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Wax carving details in wax

I am new to wax carving, teaching myself through books and videos. I
hope to take a class but logistics are difficult.

I am carving designs into simple pendants, in an organic/distressed
sort of style, starting out simple, using blue Ferris wax. I am
sending them out to be cast in sterling silver, and I plan to
oxidize and tumble them myself. I sent the first two out, and the
caster returned metal models with the carving redone, with the
following explanation: “The lines that were put in and also the
engraving was not deep enough to make the model casting. We cast the
wax as you had sent it, and after noticed the detail in the piece
was not there. Our model maker tried to put the detail back after
the piece was cast.” The redone carving was slightly different than
what I had done, and not to my liking.

I am fairly confused, as I thought that one of the benefits of wax
carving was the intricate details that could be carried over to the
cast piece. The pendants I am doing are flat, with a picture, sort
of a sketch, on the front. I want some of the lines thicker, some
thinner, as you would in a drawing. My models had the lines carved
with some depth, they weren’t simply a light line drawn on the top.
They also had some intentional pits, marks and uneven areas, which
were all smoothed over in the metal model that was returned. I am
not looking for a smooth refined finish, but one with the details of
the picture and the distress marks, which will be highlighted by the
oxidation. I had advised the caster that the pit marks were

Would/could someone share their thoughts on if I’m missing something
about the casting process, my expectations are not realistic, my
technique needs adjusting, or if I need to change my approach with
the caster? Thanks in advance.

Hi Mary,

The investment can retain details as subtle as an accidental
fingerprint in the surface of the wax. At least on a good (bad) day.
It sounds like you have a miscommunication with your caster. You’re
talking about the caster returning a “master”…

What, exactly, are you intending to do here? Production? or a one-
off piece?

The reason this matters:

Yes, investment casting can get every little detail of the wax. Once.
On the original wax.

If you’re trying to make a master that will then be molded and
injected for a production line, that’s a whole 'nother ball of wax.
(pardon the pun.)

If you’re trying for a production piece, you need to take into
account not only the first casting, but also the molding of the
primary metal master, and injecting the mold to make production
waxes. There’s loss of detail & resolution (and shrinkage) with each
of those stages. So you need to make the details deeper if you’re
planning on production. (along with other tweaks to make them work

From what you said, it sounds like your caster thinks this is the
primary cast for a production run, and is trying to help you by
making the details deep enough to work well when cast as production

If you’re just casting one-offs, tell him to just cast them. Clean
the investment, cut the sprues, and bag it up. (That gives you total
control of all polishing operations.)

If you are trying to do a production line, buy him lunch, and pick
his brains about the best way to make these things work the way you
want them to. Don’t be surprised to learn that what you want to do
may not be possible in a production situation, at least not without
recutting the design by hand every time. Or it may not be possible
to do it the way you’re currently trying, but that doesn’t mean there
isn’t another way to get it done, you just have to figure it out.

Talking to the guy who does this for a living will save you both
much time and frustration.


Probably what the caster should have done instead of redoing or
altering your wax was to send back you casted piece in a raw casted
form and let YOU do the finishing down of the piece. That way any
detail YOU feel is missing can be altered by YOU, the designer. That
is a HUGE liberty taken by the caster and NEVER should just be done
without your expressed permission! You may want to look into another
caster, Like me! LOL! Good luck and if you want, feel free to
contact me.

Thanks, Steve Cowan
arista designs llc

Get a new caster.

Also oxidize your work first and then tumble it. It makes for a
really durable finish.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

Disturbing for any master wax carver to hear this. Perhaps a firm
set of instructions for the caster to never alter the metal results
after casting and to ‘lightly tumble’ them only. A well done casting
can even pick up a fingerprint on your wax if it is 1. sprued well,
2. invested properly, 3. burned out completely, and then the flask
temperature and molten metal is set correctly. Many variables to take
into consideration, but there is no justification for tampering with
your designs if you did not request it. Usually they are more than
happy to do what every you need/want. Ask and you shall receive!

Margie Mersky

Many variables to take into consideration, but there is no
justification for tampering with your designs if you did not
request it. Usually they are more than happy to do what every you
need/want. Ask and you shall receive! 

I second this I was thinking on it and was just flabergasted at them
touching the casting after to try and save your design. To me it
says they botched the job do not pay them for this and find someone
else!!! If they knew what they were doing they would have returned it
and said your sprueing was insufficient now if they were paid to
sprue it for you then definately no pay. I think their panic reaction
of carving in the lines is the telling point they knew somehow they
had failed return it and let them know you do not accept their
altering of your castings. If the design does not turn out then that
is one thing, but altering post cast is just not right. How vould
they possibly know what you intended your piece to look like?
Sprueing takes a long time to learn and even then mistakes are made,
but I would be hotter than an armadillo in a frying pan if a caster
did that to me! Puts another dollar into the tools fund. I am saving
for a casting system and vulcanizer. Casting via steam via potato is
ok but I want MORE lol

Teri north of the burgh wishing for warmer weather.

