Quick Silver Casting: 6+ Metal Casting Techniques from Noël Yovovich
Metal casting is a fun, extra-hands-on technique. It allows you to recycle your own metal scraps, create one-of-a-kind creations (broom casting and water casting), and multiples of your designs or found objects (casting in silicone and cuttlebone molds). Casting has broad benefits for all types of jewelry makers. Read on to learn about metal casting methods from our guest, metal clay and metal jewelry artist Noël Yovovich.
Quick Metal Casting with Silver
By Noël Yovovich
Casting has been around since the dawn of, well, the Bronze Age, and it hasn’t changed all that much. You melt metal and pour it into something that gives it form.
As jewelers, we mostly think of casting as “lost wax casting.” You create a form in wax, encase the wax in special plaster, burn out the wax, and then replace it with metal. This is a wonderful casting technique capable of amazing detail. But there are a bunch of other ways to experiment with melting and pouring metal to make jewelry elements. Some of them are more predictable than others, but many are quick and easy. So if you don’t like the results, you just melt and pour again!
Possibly the oldest form of metal casting is sand casting. If you’ve ever made a sandcastle, you know sand can stick together and hold its shape. Nowadays, we can buy sticky sand that isn’t wet. It doesn’t cool quite as fast, and it’s very easy to make a two-part mold of a simple object and reproduce it. I like this method for making twigs, shells, and other natural forms, but many other kinds of models work, too.
If you ever had a pet parakeet, you bought cuttlebone for it to gnaw on to get calcium. Cuttlebone is part of a squid (cuttlefish) and is so soft, you can carve it with a fingernail (though you might prefer to use a knife or a steel dental tool) for cuttlebone casting. But did you know you can cast silver into it? It has a natural texture similar to wood grain and it can be used to make wonderful jewelry.
Any kind of really soft stone can be used in much the same way–especially soft stone such as tufa, a favorite of the Indians of the American Southwest, or pumice.
These are some of the more predictable, controllable forms of metal casting. But there are very fun ways to cast that generate their own organic forms. Maybe the best known of these is broom casting. Broom straw is soaked in water then drained and tied into a loose bundle, stood up in a soup can or similar, and the molten silver is poured into the ends. After quenching, the bundle of straw is opened to see what amazing cast metal forms are to be found inside.
Salt Crystals and Water
There are many materials you can pour metal into, through, and over, each generating unique and different organic shapes that can enhance your jewelry designs. Sidewalk salt crystals make shapes that look like sea creatures. Pouring directly into a bucket of water can make a host of different shapes, depending on the height of the pour, the temperature of the water, and how fast the silver is poured.
I’ve tried out many materials, including pine needles, leaves, twigs, pasta, rocks (I don’t recommend that one), even ice. I give you a leg up on your own experiments in my new video Quick Casting for Jewelry Makers: 5 Fast and Fun Methods. In it, I demonstrate several of these fun ways to use scrap (or new) silver. Take a look at it. These metal casting methods are really enjoyable, and the surprises you sometimes get are a wonderful way to kickstart your creative process. Stuck for ideas or feel like you’re in a rut? There’s nothing like blasting some scrap with a torch and trying some “quick and dirty” metal casting! —Noël
The squares in these photos of Noël’s jewelry were made by cuttlebone casting, and the twigs were sand cast. So gather up your scrap silver, friends! You probably already have a little bowl, tin, or jar with silver scraps that just didn’t work out. Give your scraps (and projects gone awry) new life in cast jewelry, like a phoenix from the ashes, when you download Noël’s video workshop, Quick Casting for Jewelry Makers: 5 Fast and Fun Methods, on a DVD.