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Wax Carving - casting for carving


#1

Hello Orchid,

Sculptor here- working on some jewelry but not experienced with
professional practices in wax carving…

I have been trying out wax carving and I really like the jeweler’s
green wax. I have forms taken from nature or that I have sculpted in
clay that I would like to mold and cast into green wax for finishing
or creating a final piece. The green wax is great for subtractive
carving but it seems to bubble and change its properties when I have
used it with a wax pen to make additions to a carving. So my
questions are (keeping in mind that I am looking to preserve the
hardness and detail capabilities of green jeweler’s wax):

If anyone works with mold making and casting to create a semi
finished piece in wax- in order to carve, what kind of wax is good
for melting and casting into a silicone mold? Does the green wax work
for that, or do you get a bubbly porous mess?

When working on a green wax carving and you want to build up do you
use the green wax with a hot wax pen or do you tend to use a
different type of wax?

Last note- I do not have the means to invest in any expensive
equipment so although I am interested in “best practices” for
jeweler’s wax work, can you suggest simple techniques that don’t
involve equipment purchase as well?

Thanks for any advice!
Catherine


#2

The color, hardness and texture of carving wax changes whenever it’s
melted, for instance when you use your wax pen to build it up. The
higher the temp, the more the change. Try using as low a temperature
as possible with your wax pen and keep it melted for as short a time
as possible. Don’t let it smoke and if it turns at all brown, it’s
getting way too hot and burning.

That property is one of the reasons why carving wax doesn’t work at
all well as an injection wax. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a wax
that is good at both. Not that I’ve ever found anyway.

If you are doing highly detailed waxes and you like green carving
wax, try Margie Merski’s Deep Detail Carving Wax but it’s a lighter,
more olive green that’s easy on the eyes. I found that it is a bit
harder than regular green wax so it can take a little more time to do
the same thing as it would in green wax (the harder the wax, the more
passes with a tool it takes to remove the required wax), but it
really lets you create some very fine detail. Sharp corners and crisp
relief are easy to do and it retains detail well as it is being
handled. It also seems to be a bit more friendly to building up with
a wax pen. Because of its hardness, It’s a tad on the brittle side
especially in thin cross sections, so don’t drop it on a hard floor
in a cool shop.

The tools I use for carving are very simple. For roughing in, I use
a “Vulcanite” wax file (a cheap, coarse, half-round file from your
local big box store can be nearly as effective) and a Matt reamer. I
also use a piece of open weave sandpaper (looks kind of like fine
window screen coated with abrasive) that my mother-in-law used to use
for ceramics. I lay it flat on a table and use it to remove the saw
kerf and to flatten and square up a wax after cutting it off of a
tube or other. Sorry, I don’t know what the name of it is but I
believe it’s made by 3M. 80 grit sandpaper works almost as well, but
it gets loaded up pretty quickly. Other must-have tools are a six
inch flexible steel ruler, a small machinist’s square and a pair of
dividers with sharp points. Starrett makes the best quality of these
tools, but they’re a little pricey. A high quality caliper also comes
in quite handy, not only for measuring but for ensuring square and
parallel surfaces.

For finer detail I use a few different needle files (mostly #2),
various gravers, a mold knife with a #11 blade (that I sometimes
grind the back off of), and a short piece of broken sawblade chucked
up in an Exacto knife handle extending about half an inch (12mm) from
the collet that I use in confined areas for doing such things as
carving small, square holes or tweaking the narrow ends of the slots
on an airline style shank. For drilling holes and cutting seats, use
flexshaft burs and drill bits by twisting them with your finger tips,
or you can chuck them up in a swivel tool handle for a little more
control.

The only other tool I use that I almost couldn’t live without is a
Kerr Mastertouch wax pen. This unit has been discontinued
unfortunately, and the tips are not available anymore either. The new
Kerr wax pen is pretty good although a bit pricey. The trick with any
wax pen as I said before is to use as low a heat setting as possible
(I use the foot pedal to cycle it on and off as needed to keep it
just hot enough for the step at hand) and to keep it molten for as
short a time as possible. Another basic trick is to avoid forming
bubbles as you build it up. They are generally formed by using too
much heat and/or moving the tip around too much in the molten wax.
It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it; it would take more time
for me to explain than for you to figure out. Just don’t move the tip
around very much (don’t stir as you melt) and be watchful that you
don’t introduce air into it by plunging the hot tip into the wax or
getting in a hurry, is really all there is to it.

