Ice casting

I had a funny experience with water casting. Decided to use my 4 qt
copper bottom steel cooking pan filled with water…don’t remember
the temp! Poured the hot metal from the crucible into the water.
Thought I would get the nice separate pieces that I had when pouring
into a bucket of water. Oh, Oh it landed in the bottom = one glob =
and was so hot it scorched the bench under the pan! There was no
spatter to be a hazard to me. Even with the bucket casting with
water, there was never splashes! I do have a lot of the "corn flake"
pieces and wonder what I will do with them…drill holes in the edge
and hang from a chain with jump rings!!!

Rose Marie Christison

I have done this for years with students and no, there have not been
any explosions. We fill something like a KoolWhip bowl with ice and
melt scrap in an open crucible and pour. We will also mix in any old
pasta, beans, cereal, etc that anyone contributes. It’s like a
treasure hunt for them when they start finding the neat shapes. If
they don’t like what they find, they can melt it again.


Hi Noel,

Well, Jim, when you speak, I listen, but I'm a bit baffled. Water
casting in very common, and not= the least bit unruly. 

Yes it is common to pour molten metal into water. I was not trying
to say not to do it. But it is dangerous if you do not follow the
rules and that is the point I was trying to make. The person who’s
shop I was visiting when I witnessed the steam explosion had called
me a week or so earlier and asked if I had ever heard of shakudo
exploding and I thought he was kidding. The explosion I witnessed was
the third time he had tried to do the Japanese traditional hot water
ingot process and each time he had an explosion. It was only because
I was looking at the pour from a different angle that i could see
what happened. His problem was that he was too close to the water and
that made it possible for some of the water to splash into the
crucible. Now I have done this casting method many times and never
had a problem but I always held the crucible higher from the water
surface. It truly surprised the hell out of me because I had never
had that kind of experience when pouring metal into water in 30 years
of doing it.

It is imperative to be aware of keeping the metal from hitting a
tiny amount of water or ice or conversely having a small amount of
water get into the molten metal. If there is enough water relative to
the metal when pouring then there is no problem but with a small
quantity the water will convert to steam and it will likely explode
and throw molten metal around.


James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Decided to use my 4 qt copper bottom steel cooking pan filled with
water...[snip] it landed in the bottom one glob 

I like to use a huge steel bowl I have, probably 10-12" deep. I also
find that it works best to move across the surface as I pour, to
avoid globs. The student who gets the best shapes pours in little
drops,heating constantly, rather than in a continuous stream. I find
it very difficult to pour a tiny amount, stop, do it again, as she
does, but it works great for her (it’s all in the wrist).


I do have a lot of the "corn flake" pieces and wonder what I will
do with them...drill holes in the edge and hang from a chain with
jump rings!!!! 

Sounds like the shape would be lovely mixed in a strand with keishi

Robyn Hawk

Back to the “castings” of any of the mentioned and even unmentioned
materials used.

This is where your imagination must enter into the equation. Just as
seeing shapes in the clouds can be very subjective, what you see in
these shapes can be as well. Don’t simply look at a blob, look at a
potential portion of fabrication. Don’t look at the obvious, look
beyond that to other potential uses.

Look at Beth Rosengard’s fantastic pieces from Broom Stick castings.
She looks through and over many castings and allows the various
shapes to direct her. It is very subjective, and you cannot "learn"
this, you must develop it.

I can tell you just what I do, will that lead you, maybe. Why not
try to get there via your own path.

I fuse, melt, pound, incorporate, for starters. I have stashes of
pieces put aside for later perusal. When I finally decide a piece
has no potential, I remelt and start again.

One thing very important, as mentioned by a few, depth of the water,
and height of the arm, quick wrist flips, and always keeping the
flame onth metal right through the pour. I always pour through the

I have had several private messages since I first posted. Have not
been able to keep up with all, just prod me, you have my permission.

