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A Home-Grown Foundry

by Jim Sapp

Ugly but effective,
this furnace built from scrap steel and mounted on an old lawnmower chassis will liquefy up to 70 cubic inches of brass or aluminum in minutes. The lawmower handle folds in half to allow the unit to be conveniently stored under a shelf in the garage. Why a foundry? The home foundry, next to the drill press, lathe, and bandsaw, is probably the most valuable addition to the telescope maker's tool chest I can think of. I could never count the number of times in the past that I have had to alter my telescope designs because I could not come up with the pieces of metal I needed. Either the lack of tooling to handle the size and/or shape of the part, or an unwillingness or inability to pay the price in time and/or money to buy a large, expensive piece of metal only to spend hours reducing most of it to chips, has brought the project to a standstill or aborted it before it even started. Most tools convert large pieces of metal into many smaller pieces to produce the desired object. The foundry works the other way around, providing the telescope maker with the ability to turn small odds and ends of scrap aluminum or brass into larger pieces of metal that are very nearly finished as the desired part. Think about a cell for a six inch refractor lens for a moment. To produce this item using conventional machine shop techniques would require you to purchase (at no small cost) a length of seven or eight inch diameter aluminum round stock sufficient to yield the cell itself, the lens retaining ring, and the cell base or mounting flange to fit the cell to the tube and provide for squaring on, or collimation. That is at least two cuts through an eight inch diameter piece of metal! (Well, at least one, anyway. The retaining ring blank could be sawn from some plate metal.) Still, that is no small task for the home workshop. The pieces must then be bored out to the point that very little of the original metal is left! Visualize several twenty-dollar bills sprouting wings and flying out the window. Heaven forbid you should make a mistake and have to buy another piece and start over. Now consider a ten inch diameter end ring for a telescope tube. Start by acquiring at least a ten and one quarter inch square piece of three quarter or one inch thick aluminum plate and laboriously saw out the disk. Drill a hole through the disk large enough for your bandsaw blade near where the inner edge of the finished ring will be. Remove the blade from your bandsaw and cut it. Feed the blade through the hole, re-weld and grind it, then mount it back on the bandsaw. Make your cut for the rough inner diameter of the ring. Remove the blade from the bandsaw, cut it again to remove it from the sawn out ring and re-weld it again, being ever thankful that you didn't have to do all that sawing by hand with a vise and coping saw because you had the where-with-all to buy a blade welder (big $) for your bandsaw! After sawing the outer circumference, the ring is ready to be finished up on the lathe. Now think about a large, spoked worm wheel or setting circle. I guess I don't need to go there. You get the picture.

but it has worked out well in spite of my ignorance. because most of what you will need is very easily produced at home for very little cost. I'll go further in depth into sand casting in the following paragraphs. as I have never had any training in metal casting other than what I have read in library books and the writings of Russell Porter and others in the ATM books. Being wood. or pay out the money for that ten inch square piece of thick aluminum plate. let the sand dry. I've never even visited a real foundry to see how it's done by the professionals. Furthermore. other than a crucible. Perhaps this will at least give you ideas for doing it better than I have. but I'll just describe what I have done. A bellows would work. pull it out of the sand and finish it up on the lathe. You could even make a draft furnace with a ten or twelve foot piece of steel irrigation pipe hung from a tree as a smokestack.) The point is. And as long as you are pouring one. You didn't have to saw out the aluminum. just saw right through the ring to cut out the inside. and the little bit of wood sawing you did won't have to be repeated the next time you want a ten inch ring. you didn't have to locate a source. Even the crucible is easily substitued with scrap steel. . With a little ingenuity and resourcefulness. then melt down some of that scrap metal in your scrap bucket and pour it into the mold. but that's the process in a nutshell. I have never even bothered to look at prices for commercially produced foundry equipment. Don't worry about having to cut and re-weld your bandsaw blade. pull the pattern out of the sand. Pack a little sand around it. (There is a little more to it than that. furnished with a blower of some sort. When the metal cools. I imagine that any professional foundryman reading the following paragraphs would cringe. Give it a slight bevel on the inner and outer edges on the disk sander. and the cost factor is why I started making telescopes in the first place. I certainly can't say I did it the best or easiest way. but an electric blower is so much nicer! You may not wish to have a hard-baked and trampled-around hole in your backyard. In the following paragraphs I will describe what I did to provide the ability to make castings at home. why not pour an extra one or two parts while you're at it? It's just a matter of packing a little more sand. you have put to good use all those little pieces of scrap metal that were good for little else.Enter: the Foundry! Need a ten inch tube ring? Just saw one out of plywood. seal the wood with a little waterproof glue or poly-coat. The Furnace The simplest form of furnace is just a hole in the ground with a pipe running through the ground and through the wall of the hole. so constructing a furnace of a more portable nature as described below may be a better choice. All that is needed is a means to furnish the fuel with a draft of air. you can set up a very nice foundry for a small fraction of the cost of that one piece of metal you were going to buy for that end ring. you can rejoin the ring by putting a little glue on the faces of the cut and clamping it together until dry. and you have a form (or pattern) that can be used over and over again to make sand molds for pouring ten inch rings.