Use the same wax to build up as you are carving. I use a chunk that
was cut off of the piece I’m carving whenever possible. Don’t try to
use the dust from filing or sanding. That is guaranteed to create
bubbles. You can use any wax, but the problem is that the hardness
and texture difference will make you crazy. Does me anyway.

Just because it’s a common question, I prefer Ferris brand of waxes
to Matt. Margie’s wax is made by Ferris for what it’s worth. Ferris
just seems to have better quality control. Matt wax often has little
bubbles that appear right where they are going to be the most trouble
and it sometimes has tiny chunks of burned wax and other junk
imbedded. The texture of Matt wax is also not always the same from
piece to piece.

I have a step-by-step demo of carving a split shank ring wax on my
website johndavidjewelers.com under the “Blogs” tab. My IT guy wrote
the text (and I’ve never taken the time to re-write it), so it’s not
all that accurate, but you can see most of the tools I spoke of in
action.

Hope this is helpful ~
Dave


#3

Hi Catherine,

I’m not familiar with your green wax. I think it is likely that
different wax manufacturers don’t all use the same colors for their
various waxes so we can’t be sure what properties a wax has by
knowing only its color.

I do something similar to what you describe but I use a variety of
different waxes. The type of wax I use will depend on the nature of
the model and the type of work I will be doing to it. Generally the
softer waxes are best for items that will need a lot of changes.
Injection waxes tend to be tough and flexible so are good for
delicate models. There are many different kinds and their re-working
qualities vary from not at all to rather good. Hard waxes which can
be filed are good for models requiring a precision surface and that
are not too delicate.

So it is mostly the nature of the model being worked on that
determines the best wax to use.

It is possible to inject wax using a hypodermic syringe (without the
needle). It is a trick to keep the syringe hot enough for the wax
without melting it but it can be done. I do this when I want to shoot
one or two waxes and don’t want to fire up the wax pot or change the
type of wax in it.

Best Wishes, Debbie Engle


#4

The challenges of a perfect wax are many.

Personally I do alot of (mini) sculptural pieces that I cast
directly, and then make vulcanized silicon molds. I prefer to build
up an original piece from pink pellet injection wax. Its a very
friendly carvable wax with dental and small tools. I use a reostat
(adjustable) “girly” wood carving tool from Michael’s (craftsupply).
It has exacto knife tips that are just dandy to work with. I now
have two at my bench - depending on if I am using another temp wax.
I can do a controlled add onto a piece, of effectively carve away in
combo withhandy little tools.

One set of tools I value greatly are ceramics tools that have
various sized stainless balls. The smallest one is about 1.25 mm
dia.

They allow clean indentation of design elements, or removal of
material where a sharp implement doesn’t work.

I have a battery powered wax pen that I don’t use because the
batteries don’t last when you are sculpting for any length of time.

With the wax I inject - it needs to be around 140f, the consistency
of a pudding almost.

The temperatute controler on my Arbe injector is not quite right, so
I bought a goodcandy thermometer. Now I know the look of the wax
without checking it. If it gets overheated and very runny, it can
actually boil and get bubbles in it. That it something you don’t
want to do.

The pink wax is pretty durable so at the end or during the carving
with the wax orphan fragments sort of want to stick arpund I use an
artist oil painting brustle brush - slightly rounded, about .5" long.
I use straight dish soap on the piece. I can gently hold it and
scrub rather vigorously. The I blast itwith water full speed ’ cold
from the tap. Blow off the excess water. Very clean results.

Mostly I carve pieces that have faces, hands or are animals. Lots of
details & relief. I love that pink wax. I used to get flat shards -
now I can only find the pellets.

Depending on the design - planning sprues for great flow and easy
removal is anart in itself. I have tossed a mold or two that made
spru removal unneccessarily difficult.

Carve beautifully and have a great time!! Eileen


#5

If you are looking at melting down wax to put in a silicone mold, I
would suggest the type of wax used in a wax injector. I’ve also seen
the soft brown wax used with a hardener in it. I’ve tried melting
down the blue carving wax but it also tends to bubble like the green.