Dare to imagine and try, only that will separate you from the


Hey Robyn…just gave more of an idea using the "corn flake"
castings with pearls!!! YEAH

Rose Marie Christison

Mine might be a slightly different perspective and opinion on this
topic but I can’t resist chiming in for whatever its worth.

I wonder if all the organic-casting jewelry specimens from
antiquity, dating back all those thousands of years, were just melted
down as the need arose for more metal to be repurposed into sheet and
wire from which to fabricate the exquisite jewelry that still exists
in museums and collections world wide.

Where are all the examples of this style of jewelry and the evidence
of the lasting contribution they have made to the art and design
characteristics of metalsmithing throughout the ages? Perhaps they
are out there in a book or collection somewhere that I’m not
familiar with. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t visited that many
museums and am not well traveled, and have not read so many books, or
examined many collections, so please forgive me if my lack of
awareness has caused me to somehow miss these significant historical
objects and important lasting works of precious metal artistry.

I do understand that some folks want to pour metal onto something, or
into something, and assemble something from the resulting organic
shapes that are formed by the action of gravity. But, again just
with hammer and saw and file and learn to make well crafted jewelry
by the skillful application of tool on metal?

Pouring metal in this fashion doesn’t take skill, just decent aim
and a bit of practice, often accompanied by the lack of adequate
respect for the potential hazard of molten metal assisted by gravity.
Sounds like it is being done in a lot of situations where shear luck
is the only safety measure involved.

So melt the metal, pour it into an ingot, forge it out, fashion it
into something with intention. Develop fluency with the material and
learn to fabricate it with tools to create beautiful lasting jewelry.
Some of which might even make it into a museum or book or collection
some day.

I suspect the organic random-poured shapes made into jewelry will
again be the first to go into the crucible and be melted down when
more metal is needed for skilled work to continue to be made.

Michael David Sturlin

Hi Rikki!

ok, this really interested me, because I’m primarily a metalworker,
with a fascination with glass. I do a lot of work with frit (well,
smashed cane ends) and silver and would be very happy to discuss it
with another interested experimenter; I don’t know anyone else who
does it. I’m aware of the fact there is probably a reason for that

these are fairly typical examples of the work I do with sterling and

it is a relatively limited technique as in order to give the glass
stability it needs to be enclosed except on one face, but this makes
it remarkably strong; I like being able to make rings from glass,
with all the design flexibility that allows, that are this strong
and durable.

it’s an ongoing experimental learning process for me…


I happened upon this blog. The entry dated Dec 30, 2008 is about her
success (and failure) with snow casting. Complete with pictures of


Here are some cornflake bits I did years ago when I was
experimenting… Earrings are 18ct, pendant 9ct. Interesting thought
about the pearls. I love pearls.

Regards, Ruth.

I’d like to add my thoughts on the whole organic or free-form
casting thing. Michael suggested that these sort of organic free form
castings don’t survive in museums because they are the first to go
when it’s time to melt stuff down. I would respectfully disagree, and
suggest that before the broad acceptance of “abstract” in various
forms of western art, there was no respect or appreciation for such
styles. Let’s remember that only a single piece of attributed jewelry
work survives from the great(est?) Renaissance goldsmith Benvenuto
Cellini. When the hard times came, no one thought twice about melting
down his stuff, and it was probably pretty fine.

As for Michael’s suggestion that one interested in this sort of
direction might be better served by cultivating their classical
fabrication skills, I would like to share my own, rather opposite
trajectory: after years of working on my fabricating skills, wanting
everything perfect, high polish, tiny stones in handmade settings,
etc., I finally feel ‘free’ to make rough, irregular, and weird
looking stuff. I felt like I had to prove myself as a capable jeweler
by doing more classical work before I allowed myself to make free-er
more experimental stuff. I still worry sometimes that when someone
sees my fused work that they will snicker to themselves and think
"that’s great, now learn to solder." Whatever! I’m having a great
time freeing myself from the constraints of designed pieces and
working with the metal more spontaneously. And as other recent
threads point out, the perception of value in the eye of the end
consumer (be they visual consumers seeing our work or economic
consumers buying it) is often based on a different set of factors
than those seen by we who make jewelry. A perfectly fabricated
setting for a unique shaped stone (which I usually think of as my
best, most impressive work) is so often dismissed by consumers as
boring and plain, while the melty stuff that I still sort of think of
as think as childish to make garners the “wows” and “how
interestings!” Just my thoughts.