I never have figured out an easy way to crush the firebrick. For this. I currently use simple charcoal briquettes to fuel the furnace. Perhaps a wood fire built in the furnace would have served as a more gentle curing agent. The walls are made of what the old timers call "ganister". In hindsight. and the popping pieces were due to pressure formed by steam from moisture still in the ganister. This made about a two inch thick wall. and a 1/4 inch compression fitting attached to the outside to allow the gas to be injected directly into the air flow. Two firebricks were put in place in the bottom of the bucket to form the floor of the chamber. or from welder's supply firms. I kept this bottle about ten feet away from the furnace when in use. to allow the ganister to temper. and then proceeded to beat it with a hammer. much like re-bar is used in cement structures. Maybe you will come up with a better plan. allow at least a week or two for the ganister to set up and cure before heating it up. mixed like cement with water. Larger pieces of firebrick and pieces of coat hanger wire were added to the bucket when making the walls to act as a strengthening reinforcement for the ganister. but as with cement. Wear a dust mask when working with this stuff. but I'll briefly describe my setup. 1/4 inch stainless steel tubing connected the compression fitting to an eighteen pound propane bottle which I scrounged from a camper. Perhaps I didn't allow enough curing time. A piece of the 2 1/4 inch material used for the blower duct was inserted through the bucket wall to act as a form for the blower duct hole. numerous little chips or flakes of the material were continually popping off of the heated surfaces. which is a mixture of equal parts crushed firebrick and fire clay. A piece of sheet metal was rolled into a seven inch diameter cylinder with a slight taper (to allow later extraction) to serve as a form for molding the walls. the stuff that firebricks are made of is probably available in bags. after a few firings. A pipe plug with several small holes drilled in it to serve as a mixer/burner was screwed onto the inner end of the pipe elbow. but I initially designed it to run on propane or LP gas. The fireclay comes in twenty pound bags. and left about two inches of clear space around the melting pot (or crucible) to serve as combustion space and clearance for the lifting tongs. The blower is attached to a six or eight inch length of 2 1/4 inch steel fence post that serves as the blower duct. You don't want to use copper pipe here since copper would melt. I started with an old steel five gallon oil bucket and cut a hole in the side to allow the blower duct ingress to the combustion chamber. but I eventually crushed enough to get the job done. The first time or two that I fired mine up. but probably wasn't necessary. The bag it comes in mentions something about silicosis. Well. and it is as firm and hard as a rock. This wasn't very satisfactory as the denim material rapidly weakened and holes began to form in it as the work progressed. a small right angle pipe fitting was brazed into a hole in the blower duct near the blower such that it extended into the center of the duct. I have been using my furnace for well over a decade now. I guess it is a rock! Firebrick and fire clay are available from building materials stores that carry a good selection of masonry materials. Let the first time or two that you fire up the furnace be practice runs. . the wall will be hard and stable. but that too must be fired and tempered. The blower is a 3000 rpm 1/125 horsepower squirrel cage fan with a damper over the inlet to allow airflow regulation. I just put the brick in a bag made from the leg cut from some old blue jeans. This was placed on the firebrick floor and centered in the bucket. These cracks can be filled with fireclay. and is a very fine powder until mixed with water. and several small cracks formed in the walls.The drawing below may be worth a thousand words. Eventually. as when firing pottery. The sheet metal form was extracted after several hours.

