Jewellery making comes in two main forms:
This refers to the manipulation of sheet or wire into objects.
This is the process of making a mould of an object or wax.
Lost Wax Carving or casting is the process of creating pieces through the manipulation of wax into jewellery or objects, which is then turned into metal (Gold, Silver etc) which is called casting.
Your piece can be carved using pretty much anything although lots of specialty carving tools exist. I find the majority of my practice is with files, knives and carving tools.
This process is an easy one that is perfect for beginners because it requires very little cost and tools to get you started. Also the majority of the work is completed in your wax piece so you don’t require a great deal of metal skills.
How does your piece get from wax to silver?
The casting process is handled by a caster (a professional who can handle the hard bit for you - this process uses a great deal of machinery and skill and takes many years to get it right). A caster takes your wax piece and joins a small wax rod to it (called a sprue) and then the sprue is connected to a larger wax rod mimicking a tree shape.
The wax tree is then covered in a plaster-like material (called investment) than heated to melt the wax out. This creates a mould over the entire tree. Which can then be injected with a metal (gold, silver, platinum etc). Once the metal cools and the investment is removed then the final pieces are cut off the tree to be returned to their owner. This process is different to mould making as the investment is destroyed during the process so you cannot create multiples from one wax.
When the piece is returned to you it will be in the metal you have chosen in the exact form of your wax piece with the addition of the end of the sprue. This piece needs to be filed off and the ring sanded and polished.
For making a ring it is best to start with a wax ring tube. These come in all sorts of shapes or profiles depending on the shape you are going to make.
When you buy a tube you will need to cut it to size which you can do with a standard jeweller’s saw fitted with a wax blade. Wax blades have teeth that circle the whole blade making it easy to cut through the wax.
Wax is colour coded depending on its hardness and flexibility. I like to work mostly with blue (very easy to carve and a little bit flexible) or purple (a middle ground between hard and soft). The most common brand is Ferris File-a-wax. You can read more about each type here.
After you have cut the piece to the right size you need to size it. This is easy if you are doing it for yourself. If you are sizing for someone else you will need to measure their ring size and size it accordingly.
*Australian sizes are letters A-Z and US sizes are numbers.
Sizing your wax involves slowly reaming out the inside of the ring using the wax reamer. You should do this from both sides to ensure it is even as the reamer is tapered.
Rings come in all shapes and sizes. You might already have an idea what type of ring you want to make but just in case you need some inspiration below are some common shapes.
Bands are the most simple and easiest shape to make. Although the shape is simple, you can have lots of room to explore textures.
Signet rings are any ring with a flat face that narrows into a band. You can create texture on the face, carve something into it, remove the face or leave it plain.
Rings with a Face
This is an easy way to add a point of difference to a simple ring. A simple band with an element on top. The easiest way to achieve this is by carving the pieces separately and joining them together. Let me know if you’re interested in this and I’ll help you join them together.
And any other shape you can think of!
Wax is easy to work with once you get the hang of it. You can make any shape you can think of although realistic shapes will be challenging for a beginner. Organic shapes like rocks and mountains are easy and can look very dramatic.
The next step is shaping the ring.
This is a process that you will likely make your own as your skills improve.
I file the wax away until I am happy with the shape. It is best to file away from your hand as files are generally pretty sharp or pointed. It can be very easy to hurt yourself.
The jewellery industry has so many files! Some are for wax and some are for metal. Wax files have wider teeth to easily catch the wax (you can’t use these on metal because they will deeply scratch and do very little for your work).
Files use a numbered grading system. For instance 00 is the coarsest file up until a 4 or 5 which is very fine. This mostly applies to metal files but it can also apply to particular brands of wax files.
The most versatile wax file is called the double-ended wax file. I think it is a good mix of taking away enough wax without overly damaging the surface of your piece which I believe some of the larger ones do. Although it is all dependant upon what you want your finished texture to be like.
Once you get your overall shape right you can add detail with your carving tools. Carving tools are steel instruments that you can heat and use to shape your wax piece.
You hold your carving tools over your heat lamp for a small amount of time than direct the heated end to your wax ring. This is the carving part which is mostly experimentation. Once you start you will get a feel for how the wax reacts to heat and that will shape how you carve with it. Be prepared to make a lot of mistakes when you first start!
As you get better you will be able to use these tools to melt small pieces of wax and join them together to create really elaborate pieces.
Once you have finished creating your shape you can think about the finish of the piece. I try to do as much work in the wax as possible. If you want a smooth texture than use sandpaper, if you want to add rough texture than think about how it will feel and how you will add that texture.
Once your piece is done you are ready for the casters!
Once your piece is finished it is ready to be taken to the casters. Melbourne has a quite a few (maybe five or six) all of which are in the CBD.
The caster will take your piece from you and get your details (including what metal you want the piece cast in) and you can pick it up the next day (24 hours later but always after about 3pm).
The fee for casting does vary from caster to caster but always includes the casting fee (for a small piece it is approximately $5 plus the metal weight per gram. For instance silver is usually floating somewhere between $1.50- $2.00 per gram. Your caster can work out the weight of your piece and give you an estimate of the cost before you get it cast.
When you get your piece back from the caster it will still need cleaning and polishing and to remove the sprue. You can file this off and sand your piece with sandpaper until it is smooth and wearable.
Where do I buy all my supplies?
www.cjservice.com.au Combined Jewellery Services is Australian based and very competitively priced. No physical shop but an easy to navigate website and the guys are always happy to field questions via email.
www.riogrande.com - Rio Grande is based in the US. Usually cheaper than local suppliers but they have an enormous catalogue that can be pretty confusing plus the shipping rates are based on weight so can be a killer.
Physical Shops -
Koodaks (4/125 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000)
Koodaks stocks a wide range of products (for lots of different jewellery mediums). Staff are very helpful and tend to have a varied background in making so can answer your questions. Prices tend to be a bit higher than online shops. They also offer student discounts.
Where do I get my items cast?
LTH Casting - This is my favourite caster, I have found that they do an excellent job of removing most of the sprue, are happy to deal with weird requests and seem all round lovely to do with and are very reasonably priced.
Apecs - Have an excellent reputation in the industry for quality. I have found they tend to be the industry choice although the service seems to be guided more towards ‘trade’ work.
Both of these are located in the Manchestor Unity Building, Swanston Street, Melbourne.
What Tools do I need to get started?
Basic tools involve carving tools, files and a scalpel. You will also need to get an alcohol lamp, wax tube reamer, saw frame and wax spiral blades.
*Metal files are graded with ‘00’ being the most coarse up until ‘6’. I have found that for wax purposes you can use approx ‘0’ and for the metal finishes a finer cut of ‘2’ or ‘3’ is good.
*Wax files have much wider teeth for removing large amounts of wax from the piece at a time. You will need to refile over anything that has been touched by the wax file.