting clamp
  • Scalpel
  • Talc or mold-release spray
  • Mold clamp
  • Wax injector, 1 qt. (or pneumatic wax injector)
  • Wax-carving tools: U- and V-shaped; small wax files
  • India sharpening stone (optional)
  • Wax-carving ring mandrel
  • Soft-bristle toothbrush
  • Wax cleaner
  • Magnifying glasses or goggles

INSTRUCTIONS

Make a model make a mold Step 1
Photo 1
Make a model make a mold Step 2
Photo 2
Make a model make a mold Step 3
Photo 3
Make a model make a mold Step 4
Photo 4
Make a model make a mold Step 5
Photo 5
Make a model make a mold Step 6
Photo 6
Make a model make a mold Step 7
Photo 7
Make a model make a mold Step 8
Photo 8
Make a model make a mold Step 9
Photo 9
Make a model make a mold Step 10
Photo 10
Make a model make a mold Step 11
Photo 11

Prototype/Master

Sketch your idea. Think of your concept and idea. Draw a sketch or rendering of the piece you want to make [PHOTO 1]. 

Kit-bash your master. Grab a selection of found objects from your house or studio. They can be anything that represents portions of your drawing: toys, vegetables, plastic pieces, model parts, organic bits, wood, metal, minerals, etc. You can refashion, cut, and reshape the parts into tiny works of art that bear little resemblance to the original components. Feel free to think outside the box when looking for parts.

NOTE: When assembling the prototype, take composition, form, and structure into consideration on a sculptural and artistic level. On a practical level, understanding how liquid wax and molten metal will flow through the piece during the modeling and casting process can assist you in assembling the piece properly. This knowledge comes with experience. 

Think beyond the original shape of the found object, and use a craft knife and a jeweler’s saw to carefully remove portions of the objects [PHOTO 2]. Carve, cut, and alter them as drastically as needed to achieve your desired look and shape. 

Use cyanoacrylate adhesive (super glue) or relief wax to assemble the components to sculpturally represent your sketch [PHOTO 3]. 

NOTE: A little bit of super glue goes a long way. Excess glue on your master will create a slight texture over its surface; if it’s not cleaned up, this translates into texture on the wax and the cast metal. To remove excess glue, rub a cotton swab saturated with acetone over the still-wet glue.

To use relief wax, heat the end of a metal dental tool over an alcohol lamp or candle flame, then melt wax onto the tip of the tool, and connect the components with the melted wax [PHOTO 4]. (I use Wolf Relief Wax; I’ve found it’s best for this type of work since it has a low melting point, easy flow, cools quickly and sturdily, and is still carvable.)

Rubber mold

Add a sprue. Attach an 8-gauge (3.3 mm) metal rod to your prototype at the point where you want the wax to enter the mold. This rod will create a path for liquid wax to travel throughout the piece. 

Make the rubber mold. Grab enough sheets of jewelry mold rubber (I use Castaldo White Mold Rubber) so that when stacked, the rubber is thicker than the depth of the master. Then add one more rubber sheet. You’ll need the additional layer so that pressure can be exerted on it in the vulcanizer.

Remove the glue papers from the rubber, and place half of the sheets into a mold frame. Cut additional rubber and pack it into all negative spaces and open areas in the master (like a ring shank). Place the master in the frame, then add the remaining rubber sheets [PHOTO 5]. (Think of your master prototype as the jelly, and your rubber as the bread.) 

Dust the top and bottom layers of the mold with talc, or spray them with a mold release to prevent them from sticking to the vulcanizer. Place the mold frame up-on the lower platen of the vulcanizer, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your type of casting rubber to vulcanize it. Then, remove the mold frame from the platens (it will be hot). Submerge the mold in cool water until it’s firm.  

NOTE: To make the mold-making process easier, replace the vulcanizer and rubber with a silicone RTV (room temperature vulcanizing) system, which lowers the cost of production and requires less equipment. RTV molds have a shorter shelf-life, but they also don’t have as much shrinkage as traditional vulcanized rubber molds. Make sure to vacuum the mold with the prototype inside to eliminate air bubbles.

Cut the mold. Use a sharp scalpel to care-fully cut into the mold along the edges of the master [PHOTO 6]. Use a mold-cutting clamp to help hold the mold open as you cut it.

TIP: Mold cutting is an art in itself, and it takes practice. Always be aware of how much pressure you are putting on the blade when slicing the rubber. Don’t force the blade through the mold; instead, gently guide the blade, exercising the utmost care to minimize the risk of cutting yourself.