can be folded in half. it is a good idea to leave a little liquid metal in the crucible after a pour. Keep an eye on it though. A short time thereafter I sold the propane bottle. and the damper set to allow only about 20 or 30 percent of maximum air to flow into the chamber. allowing more fuel in the combustion chamber. turning it up to maximum for a few seconds every few minutes to maximize the temperature of the charcoal in the chamber. I keep the airflow low until the briquettes are burning thoroughly. decreasing the melt time.A small grate was made to keep the crucible up off of the floor of the furnace to maximize its exposure to the heat of combustion. This was made of a ring of 3/4 inch steel band. The charcoal is usually fully burning within ten or twenty minutes. When running the furnace on propane. When doing several melts at a time. When burning charcoal. using a very obscure (and inexpensive) brand of charcoal. After a few minutes. which will melt at least three or four hundred cubic inches of aluminum. . but seems to get much hotter. Another small piece of expanded steel is placed across the opening of the blower duct when using solid fuel. The charcoal is messier to deal with. I never really felt comfortable around it anyway. and only costs three to six bucks for a twenty pound bag. and actually cause much lower fuel economy and longer melt time. I have a valve which screws on to the torch bottle. so I turn off the propane. which allows the whole thing to be stored under a shelf and out of the way. In a couple of seconds I am made profoundly aware of the instant the propane/air mixture reaches the burning newspaper. it turned aluminum into liquid in short order. but it certainly makes beautiful things! The lawn mower handle. The briquettes are smaller than most. with three steel legs attached with 1/4 inch steel bolts (don't use brass screws as they will melt). burns much quieter (the gas fuel would roar). Kingsford is one of the more expensive brands. It is an ugly beast. I have already poured one or two melts. At any rate. using good charcoal is more cost effective than using the bargain-basement brands. The blower is then turned on. That is when I switched to charcoal briquettes as my fuel. It seems some manufacturers of the briquettes are mixing sand or some other inert ingredient with their charcoal. I believe that in the long run. I never did get around to replacing that propane bottle. and have been very pleased with its performance ever since. which drastically increases the amount of time required to liquefy a charge of metal. You get what you pay for. I place a few pieces of the metal I am going to add to the crucible around the top of the furnace to serve as a bit of a "lid". The first few melts I did with this rig were done with the propane. I have had to pause in the middle of a melting session to remove the contents of the furnace and scoop out the sand so that I could finish the job. I suppose regular lighter fluid or kerosene would light the charcoal just as well. the charcoal has begun to burn on its own. This is topped with a small piece of expanded steel . There is one drawback to using charcoal as fuel that I should mention. I then fill the remaining space in the chamber with briquettes. To charge the furnace I place a layer of briquettes directly on the grate in the bottom then place the charged crucible on top of that. Attached to this is a length of surgical rubber tubing which is pushed on to the gas inlet fitting on the blower duct. then allow about 50% airflow for most of the melt. and by the time an hour has passed. by loosening two nuts. in addition to a safety hole for the escape of liquid metal in the event of crucible failure (see below). A re-design of the furnace would include a door at the bottom that would allow a quick clean-out. It will increase the rate of heat transfer to the next charge of metal. or it will melt and run down into the furnace before you have a chance to get it to the crucible! When doing multiple melts. stand back a bit. An angle iron frame was screwed together to fit around the bucket and provide a firm support for the blower. and I'm well on the way toward the second or third. This is an efficient way to pre-heat the metal and makes it melt much faster when added to the crucible. The worst case has been after about the second charge of metal. and they seem to burn longer with a more intense heat than the less expensive brands. and then bolted to an old four-wheeled lawn mower chassis to provide mobility for the furnace so that it can be easily wheeled from the garage to the yard. a lid with a four to six inch exhaust hole (or even just a couple of firebricks placed on top of the furnace) helps retain a large amount of heat. but I use a standard small propane bottle of the sort used with a hand torch. Leaving the airflow at maximum will only blow most of your heat out of the furnace. Then I light a small twist of newspaper and push it down into the combustion chamber. filling in the space around the crucible with briquettes clear to the top of the furnace except directly above the blower duct. presumably to lower their costs per pound of product sold. is more readily available at short notice. remove the tubing. but I felt that 1/4 inch tubing may have been a little too small for the long run from the propane bottle. and put it away. this sand collects in the bottom of the furnace and eventually starts to choke off the air flow. but has proven to be the best I have found. but all the brands I have tried do this to a greater or lesser degree. and crack the propane valve.

