Wax On, Wax Off: Perfect Your Metal Jewelry Designs Before Touching the Metal with Wax Carving

Did you know that with wax carving, you can nearly perfect your metal jewelry designs before you ever touch the metal? You can create custom shapes but also identify and remedy any potential structural issues, smooth and refine surfaces to cut down on polishing and finishing time, and work out design dilemmas in wax . . . affordable, forgiving, easy-to-work with wax. (And if something goes wrong in the end, you can skip the metal mourning and monetary loss and get some satisfaction by melting it down for spite. Ha!)

When your wax model is complete, you use it to make a mold, which can be used time and again for casting multiple pieces. Wax models can be a step toward the production process but they can also be an arguably easier, less expensive way to create one complex design in metal, one time–particularly designs that would be difficult or nearly impossible to form with traditional metal forging and fabrication techniques. But before all of that, you get to enjoy the journey of creating wax models, and it’s a really fun, rewarding process. Here’s why.

6 Reasons Why Wax Carving Is Really Cool

After watching Travis Ogden’s video, Carve a Wax Model for a Pendant, I started thinking about what a cool, forgiving (see #1), really interesting technique wax carving is. Here are the five main reasons why I think so.

building up a wax model after wax carving

1. You can design, experiment, play, and create with the inexpensive wax until you get your piece just right–cutting away, adding on if you make a mistake–continuing to perfect your design until you have a wax model of it that’s just right for casting. Using molten wax to “build up” your wax is like painting, so you can apply dots, lines, or mounds of molten wax to your carved piece wherever you want them. While building up wax is primarily for repairs and fixing mistakes, it can also create unique textures and designs.

2. You know you can use wax-carved models to create molds for making rings, pendants, earrings, bangles and cuffs, etc.–but you can also create models for details and elements used as a part of other pieces. For example, you can cast multiples of a focal piece and then add them to hand-forged pieces, such as rings and bezels. With this method, you can create versatile suites of jewelry using one element. Say you carve a flower or other design, make a mold of the carving, and then cast the mold with metal. The resulting cast pieces can then be used on earrings, a ring, a cuff, as a brooch, or as a pendant, creating pieces that are both cast and hand forged.

wax carving: carve models for casting metal jewelry like these rings

3. Another versatile and handy thing about wax carving and creating your own molds is that you can make the same piece in multiple metals–gold, sterling silver, fine silver, etc., and even alternative metals like brass, bronze, and copper.

4. If you’re one of those people who is always looking for something–a piece of jewelry, a particular type and style of clasp or other finding, a customized component, or a just-right something-or-other for jewelry making–that you just can’t find, consider casting. You can easily and inexpensively carve and build the piece you imagine and then use that piece to create a mold, which you can use to cast those customized pieces you can’t seem to locate.

wax carving with a flex shaft

5. Wax carving is really, fabulously messy, especially with a flex shaft, creating an opportunity for wild abandon. Wild abandon is a great thing once in awhile! Aren’t all the most fun things kind of messy?

6. You can use a flex shaft to carve and perfect your wax model, as Travis shows in the video, and you’ll probably want to, at least for the heavy-duty work at the beginning of a piece. And if you’re a little old fashioned like me, you will also enjoy learning to carve the wax using hand-carving tools the way the technique was originally done (which he also covers). Any time I have the opportunity to learn to do something the “old school” way, I take it! There’s a really satisfying, craftsman feel to using small blades, files, and picks to whittle your imagination out of a block of wax. If there’s a little bit of Michelangelo in you, too, you’ll enjoy this technique. Travis shares the tools you can use (and the ones you probably shouldn’t use) to carve wax.

drill bits for a wax carving with a flex shaft

In the video, Travis also covers:

  • types and properties of carving wax and injection wax
  • the tools used to carve wax and how to carve wax models
  • how to repair and refine your models
  • how to prepare and use them to make molds
  • how to make rubber molds and investment molds for casting
  • what to do once you have molds, a process called lost-wax casting
  • important casting factors like porosity, metal thickness, and how to “carve for illusion”

If you’re ready to expand your mental metal tool box, wax carving is a fun technique to learn, and if you enjoy melting and recycling your own metals like I do, this is a logical next step in your metalsmithing education. I’m kind of amazed at how much information Travis shares in less than two hours in Flex Shaft Essentials: Carve a Wax Model for a Pendant–and if you’re new to using a flex shaft, don’t miss Travis’s Intro to the Flex Shaft video as well.


Get these flex-shaft resources in our shop then give carving a try!

 

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