Even though I’m pretty scarce in these parts, I love orchid! Thanks


I do understand that some folks want to pour metal onto something,
or into something, and assemble something from the resulting
organic shapes that are formed by the action of gravity. But, again
just from my perspective, why not spend the same amount of time and
energy with hammer and saw and file and learn to make well crafted
jewelry by the skillful application of tool on metal?

Not so very long ago when I first took a few classes in making metal
jewelry, my teacher told me that her casting classes were for the
more advanced students who already had a good understanding of
working metal using “basic tools and equipment.” I am still working
metal using basic tools and equipment - - and loving every chance I
have to use them. (though I have not yet learned how to melt and
make my own ingots) Perhaps one day I will learn how to be a real
"goldsmith." Thank you Michael!

If a person wants to utilize organically inspired shapes in a
jewelry design, why not select a material which is pliable and supple
enough to model into the desired shape?

Wax, clay, plastic, rubber, paper, fabric, any number of materials
would be well suited to directly sculpting and forming the organic
shape models and then casting them into metal components. A few
models could be sculpted and then molded, and an endless supply of
original organic looking yet skillfully fashioned creative elements
could be reliably reproduced at will.

Since this is essentially within the realm of sculpture, metal clay
would be an excellent choice of material to use in this way. Soft,
supple, pliable, easily workable with fingers and tools, using the
material’s attribute of plasticity seems perfectly suited to this
kind of sculptural application. An extra unique advantage to doing
this type of project with metal clay is the ability to circumvent
the casting process entirely. Firing and sintering the sculpted clay
models is all it takes to transform them into metal.

It seems to me it would be much more aesthetically satisfying to the
maker to actually conceive the shapes and visualize the kinds of
variations desired, and then physically make them by hand. Sculpting
the models, directly manipulating the material in a skilled,
intentional, controlled, purposeful fashion, rather than just
pouring molten metal onto or into something to see what turns out.

If all one needs is a handful of random organic shapes to stick
together and call it jewelry, why not just sprue up a batch of corn
flakes or pasta? But, how much imagination and skill does that really
take? Nothing very original there, certainly nothing anyone else with
a box of cereal or a package of noodles can’t rival.

Michael David Sturlin

The whole point about doing ice casting, I believe, is to enjoy the
spontaneity of it… maybe to break from all the planning, tools,
etc. and just have some interesting fun and unexpected results.
Freedom from the usual.

Lisa Van Herik

I have to disagree, David. There are many times where a
spontaneously generated metal element can serve as a core or point of
departure around and upon which more purposeful and technically
demanding elements are built.

Utilizing an ice casting, in this example, can give you a shape,
surface and immediacy that fabrication or precision casting cannot.
These shapes can serve as a foil for more directed processes.

There was a while when I was cracking and crumbling hot metal–
gold, silver, etc.–and then selecting and using these elements. I
tried to create something similar with a saw: close but no cigar.

If all one needs is a handful of random organic shapes to stick
together and call it jewelry, why not just sprue up a batch of
corn flakes or pasta? But, how much imagination and skill does that
really take? 

I would agree that we have all had our fill of bean castings and wax
drippings cast, tumbled and set with pearls. But I’ll bet a well
cast corn flake or rotinni can make a beautiful and and compelling
piece when approached thoughtfully. In my opinion, it’s really in the
editing and application.