with a steel pan under it to save the metal. A round piece of 1/4 inch steel plate slightly larger in diameter than the top of the crucible works fine. I use one for aluminum and the other for brass. described what I wanted. then burned through the side where my poor job of welding had weakened and thinned the metal. I have been very pleased with this unit. It also ran down the blower duct. and in twenty minutes had two new crucibles. and suddenly realized that a foundry was in my not-too-distant future. A little reminder: don't make a mold bigger than the capacity of you crucible! Also. stopping two inches short of hitting the blower. many melts. it is probably a good idea to have a safety hole in the bottom of the furnace. Drill a hole in the center of the lid for mounting a large steel eyelet to serve as a handy means of lifting the lid with tongs or a hook. I was lucky that time! I then took the remainder of that would-have-been pedestal to a professional welder. 2. never use a crucible that was used for aluminum to melt copper-based metals like brass.. plugged with a thin piece of aluminum or lead sheet metal that could melt through in the event of another defective crucible. This will help minimize the absorption of combustion gases into your metal and help retain the heat in the crucible. and borrowed a little buzz box of an AC arc welder. Those crucibles have lasted to date. with the nut soldered in place to keep it from . You will need a good sturdy set of tongs for lifting your crucible from the fire. beautifully welded. I remembered what John McQuaid had said about using steel pipe for a crucible in Advanced Telescope Making Techniques Vol. you will need a pair of gloves! There are some very nice ones available that are specially designed for handling very hot or very cold items. My pile of metal odds and ends contained a length of 3-1/2 inch thick-walled steel pipe that I had dragged home from who knows where. It wasn't welded very well. but I foresee a time when a larger furnace will be in order. Tongs and Other Handling Tools: First of all. I quickly sawed off that piece of pipe and a matching piece of 1/4 inch steel plate. I made mine with two pieces of ½ inch steel square stock joined together with a 1/4 inch bolt to serve as the pivot. Perhaps one made from a thirty gallon oil drum . thinking that it would someday make a nice pedestal mount for a Newtonian telescope. Each holds about seventy cubic inches of liquid metal. Oops! I had quite a time getting that chunk of metal out of my furnace.. the price of a small graphite crucible was beyond what I was willing to invest. through many. This can cause the brass to be gassy with many bubbles and voids in the casting. In retrospect. but when I was first getting interested in casting metal and considering the possibility of setting up a little foundry.Over all. but I have found that any old pair of leather work gloves is sufficient. and spilled about fifty cubic inches of aluminum into the bottom of my furnace where it hardened around the legs of the little grate table. and I visualized eight or ten inches of that pipe sawn off with a piece of 1/4 inch steel plate welded to the bottom. The Crucible I have read that a graphite crucible is the way to go. Then my do-it-yourselfer nature kicked in. for a cost of about fifteen dollars. but it would hold water! That first crucible lasted about five melts. Be sure to make a lid for your crucible to keep ash and debris from falling into your metal. My next furnace will definitely have one.

The handle ends are bent to make for easier lifting action. One loop for the crucible. but two torches worked quite well.loosening or tightening up on you. adding metal to the pot. A smaller set of tongs made from some steel band is very useful for manipulating the crucible and its lid while in the furnace. Mine is a length of ½ inch steel round stock with two loops bent into the ends. Fasten them together with a bolt and nut arrangement as with the lifting tongs. Two nuts jammed together would work fine too. . I found that one of the commonly available small propane torches was just a little inadequate for the job. oriented ninety degrees apart. Another required item is an implement in which to place the hot crucible to allow for pouring. The figure below shows the pattern for bending two pieces of 3/4 by 1/8 inch steel strap to form these tongs. The next figure illustrates that the hot ends of the tongs have two pieces each of one inch steel band welded to the tips to provide positive gripping action. The steel stock can be softened and bent by hand by holding it in a vise and heating the spot where you want the bend until red hot with a torch. and any other minor handling of hot items needed around the furnace. (Just a bend in the handle end would serve well. like the illustration below. adjusting the charcoal. and the other loop to serve as a leverage-providing handle when pouring.

