Casts can be made of the wax model itself, the direct method, or of a wax copy of a model that need not be of wax, the indirect method. These are the steps for the indirect process:
- Model-making. An artist or mold-maker creates an original model from wax, clay, oranother material. Wax and oil-based clay are often preferred
because these materials retain their softness.
- Moldmaking. A mold is made of the original model or sculpture. The rigid outer molds contain the softer inner mold, which is the exact negative
of the original model. Inner molds are usually made of latex, polyurethane rubber or silicone, which is supported by the outer mold. The outer mold can be made from plaster, but can also be made of
fiberglass or other materials. Most molds are made of at least two pieces, and a shim with keys is placed between the parts during construction so that the mold can be put back together accurately.
If there are long, thin pieces extending out of the model, they are often cut off of the original and molded separately. Sometimes many molds are needed to recreate the original model, especially for
- Wax. Once the mold is finished, molten wax is poured into it and swished around until an even coating, usually about 1⁄8 inch (3 mm) thick,
covers the inner surface of the mold. This is repeated until the desired thickness is reached. Another method is to fill the entire mold with molten wax and let it cool until a desired thickness has
set on the surface of the mold. After this the rest of the wax is poured out again, the mold is turned upside down and the wax layer is left to cool and harden. With this method it is more difficult
to control the overall thickness of the wax layer.
- Removal of wax. This hollow wax copy of the original model is removed from the mold. The model-maker may reuse the mold to make multiple copies,
limited only by the durability of the mold.
- Chasing. Each hollow wax copy is then "chased": a heated metal tool is used to rub out the marks that show the parting line or flashing where the
pieces of the mold came together. The wax is dressed to hide any imperfections. The wax now looks like the finished piece. Wax pieces that were molded separately can now be heated and attached;
foundries often use registration marks to indicate exactly where they go.
- Spruing.The wax copy is sprued with a treelike structure of wax that will eventually provide paths for the molten casting material to flow and
for air to escape. The carefully planned spruing usually begins at the top with a wax "cup," which is attached by wax cylinders to various points on the wax copy. The spruing does not have to be
hollow, as it will be melted out later in the process.
- Slurry.A sprued wax copy is dipped into slurry of silica, then into a sand-like stucco, or dry crystalline silica of a controlled grain size. The
slurry and grit combination is called ceramic shell mold material, although it is not literally made of ceramic. This shell is allowed to dry, and the process is repeated until at least a half-inch
coating covers the entire piece. The bigger the piece, the thicker the shell needs to be. Only the inside of the cup is not coated, and the cup's flat top serves as the base upon which the piece
stands during this process.
- Burnout. The ceramic shell-coated piece is placed cup-down in a kiln, whose heat hardens the silica coatings into a shell, and the wax melts and
runs out. The melted wax can be recovered and reused, although it is often simply burned up. Now all that remains of the original artwork is the negative space formerly occupied by the wax, inside
the hardened ceramic shell. The feeder, vent tubes and cup are also now hollow.
- Testing.The ceramic shell is allowed to cool, then is tested to see if water will flow freely through the feeder and vent tubes. Cracks or leaks
can be patched with thick refractory paste. To test the thickness, holes can be drilled into the shell, and then patched.
- Pouring. The shell is reheated in the kiln to harden the patches and remove all traces of moisture, and then placed cup-upwards into a tub filled
with sand. Metal is melted in a crucible in a furnace, and then poured carefully into the shell. The shell has to be hot because otherwise the temperature difference would shatter it. The filled
shells are then allowed to cool.
- Release.The shell is hammered or sand-blasted away, releasing the rough casting. The sprues, which are also faithfully recreated in metal, are
cut off, the material to be reused in another casting.
- Metal-chasing. Just as the wax copies were chased, the casting is worked until the telltale signs of the casting process are removed, so that the
casting now looks like the original model. Pits left by air bubbles in the casting and the stubs of the spruing are filed down and polished.
Prior to silica-based casting molds, these molds were made of a variety of other fire-proof materials, the most common being plaster based, with added grout, and clay based. Prior to rubber molds
gelatin was used.
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