Metal Goddess? …. Umm, Not Quite

Pewter Casting Workshop

Learning about new crafts is one of my favorite past times. That’s why when I saw the announcement about a Pewter Casting Workshop at the Brooklyn Brainery, after a brief hesitation, I jumped at the opportunity to take it.

Prior to taking this workshop, I thought, “this isn’t for the faint of heart.” Basically, you’re working with molten metal. When it comes to anything really hot, I can be a big weeny. When I was a younger, our stove was so wonky that we would have to strike a match to light the pilot and I’ll readily admit that there were many of non-cooked meals because of this. To this day, I don’t like striking matches.

My second thought was, “how often would I have the opportunity to attend something like this?” In the past I would have let this opportunity pass me by and would have regretted missing it once it was over.  But, for the past year, I’ve been trying to live by the “why not” attitude. If I see an opportunity to learn or do something that interest me and I have the time and funds available, I register for it and enjoy the ride.

For this class, I learned just how easy it could be to create beautifully crafted Pewter items using a few tools, a little ingenuity, and time.  Here’s what I learned:

Pewter is an alloy composed primarily of tin with varying quantities of hardening agents such as antimony, bismuth, copper and lead. It was used in the ancient world by the Egyptians, Romans and other civilizations and came into extensive use in Europe in medieval times. Tin was alloyed with copper and bismuth and the resulting metal, although now much harder than pure tin, still possessed a low enough melting point to make it easy for casting. – The Pewter Society

Types of molds:

Molds can be made from any material that is able to withstand heat sources up to 230 degrees centigrade. The most common molds are Cuttlefish bone, wet sand, silicone based mold and metal molds.

For this workshop, we used the sand wet with canola oil and the Cuttlefish bone methods.

The tools:

The tools needed in this class to cast metal included pewter (for this class they were 1 pound bricks), a cast iron pan, a heat source, and tools to create the shapes you want to cast.

Pewter Stages:

The pewter used in this workshop contained 90% tin, 8% antimony and 2% copper.  Pewter has a low melting point of between 170–230 °C (338–446 °F), depending on the exact mixture of metals.  Pewter begins as a frozen block of metal.  Once heated (medium temperature, if using a conventional kitchen stove), the metal will slowly begin to melt from the bottom. Once this happens, it will typically take a few more minutes before it is ready for use.

Prior to using the melted metal, gently run a spoon along the top layer to remove any impurities that have floated to the top (you only want to remove the fine skin along the top of the melted metal).

My work:

For this class we used two methods for casting: sand with canola oil and Cuttlefish bone. I brought two small items that I would try casting: one was an Eiffel Tower ring holder that I purchased as a stocking stuffer from The Container Store last year and a bronze miniature bucket that I purchase while vacationing in Rhode Island in 2012.

For the Eiffel Tower and miniature bronze bucket, I used the sand casting method.  With this, you press your item into the wet sand until the shape is formed. For this to happen, the sand should be the consistency of wet beach sand. Once this step is completed, you pour the melted pewter into the mold and let it cool for a few minutes until it is set. Then you drop the piece in a bucket of cold water to complete the cooling process.  To truly clean the casts item, use a wire brush to clean off the additional sand and loose pieces of metal.  To patina/antique your item, you can apply Jax Pewter in the color you want to antique the cast. To seal the metal, take a towel with a little paste wax and rubbed it into your cast until it is covering the entire item. The wet sand process should produce on cast for each mold.

The second method used in this workshop was the Cuttlefish bone cast.  To begin this process, you prep the bone by rubbing it against a hard surface until the soft porous side is flat (do not breath in the bone dust). If you only have one bone, use a bone saw to carefully cut the bone in half. Use one piece to create a pour spout for the pewter the cut side. On this same piece etch your design using a sharp instrument (in the class we used dental tools). After you’ve completed your design, put the two pieces of cuttle fish together and use a piece of wire to wrap the two piece tightly together.  Stand the bone up with the pour spout up and secure the sides so that your mold doesn’t tip over. Pour the pewter into the pour spout and let it cure until the bone is mostly cool to the touch.  After this, remove the wire, open the cast, and drop the cast into cold water to complete cooling.  In this method, you can reuse the mold as long as it is not scorched or looks burned.

What I learned:

As you can see from the before and after for each method, it is very important to practice setting up your mold and pouring the pewter into the mold. There are ways of cleaning up the cast by removing the extra pewter, but this was not doable in the time frame of this class and it also required the use of power tools, which might be a little advance for a beginners class.

If you are using your item as a piece of jewelry or as a utensil that you are planning on eating with or drinking from, it is highly recommended that you not skip the wax application process.

Even if the cast from your reusable mold doesn’t come out how you designed it that doesn’t mean that your cast was bad; you just might create something wonderful that you would have missed had your mold not failed.

Metal Goddess, I am not, but I’m really happy that I took this class and had the opportunity to learn a skill that cultures over 6,000 years old used to make the tools they needed to survive.

Are there classes that you have taken or things that you have learned in your life that you are glad that you pursued or learned?

-Winter

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