and about sixteen inches tall.I originally made the other loop to serve as a cradle for a different-sized crucible. I had no idea where to acquire good casting sand as there is little or no industrial foundry work going on in my area. so I went to the local masonry supplier and bought a couple of 100 pound bags of silica sand. and 20% clay for aluminum. or a 0. I keep about two or three cubic feet of sand in it.1mm effective size in filtration. The more fire clay I added. and another piece formed into a ring and attached to serve as a cage to keep the crucible from slipping out sideways. and has served very well. I probably had way too much moisture. The first is that after the metal is poured and has cooled. Other information on the bag indicated that it was rated to provide a one mil surface profile when used as an abrasive. but mostly due to the sand and clay gradually being mixed together more evenly with repeated use. packed very well and I thought about the bag of fire clay powder that was left over from building my furnace. If the casting is fairly shallow in height with tapered sides. and I had noticed that the soil in my yard. but I found that its packing quality when wet is zero! Russell Porter had mentioned something about foundry sand having clay in it as a binder in Amateur Telescope Making Vol. fine casting sand. It has proved tough enough to withstand the abuse of using a garden shovel to mix and manipulate the sand. A book on the subject of founding that I read recommends around 15% clay for brass. Two and two added up. The commonly available sand in my area proved to be much too coarse a grade. but having no experience with real foundry sand. and by the little presents left by the neighborhood cats when thawed. and have had good results. That was a rare case though. Each itteration produced a poorer surface than the preceding.) The ends of the loops were then welded to the main shaft for added strength. A trip to the local discount store produced a large tough plastic tub with a sealable lid that keeps the sand moist and the cats out and can be kept in the basement where it won't freeze. the molded sand is baked pretty hard and tends to retain its shape and the metal contracts when cooled. The number means that 30 percent is retained on a #70 mesh. and the cast part is removed carefully. The Sand I have read that there is no substitute for good. The books say that the sand should contain 6% to 8% moisture. In my initial attempts at casting. This stuff is beautiful. but as yet haven't needed to complete it. which has a high clay content. so as a true dyed-in-the-wool do-it-yourselfer I set about to make my own. When a casting is complete. At the crucible end. is labeled Roughneck. The first step was to provide a place to keep the sand. It also warns to wear a dust mask when using it. 2. the mold will stay intact and can be immediately re-used! Once I was able to pour three parts in the same mold before it deteriorated to the point that it could no longer be used. The final mix is probably 25% fire clay and packs quite well. I just set the mold (or flask) in the tub and knock the sand out directly back into its container where it is moistened again and chopped and mixed with the shovel. which to date has been plenty though I foresee buying another. The second interesting fact is that the sand seems to be improving with use! I imagine that this is due partly to my gaining experience in using it. the better the sand packed so I continued adding it. I didn't want to store it outside where it would become useless during the winter months from freezing. one inch steel band was bent and welded to the loop to serve as support for the base of the crucible. so I dumped some of the fire clay into the sand and mixed it up as well as I could with a shovel. and it produced . and I believe it as my early experiments with common sand proved completely unsatisfactory for packing and retaining its shape when dry. This was evidenced by much steam coming from the mold when the metal was poured. It measures about a foot and a half long by a foot wide.This item is made by Rubbermaid. fine and white. I have noticed two interesting facts regarding the use of this homemade and overly-clayed foundry sand. I have used this stuff for both. or 7030 crushed industrial quartz. I don't know the difference! I do know that I have been able to produce some very nice smooth castings when the molds are well dried.