Hi Mary,

It sounds like they were trying to help. I wouldn’t just fire them
without a conversation. As Brian says, there are some things that
just won’t make it through the production process, but can make it
through the original casting with exceptional detail.

You may find that the heavier details will cast and mold fine, but
the finer details may be lost in the production process. In many
cases those finer details are easier to do and turn out better in the
metal anyway.

Talk to them and tell them what you are trying to do. A little
communication can go a long way towards making everyone happy. As I
said, I really think they were trying to help by doing some work
after the casting. Someone that is trying that hard to make you happy
shouldn’t be dismissed quite so quickly. Such folks can be hard to

It also sounds like engraving might be something you might want to
explore. The thickness of the lines can be done with exceptional
control by engraving in the metal, far more detail can be achieved
with a graver in metal than in wax, as counter-intuitive as that may

Dave Phelps

The alternative is to set yourself up to do your own castings with a
small kiln, a basic vacuum or centrifugal casting machine and a
melting torch or crucible furnace. If you are doing a lot of one off
works rather than production runs this will give you the control and
feedback linking your waxes and the final result. Of course this
rather depends on how central lost wax casting is to your work.
Since most of my work is done using lost wax casting I am much
happier to do the castings myself because then if things go wrong I
know who to blame and learn from the experience.

If you are working with someone else to do your castings then you
really need to establish to sort of relationship where they know what
you are trying to achieve and you are more familiar with the
capabilities of the technology they use.

It occurs to me that the problem with your casting might have been
that they invested using standard 40 parts water to 100 parts
investment. Usually when I am trying to cast something with fine
surface detail it is recommended that mixture is made up of 42 parts
water to 100 parts investment so that it is slightly more fluid. In
addition centrifugal casting seems to be somewhat better as
reproducing fine detail than vacuum casting. I use vacuum casting so
I have to compensate for its limitations. In addition gold, even
9ct, seems to be better than 925 silver in reproducing fine details
because it is somewhat more fluid when molten and denser so that it
flows better into the mould.

Perhaps if you familiarise yourself with the technology a little
more even if you don’t do your own casting would put you in a better
position to discuss your expectations with the person who does your

All the best

Thanks to all for the helpful responses. In particular, the different
considerations between one time and production casting has been very
eye opening. Being new to this, it didn’t occur to me, but it is very
logical that detail would be lost in a production line, like making
photocopies of photocopies. While I am still distressed that my
carving was redone instead of the original cast being returned to me
(it’s so personal no one can fully know what you intended in the
original design), I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt
in trying to help me and I’m going to work with them to try to get to
what I am intending. They have been very helpful otherwise, and I’ve
seen them recommended several times on this board recently. I hope
that the combination of better explanations from me on my intentions
and a modification of my technique and expectations will get me where
I want to go. I truly appreciate the sharing of knowledge here!


Many variables to take into consideration, but there is no
justification for tampering with your designs if you did not
request it. Usually they are more than happy to do what every you
need/want. Ask and you shall receive! 

A dead give away is a price large enough for them to purchase a lot
of life insurance. Their heirs will appreciate it if someone mucks
with a design of mine. I tend to do all of my own casting, Doesn’t
deplete the caster gene pool quite so fast.

Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

Re: carving details after casting in sterling. I found it very
difficult to deepen the carving lines after casting. The metal is
very hard, and even fine pointed diamond tips didn’t seem to help.
Any suggestions?



The real secret of wax carving is to get every bit of detail into the
wax model. I tell my students to “kill themselves” getting the most
accurate details in the wax model as they want to see in the finished
cast piece. The casting process is so accurate, it will faithfully
replicate all the details in the model, provided you have sprued
correctly and controlled the casting process. This will also save you
lots of clean up time on the cast piece. Spend the time on that wax
model, get the smooth surfaces perfect, and the details attended to.

Jay Whaley

Re: carving details after casting in sterling. I found it very
difficult to deepen the carving lines after casting. The metal is
very hard, and even fine pointed diamond tips didn't seem to help.
Any suggestions? 

Make them deeper in the wax before you cast.


I quite agree.

On a couple of small sculpture award projects I did long ago, I
roughed the piece in in soft wax (taking advantage of the ease in
shaping and restating the form and when I was satisfied with the
composition, I made sure I was extra generous in some areas that
needed more detail.) Then I made a quick mold off that. poured
carving wax and finished the pieces.


Engraving would probably work best. This takes a few hand tools and a
way to sharpen them, and some practice. If your design is a sort of
organic sketch and not a geometric, exacting pattern, it might not be
too hard for you to get good results.