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The Hobbyist's Guide to Casting Metal--2nd Edition (print)

The Hobbyist's Guide to Casting Metal--2nd Edition (print)

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Published by: toadster on Mar 18, 2011
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My introduction into hobby metalcasting, like many other hobbyists, occurred when I was
in the middle of a project and trying to make a part I couldn't buy. I needed a set of gears
duplicated, so I decided I would try to cast them. (I later learned that gears of that size
wouldn't be possible to cast using any hobby technique I had access to at the time, but that
doesn't matter.) In figuring out how I'd cast the gears, I learned more and more about the
hobby, and decided to start experimenting with casting metal. The gears, and the project
they went to, were quickly forgotten.



I made plenty of mistakes and false starts when I was trying to learn how to cast metal. I
was following what I'd seen other hobbyists do, but each person seemed to do things in a
different way, and I didn't know which way was best. Many of the things I tried didn't work
at all, or worked very poorly. Still, enough worked to show me what was possible with the
hobby, and I pursued it fervently.

My first furnaces were both solid-fuel. This was messy, and the blowers that provided air
were very loud. Neither of them were well-insulated, so they were expensive to run. I didn't
have a good casting area or any greensand, so I was using the lost-foam method and casting
over concrete. The foam burnt off and made the sand stink like melted plastic, and with
every pour (though I didn't know at the time), I was taking a chance on having a steam
explosion if enough metal hit the concrete. Still, I was casting things, and though none of
my early castings were particularly good, they showed promise.

Then, I decided to upgrade. I got some commercial refractory (dense refractory, because I
didn't know any better) and built a large furnace with it as a hotface and perlite for
insulation. I spent a while fiddling with different waste oil burners, but none of them
worked well enough to use in a furnace, so I eventually converted to propane. Furthermore,
I had built too big, and I couldn't use this big furnace for the kinds of castings I really
wanted to do. It took so much time and fuel to get it hot that I had to melt a lot of metal to
justify the fuel costs, and I didn't have either enough molding sand to use that much metal,
or a way to move it safely when molten. The big furnace sat unused for a year while I
melted using a much smaller furnace made of perlite stuck together with some leftover

That small furnace eventually got destroyed by high temperatures and mechanical damage,
so I built another one of similar size with ceramic wool and a clay/foam hotface. This
furnace was also fragile, because I put too much foam in the hotface, but it worked very
well for high-temperature, efficient melts. I also started using the big furnace at about the
same time, and though it wasn't very efficient, it worked well for large melts and breaking
down scrap.

The new furnace, while fragile, was well-insulated and more temperature-tolerant than
anything I had made before. I used it for quite a while melting aluminum, copper alloys,
and iron before a crucible failure flooded it with metal and destroyed it.

Then, I built the furnace detailed in this book. In building, I have attempted to incorporate
all the lessons I've learned in my previous designs as well as the things I've learned about
the science behind metalcasting and refractory ceramics, and I believe the results have paid
off. It is a very capable design, built to fit commercial #4 and #6 crucibles as well as
homemade steel ones of common sizes, efficient and well-insulated, and capable of
sustained operation at iron temperatures without damage.



Section I


Casting metal is serious business, and very dangerous. Even when using proper safety gear,
and observing all necessary precautions, serious accidents can still occur. Lack of proper
safety gear, unsafe surroundings, or unsafe procedure increase both the likelihood and
severity of accidents.

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