Remove the master from the mold. Use a scalpel to cut air vents in the mold from the edge of the mold to the negative space [PHOTO 7]. As a rule of thumb, cut vents in any element that points upward (the direction the hot wax will flow when injected) or has a sharp corner. Carve a sprue the same shape as the wax-injector nozzle at the end of the channel left by the rod. Lightly spray the inside of the rubber mold with mold release spray or dust it with talc, then place the halves together.Place the mold into a mold clamp.

Wax model

Inject the wax. Place injection wax pellets into a wax injector set to approximately 155–165°F (68.3–73.9°C). When the wax reaches working temperature, press the mold against the nozzle on the wax injector for a second or two until the wax fully fills the mold [PHOTO 8]. Set the filled mold aside to cool for 10–15 minutes, and then carefully remove the wax positive. 

Gut the wax. Use the jeweler’s saw with a spiral wax blade to cut the wax apart where the pieces will be easy to seamlessly reconnect later. Use U- and V-shaped wax-carving tools to hollow out large areas [PHOTO 9]. 

TIP: Removing the inside of large, bulky areas of wax in a model will make the piece lighter and save money on materials like gold or silver casting grain.

Refine the model. Use the craft knife, dental tools, and files to carve into the model and make deeper, more deliberate shapes. Remove any parts necessary to allow you to clean and carve hard-to-reach areas.

Use small wax files to file the wax, and use a wax-carving ring mandrel to size the ring shank as large as you need. If you need to size the ring down, add more wax to the interior of the ring shank. Use the tip of the craft knife to carve into the wax and make the details of the piece more pronounced [PHOTO 10]. 

TIP: When carving fine details in wax, make sure your craft knife is very sharp. Start with a new blade, or use an India sharpening stone to hone your blade.

Use a soft-bristle toothbrush to brush away unwanted wax shavings. 

Clean the wax. Soak one end of a cotton swab in a wax cleaner and gently rub all the surface areas of the piece [PHOTO 11]. Use the dry side of the swab to dry the wax.

Reassemble the model. Use relief wax to reassemble the model. Use a magnifying glass or goggles to study the surface of the wax model, and fix any imperfections.

Cast your model. Your model is ready to be sprued, invested, and cast! Either cast it yourself, or send it to a casting house.

Editor’s Note: Working With a Casting House: 8 Things to Consider

1. Listen to your caster about any potential problems that may affect the casting, and see if there are solutions.

2. Discuss what alloy to use, and if they’ll use your scrap metal. 

3. Decide how many pieces you’ll need to have cast. Many casters have a minimum number they’ll cast, or may charge extra for small orders.

4. Will you do the finishing work, or do you want the caster to do that for you? Some casting houses offer this option.

5. How soon do you need the finished pieces? Rush orders will likely incur an extra charge.

6. Make sure you use the same unit of weight (grams [g] or pennyweights [dwt]); when discussing price. This can make the final quote seem too high or too low. (1.56 g = approximately 1 dwt)

7. Educate yourself about the process and all the variables that factor into the final cost (complexity, quantity, spruing, finish-ing, etc.) before asking, “How much will my piece cost to cast?” Your caster will appreciate you being prepared.

8. Communicate with your caster!

We asked you, our readers, to share your favorite casting houses with us.

  • Arttech Casting Co. (NY) 
  • AU Enterprises (MI) 
  • Billanti Casting Company, Inc. (NY)
  • Calbar Castings, LLC (NJ)
  • Design Casters (CA)
  • GnW Designs Inc. (CA)
  • HL Jewelry Casting Ltd. (Toronto)
  • JD Manufacturing Co. (CA)
  • Kick-n-Cast (AZ)
  • Kultataide (Finland)
  • Outcast & Company (WA)
  • Ready Mounts (Toronto)
  • Roni Casting (NY)
  • Ruidoso Metal Works Inc. (NM)
Why make a mold instead of burning out the objects?

Organic materials like fruits, insects, etc. burn out cleanly and provide a nearly perfect imprint of the material’s surface on the inside of the investment. How-ever, most plastic and processed, inorganic materials don’t burn out cleanly, and residual carbon and ash from the burnt element creates an undesirable texture on the inside of the casting investment. The leftover carbon and ash cling to the negative space and have no way to escape, clogging key channels that liquid wax and molten metal need to reach. 

Alternatively, making a mold retains the original texture, provides the opportunity to alter the wax further before investing, and allows for a cleaner burn that most accurately represents the piece you made. Making a mold also allows you to pull multiple waxes of your prototype. You can make additions to your wax model, reassemble, remold, cut away, alter, and re-carve as many times or with as many different pieces, textures, or elements as you desire. Part of the fun of kit bashing is that you create new forms, experiment with them, and push new boundaries way beyond the forms of original individual found objects. 
FIND MORE: metal

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