Give all vertical surfaces a slight taper or bevel that will allow the pattern to effortlessly release from the sand. I still let my molds dry for a few days just as extra insurance. but have found that the dry crushed quartz silica sand I used as the main ingredient in my casting sand works pretty well. For the beginner I recommend letting your molds dry thoroughly. to keep the sand in the two halves of the mold from sticking together and tearing each other apart. Avoid any abrupt angles in the design that would make a sharp corner in the sand which would be prone to breaking off or washing away during the pour. respectively (in two-part molds). keep in mind the fact that there can be no portions of it that protrude or will interfere with the sand when lifting the pattern from the mold. My unpainted flasks have stood up well. There is no need to go overboard here. With experience I have learned to tell how much moisture I can get away with. I have even used a propane torch to dry the surfaces of an overly-wet mold somewhat on the same day I poured the metal. Simple wooden boxes or frames of various sizes can be constructed for little or no cost that will work fine for the larger parts. This produced much better castings. non-absorbent powder over the pattern before packing the sand. to prevent warping as they absorb a lot of moisture from the sand while the mold is drying. Just smear it on then sand it down to shape . My first couple of wooden flasks were sealed and painted to keep the wood from absorbing moisture from the sand. Et Cetera The Flasks Flask is the term used to describe the box or container into which the pattern is placed and then packed with sand. and 1/16 inch per foot for shallow ones. and had good results. such as alignment pins or a couple of sets of short pieces of wood fixed to the sides that will mate with each other. I have used vinyl spackling compound to make fillets with great success. This is a requirement when making two-part molds. I keep some in a coffee can on the bench when I do my sand-packing. Pattern Making The probability of producing a successful casting seems to be proportional to the care that goes into making the pattern that the sand is packed around.very ugly casting surfaces. More than one aluminum casting I did bubbled up like pizza crust. In fact. Most of the time. I suppose that pouring hot metal into an overly-wet and under-vented mold could result in sudden and violent consequences. I have had no experience with commercial products. Just one or two degrees is plenty. For two-part flasks. I have used coffee cans with both ends cut out with good success for small parts. a few shingle nails protruding from the interior surface of the flask has proved to be quite effective. provision should be made for accurate alignment of the two halves. Cope and drag refer to the upper and lower halves of the flask. I then began letting my molds thoroughly dry over the space of a couple of weeks. This annoying tendency can be greatly reduced or eliminated by sprinkling a small amount of dry. Seal and paint these though. The books say 1/8 inch per foot draft for deep patterns. Parting Dust You may find that small pieces or sections of your packed sand mold will occasionally stick to your pattern when lifting it from the sand. When designing your part. You will also need to provide pieces of plywood to serve as bottom supports for your flasks. but I have since found that this is really an unnecessary waste of time in my dry climate. and could be easily replaced if ever it became necessary. Small strips of wood should be fixed to the interior of the frames to help keep the sand in place when handling the mold. Anything that will hold sand firmly in place can be used as a flask.

Place the point of the rod into the pattern. The striker is the blade you use to scrape off excess sand from the mold. Even wood glue will work on small parts. A quieter option is to simply use a foot-long piece of 2x4 with a 2x2 inch notch sawn out of one end. A piece of 1 or 1 ½ inch angle iron long enough to extend past both sides of the flask will work famously. and with a large round flat on the other end for packing the remainder of the flask. Works fine. A foot-long piece of 3/8 or ½ inch metal rod with one end ground to a point. The rapper is used to rap the rod which transfers the force to the pattern. This also serves to smooth the surface of the mold a bit. Venting the mold not only hastens the drying of the mold but facilitates the rapid escape of gasses from the sand when the metal is poured. I have seen pictures in books that show it to be a wooden handle with a tapered wedge-shaped flat on one end. A layer of wood glue smeared over plywood patterns will serve to seal and smooth the surface when dried. making the surface of the sand flat and level with the top (bottom) of the flask. The rapper can simply be a 2 ½ foot piece of metal rod bent in half. and shake it back and forth over the mold for a few seconds until the fine stuff has fallen through the mesh and there are only little balls of sand left in the riddle.when dry. add another cupful. the remainder of the flask can be filled up with the clumpy stuff. For thicker sections. resulting in a casting with poor surface quality. Common pine boards make great pattern material. with a 2 inch gap left between the ends. hard. I have used patterns with only the wood glue coating with success. Dump out the little balls. Rapping serves to add a small amount of lateral compression to the sand immediately surrounding the pattern and open up the mold slightly. The rod is just that. If you can't find 1/4 inch mesh. thereby improving the surface texture of the casting. A piece of clothes-hanger wire makes a great vent wire. shiny surface. Give the pattern a smooth. until a very slight movement can be seen between the pattern and the surrounding sand. and the stuff doesn't easily sand smooth. and gently rap the rod back and forth a few times in each