Today was an exciting day, finally got to pour a sculpture for my in-law’s Xmas present. It was a long exhausting day, but the end was successful. The morning started slow, but promising. That was an illusion quickly demonstrated by the oven cart falling apart. It’s old and had done just one too many services. So the wax filled ceramic shells were burned out using the furnaces. And that in turn cause more problems, flames from burning wax, and lots of excitement. Slow, painful process, it meant the log for Bob did not get burned out or considered for pouring today. Oh well, that’s part of a long term project where I’ll do a number of small pieces and then pull them together into a large fountain. Probably a year’s project at my rate of work.
After we got the ceramic shells ready, it was time to metal bronze. It needs to be heated to about 2000 degrees. All seemed to be going well until at 1800 degrees the crucible cracked. The crucible is a large container that holds the metal, when it cracked, over 100 pounds of molten metal poured into the furnace. This is not good, if we didn’t get the metal out fast, the furnace could be ruined. Even if it wasn’t, the metal meant hours and hours of work to clean up and fix. And it’s hard physical labor. So the two main furnace guys, Brandon and Peter, began scooping out the metal with a ladle. I was on shovel duty; making sure any drops of metal on the concrete were scooped up within 30 seconds. If not, the concrete blisters and cracks. The two guys took turns scooping; it was hot and dangerous. 2 or 3 scoops was enough to cause extreme sweating.
After several rounds of scooping metal until it hardened, reheating and remelting the metal, and more scooping; we were ready to start over again. New crucible, more metal, reheating the shells, and more waiting. The third try in the day was good. My piece and several other pieces were successfully poured. One piece, a commission that Brandon wanted because it would pay rent money, failed. His shell cracked and over 30 pounds of bronze poured out the bottom. That is one of the risks of this artistic process, all sorts of things can cause failure. But I was lucky, my piece survived. Took it over to David and Mary still in the shell and hot. We’ll crack it open in a couple of days.
Got some good pictures of the whole process. Actually since I was on shovel duty, a friend of the one student we have at the academy took pictures. He got some good ones; I’ll share them below.
The first picture shows the oven where ceramic shells are stacked. You can see the white shells inside this oven. The cart moves along the tracks. It’s the tray on of the cart that fell apart today.
Here’s the furnace which we used for burning out the wax. The flames are caused by the melting wax. You can see my sculpture on the right hand side waiting for it’s turn to melt out wax.
Here’s the broken crucible. You can see metal pouring out the bottom.
And here’s Brandon scooping molten metal from the furnace using a ladle. The metal is poured into steel forms, creating bronze ingots for use in the future. The filled ingots are below.
And here I am with my shovel and Nick the apprentice ready to do whatever someone tells him to do.
A couple other prep scenes from the metal pour. Brandon is adding metal into the crucible. And Peter is getting a piece of metal ready for cleaning out the crucible.
Final scenes — successful pours. You can see my sculpture on the lower right corner of the first photo.
Overall it was a good day for me. I’m happy, tired, and very sore. Tired and sore because of the hard work. But happy because my in-laws are really pleased and intrigued by their sculpture. I’m not sure they understand how many hours of work is still left before it looks like a fantastic piece. It’s going to take another 20 hours to get all the shell off the metal, get it polished and sanded, and then getting a patina on it. But that’s ok, I’m pleased to do it.`