#6

The hard green carving wax is not injectable into a mold. There are,
however, injectable waxes which are carvable after injection. Try
looking at Rio Grande. I am sorry to tell you that they do not carve
as crisply as the hard green, though.


#7
The green wax is great for subtractive carving but it seems to
bubble and change its properties when I have used it with a wax pen
to make additions to a carving. So my questions are (keeping in
mind that I am looking to preserve the hardness and detail
capabilities of green jeweler's wax): 

I assume you’re talking about the hard, plasticized carving waxes
such as “file-a-wax” that are intended for machining or working with
burs and files, etc.

One of the things about these waxes (there are a number of forms.
The green is the hardest/stiffest. You might also try the purple
medium hard, or the blue, which is softest) is that they are slow to
crystalize. When you initially melt them with a wax pen, or melted
and poured into a mold, they will be softer, almost a bit gummy and
weak. Seams will break, and they won’t carve as well, despite being
solidified. You CAN work them right away, if you adjust for this
change, but you can also fix it by letting it stand. The next day,
you’ll find it’s finished solidifying and crystalizing enough so it’s
mostly back to it’s original feel and workability. Sometimes, just a
few hours is enough.

I’ve used the purple grade of wax quite a bit with several types of
molds. These waxes don’t inject especially well into detailed molds
because they tend to not fill details too well, and then have
noticable shrinkage. But I use molds made to produce ring blanks.
They were once sold by GIA, and an open top pressure injector fills
these molds, which are made of acrylic with aluminum cores, quite
well. The initial injections are a bit soft, but by next day or
more, they might as well have been sawed out of the original block.
Whether you get bubbles depends a lot on whether you’re overheating
the wax. Try not to get it any hotter than needed to melt it. The
occasional bubble doesn’t matter so long as it’s imbedded within the
model. If it comes to the surface, a wax pen fixes them.

The other side of this answer is that these waxes were really
intended for subtractive methods like machining or filing/carving,
not working with hot tools.

You can, as you found, use both methods, but these waxes are not
ideal for that.

But the waxes intended for hot tool use have their own drawbacks,
such as generally being a lot more fragile or gummy, etc.

Hope that helps
Peter Rowe


#8

I have to endorse hall of the feedback that has been provided by
others so far however there is a few more suggestions that I could
add. When I am working with rubber moulds I use injection wax in my
wax injector which I set to 75C. My machine has excellent temperature
control so I experience few problems with injected waxes. However
much of my work is based on flowing organic forms so my approach is
somewhat different. Foe this I use soft waxes such as green sheet
wax, sprue waxes and Ferris MoldAWax. which I can bend and shape by
hand.

My most essential tools for this purpose are a scalpel with a #11
blade, various probes and screwdrivers I use for texturing, a set of
wax burrs on my flex shaft machine (these are also excellent on hard
waxes), and a Pepe Touch a Matic wax pen. I also use a
thermostatically controlled hot air blower that has controllable flow
and temperature range adjustable from 100C to 300C that I use for
softening and smoothing the wax. This device is normally used by
techncians for melting solder, softening plastics and shrinking
shrink on tubing over electrical connections. Mine is a Chinese
machine that i bought for under $100 on E-bay.

I also used to use one of the battery operated wax pens that is
still in take out tool box but it does chew through the batteries. I
thought at one stage of connecting it to a plug pack power supply but
1.5 volt plug packs of sufficient capacity are hard to find. I gave
up on the idea when I bought the wax pen I now use.

The big problem with working with the soft waxes is that they get
tricky to work if the room temperature is much over 24C. Fortunately
my work space has air conditioning available when needed. I find it
much easier to build up with the soft waxes than with the hard ones.
However I have never tried injecting them except for extrusions. I
have a syringe like clay extruder that I use for this that use for
purposes such as making half round ring shanks.

Finally it is worth mentioning that I have found an orange oil based
grease removal product useful for giving a final polish to my waxes.
It is important to wash it off when finished

In the end what matters is finding the techniques that are
consistent with what you want to express in your work.

All the best
Jennifer Gow