Wax Carving & Casting

May 10, 2022

Wax Carving & Casting

Wax carving is an ancient tradition in jewellery making that has been used for more than 6000 years.

It is a great technique to learn and is very affordable. You can also use the lost wax process to create more organic shapes.

With wax carving you carve your designs in wax and then have them cast into metals such as brass, silver, gold or platinum that can then be sanded, polished and finished in the traditional way. 

You can also set some gemstones (this is an advanced technique) and have them cast in place. 

TYPES OF JEWELLERS WAX

There are many different types of jewellers wax available and each one is used for a different purpose. 

File-a-wax - Some waxes e.g. beeswax are too soft to carve and shape and are problematic to try to use in warm temperatures so file-a-wax products were developed. These are designed specifically for jewellers to use to file and shape.

One of the main brands that jewellers use is Ferris. Ferris wax comes in four different colours (with green and blue most used).

Green: A very hard wax, it can’t be flexed. Ideal for sharp edges and for intricate carvings and delicate engraving.

Purple: General purpose, hard with some flexibility.

Blue: Less hard and more flexible than green or purple. Good for rounded surfaces and less intricate designs. This is a popular choice with jewellers and the one we suggest you try first

Turquoise: Displays exceptional surface finish, especially in recessed areas. Maintains superior strength, toughness and extreme flexibility.

Sheet wax - good for cutting, moulding and modelling but not as good for carving

Wax profile wire and tube - wax in the form of wire or tube, can be bent and twisted, used for hinges etc just like metal wire

The wax can also be purchased in other shapes including ring and flat-sided ring for carving rings and block. The size and shape you need depends on your design idea, for a more dainty ring design choose a small diameter of wax e.g. 22.2mm. For a chunkier look choose a bigger diameter e.g. 27mm.

Tip: If you will be working on different types of design then choose the thicker diameter of wax as it is the most versatile

 

WHAT DO I DO ONCE I’VE CARVED MY DESIGN?

When you have carved and finished your jewellery you will need to decide which metal you would like to have it cast in.

You can do a quick calculation of how much the cast piece will weigh using the wax to metal conversion chart here

The wax is light, 10 times lighter than silver and 16 times lighter than 18 carat gold so you’ll need to account for this in your designs.

This is also the way to calculate the cost of the casting. Casting houses also charge a fee for the casting plus the cost of the metal by weight so ask your caster the current costs, remembering that metal costs fluctuate daily.

The majority of jewellers send their wax pieces to a specialist caster. You can learn to cast your own work but this takes investment in additional equipment so it may be something to look at in the future if you find that you enjoy the process.

HOW DO I FIND A CASTING HOUSE?

We prefer to use Australia's most trusted casting houses including; 

THE LOST WAX CASTING PROCESS
  1. A sprue is added to your wax piece. This is like a branch of wax that is used to attach it to the wax tree. Tip: the caster should attach the sprue to a part of your piece that will be easy to file away and you can mark where you want the sprue to go with a sharpie

  2. The wax tree is then put into an investment plaster cast which hardens and sets

  3. The wax is burnt out, leaving a cavity in the cast (this is why it is called lost wax casting because the wax is lost in the process

  4. Molten metal is poured into the cast

  5. The metal is cooled and the investment cast discarded

  6. The jewellery is cut from the metal tree leaving a sprue behind on the piece from where it was attached

  7. The piece is returned to you for cleaning up and polishing. Alternatively, some casters offer a polishing and finishing service at an extra cost

HOW CAN I MAKE MULTIPLES OF MY DESIGNS?

The casting process is great for making multiples of your designs. Once you have had your piece/s cast you will file and polish them so they are ready to be moulded.

The ‘master’ - your finished piece of jewellery - is put into a silicone mould and vulcanised using heat and pressure. Once cool, this is then cut out of the silicone and the mould is now in two parts. When the mould is used, wax is injected into it so that the piece can be attached to the wax tree for casting. 

We hope you enjoyed this article. To learn wax carving, join us in the studio for a workshop. Our next one is in June. 

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