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How It's Made: Lost Wax Casting

Lost wax casting goes deep into human history—6500 years ago.  I think that’s why everyone who tries it says it’s meditative—it’s an art form innate to our being. 


Most of my pieces for J Fields Jewelry are made through the casting process and I am also a casting instructor in San Francisco.  I feel very lucky to be able to do my own casting since most jewelers don’t have the access to the equipment or the training to do it.  I also have gotten help from local casters in San Francisco and still do if there’s a big or complicated project I need done.  Casting my work from start to finish can be a 3 or more day process so it’s a long journey that adds love and value to the piece. 


Here’s what I do: 


1. Sketch Out My Ideas

The first step is to sketch out the concept.  I always draw out my ideas as they come to me.  I have a go to journal for this, but I also have a drawing app in my phone in case my journal isn’t around.  You may think you’ll remember your idea but inspiration can be very fleeting. 


2. Carve the Piece from Wax

Carving away at a block of wax or building wax up with precision tools, you can sculpt intricate details.  My favorite tools are the Kate Wolf Tools and an electric wax pen.

Once you have made a piece you connect with you can make a mold of it to reproduce the design. I am obsessed with mold making right now and have a number of crates full of them in my garage--all cherished little bits of my artistic history of course!

3. Set Up Your Flask

After your piece is set up on a sprue, a wax rod that holds your piece in place, you encase it in a plaster flask. Then the tiny carving is ready to for it's transformative journey. This step ensures that the molten metal finds its destined shape.  You can capture even the tiniest detail in the plaster.

You can build a wax tree if you have lots of pieces to cast at once. Whew, have I made some crazy trees in my day (with varying rates of success).

4. Burn Out the Flask in a Kiln

You will need 7 hours in the kiln to burn the wax out of your mold to make space for metal pouring—I will often wake up at 5 am to get my work in the kiln to cast the same day. 


5. Melt Your Metal

Silver, bronze, and gold are melted in the crucible which has been cranked in a centrifugal casting machine (another option is vacuum casting).  Once let go, the spinning motion and centrifugal force of the machine fling metal into every crevice of the mold. You will feel and look very badass every time.


6. Clean Up and Stone Setting

Now the fun begins!  Sawing the piece off of the sprue, filing, sanding, polishing and stone setting are the next steps. Not for the faint of heart, but a good chunk of time for diving into podcasts.



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