Take care, Andy

If all one needs is a handful of random organic shapes to stick
together and call it jewelry, why not just sprue up a batch of
corn flakes or pasta? But, how much imagination and skill does that
really take? 

Michael has a CAUSE ;}

Jo-Ann read some of the postings about ice-casting, and she said,
“Oh, I might try that with some of my students…” Jo-Ann’s
students are adult-ed, they spend $40 per session to get to play
around with jewelry, and they get all proud when they accomplish
something. It needs to be said that those sorts of people don’t care
about all of what Michael stresses - they are there to play, and
that’s what they want to do. Good for them.

On the other hand, there are those who went to school or some
apprenticeship expecting to make something of themselves in jewelry,
which is the people Michael is talking to. For those I would echo
what he says. A great many people on Orchid are already beginners,
even if they don’t realize it - thinking that you can somehow
"trick" the buying public with unskilled work is a grave mistake. As
I said on another thread, your competition isn’t Asian imports, your
competition is ME - and many, many others - Michael.

Yes, you can try to get by with unskilled work in non-precious
materials, but you don’t get to do that and then complain about how
nobody’s buying it or you’re not making enough money to live or
you’re a really far out jeweler but you have to teach to pay your
bills. There are millions of semiskilled jewelry workers - there are
a great many highly skilled jewelry workers, and there are more
James Millers in the world than you might think. Don’t confuse
ability with style. If you want to join those ranks, you’re going to
have to get to work. Today…

Faberge was a man - a living, breathing human being. He likely got
his long pants at 16 and hated brocolli. Same with Cellini, Cartier,
Van Cleef and Boucheron - they were just exactly like you and me
(for their times) once upon a time…

I’ll agree with Michael wholeheartedly for those who have ambitions -
don’t waste your time, the clock never stops.

If all one needs is a handful of random organic shapes to stick
together and call it jewelry, why not just sprue up a batch of corn
flakes or pasta? But, how much imagination and skill does that
really take? 

Andy, I’m glad you chimed in on this. I agree with you 100%

If Jackson Pollack can strew paint on a canvas and call it art, I
think it would be OK for anyone to call random organic shapes
jewelry, if they choose to do so… It’s all about how you compose and
interpret the randomness. I have quoted this adage before, but beauty
is truly in the eye of the beholder.

It takes a great deal of talent for an artist to take a random form
and give expression and meaning to it’s context. It requires a
totally different mindset to create or appreciate art in random
forms. Art of any kind does not need to be traditional, it is
perfectly acceptable to step away from the box.

Linda Lankford

As a - fairly apologetic - semi-skilled metalworker, I’m going to
disagree. I don’t see a difference between an organically cast piece,
a particularly eccentric piece of casting grain, a found object, and
a gemstone. They are all components, and it’s how you work that
component into your piece that makes the difference. You could drill
it and string it and sell it for a few dollars, or you could do
something really exciting, skilled and time-consuming with it, and it
would become high-end jewellery.

I could make precisely the same argument for a drilled ruby
briolette that you have made, and it would be equally parallel to the

this wasn’t supposed to sound quite as argumentative as it does!


I hadn’t read this thread til now so forgive me if I step on toes

Drop casting can be fun. But its primarily accidental. Sure, a good
eye is needed to spot winners and do something with them but the
jeweler didn’t plan anything to get the shape.

Personally, I think there’s more money in a well thought out and
well executed DESIGN, which kinda suggests preplanning amid a set of
parameters and/or constraints.

Here’s a blob I fumbled my way thru…$49 Here’s something you’re
going to scrutinize and treasure for decades $4900 please.

Which can you build a reputation and a living on?

Maybe I sound elitist or something, I don’t mean to, but do we
strive to be masters at a skilled craft or servants to happenstance?
Go ahead, have fun with drop casting, no bones from me. I am
occasionally called on for some, its still fun. But you won’t make a
living at it.

As far as safety goes, just use common sense. Don’t drop a molten
ounce into a dixie cup.