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Learning Lost Wax Casting

Hi everyone. I’ve become really interested in learning how to do lost wax carving. Mainly just the carving/modelling side. I plan on sending away what I have carved to a casting company). I’ve got a bunch of tools and have watched some Youtube videos and plan on getting some books as well. I have bench experience of mental work/smithing. So I know how to handle files, burrs, etc. My question is, in order to learn this skill is it necessary to attend a course and learn in person, or is what I plan to do going to be enough? Is it a complicated craft? Or is it ok just to get stuck in there and learn as I carve!

Grace

Hi Grace. I am 99% self-taught with wax, and doing pretty well! I imagine it just depends on the person, but I took to carving pretty naturally. I did attend one workshop but didn’t really find it that helpful, other than building the confidence that you just have to do it to learn!

One benefit to classes though is learning which tools you will really use. Everyone I know who carves uses completely different tools. For instance, I bought an expensive wax pen machine early on, and now I barely ever even plug it in. However I use my cheap little Max Wax pen constantly. I also have a nice Kate Wolf set of tools, but I barely use those either since I don’t do much with a lathe… I use a single dental tool, an x-acto blade and a linoleum block carver for most work. I guess what I’m saying is, there can be a lot of trial and error and money down the drain to discover what works best for you!

I also think it depends what you want to carve. If you want to carve traditional, perfect mounts and settings, a class may be really helpful. My carvings are primarily animals, so I’m not sure that a regular teacher would be able to give me that many tips. I think I use my illustration background a lot more for this sort of work, and when I’m curious about a new product or tool, I tend to look for a Youtube video or blogpost about it.

Hope that helps!
Jenny

Hi Grace,
I wouldn’t consider myself a carver, but it’s one of those things I’ve researched a lot and it is on my list of things to do…so I’m in a similar place to you on it…I agree with Jenny that it depends on the person whether you just jump in or feel a need for hands-on training. I will say that there are lots of books on this subject, so you could consult a good local library or even use interlibrary loan to get the pricier and rarer texts. Since it is easy and cheap to get a few tools and a few tubes and sheets of wax, I would say why not try it out and see what you get. Carving a wax is a sort of what-you-see-is-what-you-get process, so after a few hours work you will know whether the model stands up to your standards or whether you just can’t produce what you envision without hands-on training.

One comment: I would also think in terms of using wax buildup and wax melting and even water soluble waxes (such as to put wax “cabs” somewhere to build bezels and then dissolve the cabs out) along with strictly knives-and-burrs carving. Maybe that goes without saying…then if you had to see your work in metal, a trial casting of a small pendant or ring in silver wouldn’t cost you that much…I think my local guy is at about $6-$7/gm in sterling…IDK what you planned on spending on tools and wax, but I think I could do a project from start to finish for well under $100 with an Xacto knife and a few other homemade tools…HTH, royjohn

Self taught in wax carving … my favorite
tool is an old from my ceramics days, a clay cutoff needle that
I bent the tip on to my liking about 50 years ago. Maybe a 64th
of an inch. Burned with a good oxide coating seems best. holds
and controls wax better that way. It has carved every type of
wax out there, transfers hot wax to and from the work too. Its
much shorter than it started out but oh so comfortable in my old
hands. Should have shortened the handle 45 years ago. Hah. That
said, the needle is my favorite tool for detail work. And yes I
have the xactos, dentals and a collection of modified tools in
metal glass, agate and ivory which are all favorites too. Other
than a dental tool or two, seems the homemade tools are often
the most used and useful. Johnny

Grace, I took a class - something like once a week for 10 weeks and 3 hours per session. It was invaluable. I was exposed to all the common tools for working with wax, the burnout and casting process, and making a rubber mold from my casting so I could make replicas of the object. It was a great way to start.

Hi, could I ask where you to took the wax carving class? Thanks!

Sure, and apologies for the slow response. It was Creative Metalworks School of Design in Kensington, MD. However, Michael Schwartz (owner and my instructor) is now only available by appointment. You can find more details at creativemetalworks.com.

Thanks so much tto everyone for the incredibly helpful responses! I can’t thank you enough :slightly_smiling_face:

I gave it a go on my own and am really pleased with my first organic attempt at a ring. It was so much fun and very meditative. I had bought a cheap set of carving tools and just tried them all as I went along to test their effects and already have a few favourites.
I’ve decided to keep going with just my book and if after a few months there’s something I really want to do but can’t figure out, I’ll attend a class.

Thanks for the tool advice. I had seen and envied those expensive Katie Wolf tools and will be staying away for now till I know what I’m doing! Lol. I’m definitely going to try a portable wax pen as it seems rather crucial (and thankfully cheap).

Grace

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Grace,

For what it is worth, the shank bottom looks a little thin for a
new wax carving. Keep in mind that clean-up will make all areas slightly thinner,
and if it starts light to start, the end result may be less than what was
intended. I usually allow up to 15% additional metal in all areas, just to be
safe.

Jon Michael Fuja

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Hello John Michael,
Understand your cautions about the shank on Grace’s pictured ring…to save the labor in this model, wouldn’t it be possible to dip this into or paint it with a lower melting point wax and then smooth and shave the transition junction with a fine file or nylon stocking or even some wax solvent until it was heavy enough in the areas that are now too light? -royjohn

Dear R. Kersey(?),

Yes, certainly possible to build up shank, however I was making
the suggestion so that the issue was considered whenever carving a wax. This
design probably took a “newbie” a considerable amount of time, but with
experience comes speed and would likely take an experienced carver maybe 30
minutes or so to produce.

I keep a tray of wax patterns on my wax bench so I can cut off
and install a heavier shank if needed. Two minutes with a wax pen and all is
complete.

JMF

Ganoksin Orchid [mailto:orchid@ganoksin.com]

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1 Like

Thank you for your replies.

I am a little confused about the thin-ness of the shank :

  1. If I were to smooth the shank by rubbing it with some lighter fuel or similar smoothing agent, would it not minimise clean up post production?

  2. Should one avoid carving thin parts with wax? If so how are intrinsically thin parts like claw settings for example produced/cast?

Grace,

When I commented on the shank thickness, I was looking at the photo,
which can be misleading. I will usually carve a shank thickness at no less
than 1.2 millimeters in thickness, which will finish down to over 1.0mm. Every
carving must start oversized as compared to the desired finish dimension, something
a carver must always be aware of.

Any designer must make their jewelry functional before beauty is
considered. A new ring that wears out in five years will become a bitter disappointment
to your customer, no matter how attractive it appears to them.

Jon Michael Fuja

Orchid [mailto:orchid@ganoksin.com]

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