direction. just add a couple of large hands full or cups full of sand at a time. Other miscellaneous tools will include things like a short. a small spoon for repairing damaged molds and forming and smoothing gates and risers. After you have covered the pattern with ½ inch or so of the riddled sand. This ensures that only the finest sand comes in contact with the pattern. two or more layers can be glued together. Make it long enough to reach to the bottom of your tallest flask and put a little loop in the end to protect from poking yourself in the eye. and the end of a foot-long piece of 2x4 for the big boy. Mine is just four pieces of board nailed together to form a ten or twelve inch box frame with wire mesh stapled to the bottom. two pieces of ½ inch laid together and offset from each other 1/4 inch will work just fine. and a short piece of ½ inch metal tubing with a sharpened end for cutting gates and channels. but it is cheap! Voids can be filled with wood putty made from sawdust and wood glue mixed together. I just use a ten or twelve inch long piece of wood about 1 ½ inch by 3/4 inch in cross section to serve as the small end. Plywood needs a little extra care: voids need to be filled. Making Molds . and the other end cut down to serve as a handle. which is placed into a small hole or dimple provided in the pattern for the purpose. Clumpy sand will not pack into complete contact with the pattern. Use heavy gauge mesh of about 1/4 inch pitch. This is very important. which greatly aids in drawing the pattern out of the mold. A carpenter's level should be on hand for ensuring that your open-faced molds are laying flat and level before pouring. for packing the sand around the inside of the flask. The ram is the tool used to pack the sand. I have used common plywood to make many patterns of large diameter that would be prohibitively expensive if made from solid wood. A short piece of rubber tubing for blowing out small debris can come in handy too. narrow strip of sheet metal with a bend in one end to serve as a little scoop for lifting loose sand and debris from the interior of the mold cavity. but find that a thoroughly dried coat or two of good oil-based enamel (like Rustoleum) makes a noticeable improvement! Other Tools A riddle is basically a sieve with which to sift out the larger clumps when initially adding sand to a mold. and repeat. To use it.

place the bottom board on it and rub it in with a circular motion to form a complete and solid contact between the sand and flask. and scraping it off to form a smooth surface level with the flask. For two-part molds. here are the remaining steps: 8. just thump it down good and firm. and remove your molding board. go ahead and pack the sand over the rest of the mold using a larger ram. then press it into firm contact with the pattern using your hands. Here are the steps for forming a sand mold: 1. you are finished. 7. pack the sand firmly around the drag. compress and round off the top edge of the mold cavity just a tad to reduce the risk of small pieces of sand breaking off and falling into the mold. Vent the mold by pushing your vent wire straight down into the sand all the way to the bottom board. Other than dry-out time. When this is done. turn it over. but no closer than ½ inch to the pattern. Continue this until you have packed sand to about 1/2 inch above the flask. holding the bottom board (and the molding board) in good contact with the flask you can pick up the mold. Take multiple cuts. you can heap enough un-riddled sand into the drag to cover the pattern by two or three inches. then place the cope onto the drag. but when the castings are machined all over it makes no difference. Using a small ram. very gently. First of all. At this time. This eliminates the complications of dealing with a cope. Place the upside-down drag on a molding board that is large enough to contain it. as often as possible I will design my parts such that a simple. add two or three inches more sand. after drawing the pattern. Go around it twice. open-faced mold will serve. Don't do this to two-part molds though. single-piece. you can rap and draw the pattern now. using the corner of a bent knuckle or the little corner where the thumb meets the palm. 5. and strike it off again. For larger parts. For two part molds. risers. Riddle enough sand into the flask to cover all parts of the pattern at least ½ inch will transfer to the cope sand. pack it lightly. removing just one or two inches at a time. You may want to fill in any uneven areas with more sand.For speed and simplicity. In this case. once every square inch or so. once every square inch or so over the entire surface of the mold. and repeat steps 3 and 4. The idea here is to produce an even density throughout the mold. You don't have to hammer the sand with the ram. 4. Push your vent wire into the sand just far enough to come within ½ or 1 inch of the pattern. It is true that the face of the metal open to the atmosphere will have a layer of crystalized metal on top. Lightly brush or blow off the inevitable particles of sand that will be broken up around the vent holes when done. bigger is better . 6. . 2. it is a good idea to vent the sand under the pattern. and alignment. Mark off your gating on the drag. (Do NOT use your wife's cutting board from the kitchen!) Place the pattern in the drag upside down and sprinkle them with parting dust. Just draw it into the sand . Apply parting dust evenly over the drag and pattern. select a flask of sufficient size to allow an inch or two of sand between the mold cavity and the wooden sides (and/or bottom board) of the flask. If this is a single-part mold. and pack again.more weight to hold the metal in place and keep the cope from floating up and allowing leakage between them. 3. Scatter some loose sand (1/4 inch deep or so) over the mold. sprue. When this is done. At this point you can strike off the excess sand by cutting down into it with your striker to the edges of the flask.

