The Way That I Cast: Lost Wax Process Part 3

Last time we created a mold by using a wax model and investment. But is it really a mold that we can pour molten metal into yet? Nope! We now need – Heat, Heat, and More Heat!

Right now the investment is still soft and it still contains waaay too much water to be anywhere near molten metal. Most of the wax has been melted out by the dewaxer, but the investment now needs to be hardened, the remaining wax needs to be burned away, and any remaining moisture in the investment needs to be driven off. The way this is accomplished is by placing the flasks into a burnout oven and cooking them for hours. Here is a picture of my burnout oven.

burnout oven

And yes, 947 is the temperature in the oven. This is actually the low end of the temperature cycle, the temperature at which the flasks are held, at the end of the burn-out cycle while they are waiting to be cast. The high temperature portion of the cycle varies, depending on exactly the type of investment that is used, but it is often around 1300 degrees Fahrenheit. The burnout cycle starts slowly, at about 200 degrees and gradually increases. By the time it is at 700 degrees we open all of the windows and doors in the Studio to let the fumes out. Burning casting wax is a truly nasty smell, and not good for you. By the time the cycle is finished and we are at the holding temperature, about eight hours later, the smell is gone and there is no more wax residue left in the flasks. They are now officially molds!

Once the end of the casting cycle is coming to an end it is time to start melting the metal. I have two electric melting furnaces, a small one that uses a removal crucible, and a bigger one, which is called a “tilt and pour” This just means that you pick up the entire furnace and pour the molten metal directly from the furnace into the flasks.  In either case I have to preheat the graphite crucibles in the furnaces, add the new casting grain and the old metal that I am re-melting, and wait. If you peek into the furnace while it is heating, this is what 1980 degrees Fahrenheit looks like.

recently recharged furnace

Once the metal has melted completely, I start bringing the flasks out of the burn-out oven one at a time. The flask is placed on the silicone pad on the vacuum machine, the vacuum is turned on, and the molten metal is poured into the flask. And this is what it looks like.

big furnace pour

The vacuum machine is actually pulling air out of the bottom of the flask, which helps produce better castings. The flasks are removed from the vacuum machine and set aside to cool. Here is a picture of three flasks cooling on a metal cart. They are sitting next to my small furnace.

small Furnace with flasks

This is a great picture because it really shows how you can see what temperature the metal is by its color. The right hand flask is yellow because it is the hottest. The almost black metal on the left is ready for the next step in the process.

Next Time – What Happens Now That We Have Poured the Metal?

The Way That I Cast – The Lost Wax Process

I have had several folks ask me questions lately about how I cast my pieces for my shop, so I decided that it was time for a brief explanation and some pictures of my shop.

The process that I use for the majority of my cast pieces is called Lost Wax. It all starts with waxes. The picture below shows a few waxes that have been molded and could be turned into metal pieces. The different color waxes indicate that the wax has different characteristics. The blue wax is more brittle, but it is much better for carving. I often use this wax if I am going to repair a wax that was created from a mold of an original artifact. The details on the original may have been damaged by the ravages of time, and need some fine tuning, or there may be a broken loop or other needed repair.


These waxes were created by injecting wax into an existing mold. They can also be made by carving a piece of wax to create an original master. I rarely use a wax master  when I cast. Instead I make a mold of that wax and use the mold to create copies of the master. This avoids the problem of having a failed casting attempt destroy your wax master, which usually takes quite a while to create. Here is a picture of the wax injector that I use for most of my wax casting.

Wax pot and molds

As you can tell from the drips, this wax injector contains red wax. It requires an air compressor to provide the “push” to inject the wax into the mold. The wire shelves contain an assortment of wax molds. The differences in color indicate that they are made out of different molding compounds. The green molds are made using RTV – Room Temperature Vulcanizing Silicone. That compound will harden to form a mold at most normal room temperatures. The tan molds have to be cooked in a special machine, called a Vulcanizer, in order to harden. The odd looking contraptions on the table to the left of the wax injector (with handles that look like drawer pulls) are special mold clamps that provide a reliable and steady amount of pressure on the outsides of the molds for when you want to inject them with wax. An improperly clamped mold will allow hot wax to squirt out all over. Since the wax is between 150 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, this is both messy and a bit painful to get on your skin.

This is a picture of a Vulcanizer. The mold material, with the metal model inside, is placed in a frame between two sheets of metal, and clamped between the jaws of the Vulcanizer. The thermometer is used to double check the exact temperature of the jaws before the mold compound is put in place. The mold is allowed to cook for between 20 minutes and several hours, depending on the thickness of the mold and the type of molding compound being used.


Next Time: So now that we have waxes, what next? We turn the waxes into a mold!