and the thicker portions of the casting will supply liquid to the smaller ones as they solidify. with the hopes of melting them down. but found that the nickel melted at such a higher temperature than the brass. At any rate. rap and draw the pattern. Never run your foundry when you are home alone. small sheet metal leftovers. vacuum cleaners. Foundry Safety Here are a few points to ponder that may save life or limb: Never let any water come in contact with molten aluminum (or any other metal for that matter). Always think about what could happen in the event of an accident. you may manage a deal with a local machine shop or two to haul their scrap away for them. The books by the pros say to dampen the sand around the pattern with a small brush prior to rapping and drawing the pattern. and boxes of old pipe fittings and lawn sprinklers.9. Always think about what you are doing. When designing your pattern. causing a shrink. Brass. as the melt was mostly dross and yuk. very gently place the cope back on the drag. . preferably with steel-reinforced toes. It should therefore go without saying that you should never try to douse an inadvertent grass fire started by a metal spill with water. Keep a bucket of sand nearby for the purpose. For the face. Proper clothing for metal casting cannot be over-emphasized either. foil. and the appropriate actions to take. then submerge it in a melt that is already liquid. so I don't do it. This turned out to be completely unsatisfactory. or void. let the melt get hotter than just liquid. about forty pounds of brass! If you are fortunate. compress it as much as possible. You may spot chunks of metal at garage sales and flea markets that can be acquired for much less than their scrap metal value. in their center. If you must use thin stuff. auto parts. will usually be pretty satisfactory from whatever source. Wear a hat! A backwards baseball cap under the face shield will help mitigate the effects of sparks falling in your hair. though. such as old lawn mower engines. Same for brass . Definitely not nylon! Welder's leathers are an excellent choice. When preparing to pour. 12. Wear loose-fitting leather clothes. Finally. To ensure homogeneity. Let the mold dry out for a week or so. high-topped leather boots. It is wise to wear a full-face shield as well. The result is sudden and violent. on the other hand. Stuff like this.heat it until it's glowing red before pouring. thin pieces of aluminum like cans. I wound up throwing the whole lot away. and chips from your drill or lathe. safety glasses are an absolute minimum. Have you ever seen the work of a fragmentation grenade? 'Nuff said. has a proportionately high loss to oxidation. I have experienced no benefit in this. Leather or asbestos gloves should be obvious. or at least clothes made of a material that is fairly flame resistant. which will help to prevent cold shuts and incomplete filling of the mold. Nice clean chunks of aircraft aluminum or old lawnmower engines will make much nicer castings than molten blobs of empty beer cans. or reservoir near the larger portions of the cavity to supply liquid to the casting as the metal solidifies. Wear sturdy. Avoid thin pieces of brass scrap that are nickel plated. The hotter it is. the more fluid it will be when pouring. that has a small volume to surface area ratio. In other words. Sources for Metal Avoid small. but perhaps my sand is already too wet or I just haven't learned the knack. The thicker portions will therefore tend to contract toward their edges. be sure to place a large riser. Lift the cope and finish it by cutting any gates or risers and the funnel shape of the sprue's pouring basin. thinner portions of the metal will solidify first. Vent the cope sand with your vent wire and cut the sprue if you didn't mold it in (suggested). I once collected a large bag of little nickel-plated clips. your melt will have a high dross content. Let aluminum get beyond just shiny liquid. 11. that I had to continuously mash the clips while I was melting them to squeeze the brass out of it's plating. 10. Or even riding chaps and an old leather jacket. Provide protection from nose to toes. Bear in mind that good metal makes good castings. and cover the sprue and risers to prevent foreign material from falling into your mold. Stick to chunky stuff. cut your drag gates and clean any loose particles from the drag. remember that smaller. it should be glowing pink or slightly red.

JS . there is always your local scrap metal yard where you can find an infinite variety of fodder for your crucible. Sometimes even ingots of alloys specifically designed for casting! Cheers! . more and more people are becoming sensitive to the real value of their metal. Of course.though with the rising popularity of recycling materials.