"Do what you love for those who love what you do"

Experience, The Best Teacher

3D Printing

I blew off the silver making for a while because of the 3D printing mania I just experienced. Yes, the 3D stuff can be very habitual, but in the end, it is just an unusual piece pf plastic. Not a durable piece of jewelry art cast in precious silver. Well, semi-precious silver.

I’ll remain somewhat engrossed with the printing as there are things worth making. I can always design special plastic things I need exactly to my specification rather than try to find readymade.

I just invested in a stock of new casting grain silver and a fresh box of investment plaster. I have some designs I know will sell. I like to make new designs more than remake what I have already done, but I don’t forget what my customers like.

I cast two new pieces just yesterday. I just love working with silver.

Silver doesn’t get wasted like plastic. Silver can be melted and used for something new. What is lost is the large effort required in making any LWC finished object. The cost of the silver is a small portion of the overall cost of material and effort.

Pen Turning

I looked again at pen turning. I have made a few in the past. I could easily make wood (or other material) turned pens again. The barrels are the only part that are handmade. All the other parts are purchased. Some folks make these items as a full-time retirement occupation. The prices and profits are quite high for the effort involved.

I may make a few more examples since I have the tools and the material is easily obtainable. There is a huge business in selling the supplies. The pens (and other lathe turned items) are beautiful and unusual, but not the same creative art that stems from wax carving and producing art from totally raw materials.

I am not demeaning pen turners, they love what they do. I like to make them. The makers do add value turning and finishing the barrel, but most of the product is factory made parts that are assembled. It is what it is, a kit of parts. Value is in the mind of the buyer, looking at the finished results. ‘Nuff said.

The Lesson

Exploring new “making” opportunities is a great experience. Without the experience, I feel I have no right to comment or criticize ANY subject. Here’s a rule I try my best to follow; "Experience is the best teacher. Knowledge without experience is simply knowledge looking for application." It’s what “doing and making” are all about.

Vectric Aspire Update

vectric logoI realize I haven’t posted here for a while. Mostly because I have a lot of other artsy/crafty blogs where I spend time. I like to think of those other areas as all one big happy family and this is a sibling of the others. Just different URL’s.

If I put or consolidate everything here for example, there would be just as much “stuff” and harder to stay on topic.

So anyway, I’m Back! The topic is Vectric CNC Software.

Most everything I create needs a 3D CAD drawing. That’s because I make a lot of things using 3D CNC subtractive machining and more recently 3D additive printing. That does not imply that I don’t do a lot of old fashion hand work or assembly of parts.

I have several powerful software options from which to choose. I write about the others as I continue to use them. My all-around favorite for 3D CAD and CAM is Vectric Aspire. I have every version of Aspire since it was first created. The newest version just released is Version 9.0. (Actually 9.008)

Originally Aspire was the combination of several other programs from Vectric and its strong heritage seemed to be toward the CNC overhead router, sign carving venue. That is a strong niche, but far from the only use and purpose for Aspire.

I use Aspire to design and carve wax masters for lost wax casting of jewelry items. An application almost never mentioned in their forums. It works very well for that purpose. I also use it for a lot of wood carving projects as well. Recently I have designed items for 3D printing as Aspire outputs very clean Stereolithography files (.STL). Again. A use not much mentioned in their forums.

I just pulled the trigger on the update from version 8.5 to 9 as there are some significant updates. They at last moved automated double-sided carving from their lower cost program Cut3D in to Aspire. Not 4 axis 3D, but “flip-over” 2-sided 3D. I am thinking a great feature for some pendant carving.

Purchasing the program outright, no upgrade, is a bit pricey at the $2K region. My upgrade was $400. However, I am making money from what I can design. So, the cost is easily justified. Some people may not want that level of expense in a hobby, but even hobby use can create a payback over time. It all about how much you use it.

There are individual programs at much lower cost. The Vectric moto is “Passionate About CNC” If that describes you, then you should be looking a Vectric CNC Software. Highly recommended by Dimensional Art Org.


I am selling some of my silver work now. I started lost wax silver casting in September 2013 It is apparent that after two years I cannot keep up with demand. My business teaching tells me I should then raise my prices! Ha! No, that is not a good move at this point for me.

My problem is I am presently working with producing only one off wax originals for every piece. What I need is a wax duplication ability. CNC helps duplicate some pieces but I make a lot of hand carved pieces too. As far as I can tell, my customers are not concerned that every piece is unique from scratch. They like the design and if it is already sold, they want me to make another one. So that signals a duplication system to me.

I am not (yet) a famous metalsmith so I feel I can’t expect custom designer prices for my simple but good looking one-off silver work. I am ready to take the next move of production into wax injection molding of my pieces so I can produce multiple copies without starting from scratch.

Rubber molds are a process unto themselves. I have studied the process for many years and have made a few rubber RTV molds for casting of pewter. I have some actual experience.

There are two major methods. One is vulcanization of rubber with heat and a pressure press. The second is RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanization) using a chemical liquid mix and pouring into a mold cavity. RTV is broken into several varieties of curing so there are many paths to consider.

The end result is a master piece encased in rubber that is cut out with a scalpel. The empty rubber is then put back together and used as a mold into which hot wax is injected. (I am keeping the explanation simple.) The injected wax hardens in a few minutes and is then used in the lost wax casting process, just like the hand carved wax. The cooled injected wax, if done properly, is nearly perfect since it was created from a fully finished master and needs very little preparation for casting a duplicate. A tremendous time saver, except for all the time required to produce the rubber mold.

Today’s rubber molds can last and be used for as high as twenty years. So that is the benefit of doing it once and forever making duplicate waxes for casting another piece. This escalation in the Lost Wax process is inevitable so I have decided it is time I prepare.

The molding system is essential, but The process also requires a method of injection of the hot wax. Usually a temperature controlled pressure pot and a special nozzle. There is a bunch of options with injection equipment. I saw one fellow using what looked like a large hot glue gun or in the jewelry trade, a Matt Wax gun. It worked for small pieces. Too small for my needs.

I have decided that 2016 will be the year to take the next step with wax injection molding. I am not intending a commercial production, but large enough that I can build some inventory or at least be able to reproduce some of my pieces on demand. As long as I enjoy the challenge and I think it’s fun, I’ll expand the production. All it has to do is make me think I am doing something of worth. Worth is not always defined in dollars but dollars do keep the process going. Ha!

Wax Carving

I consider myself a serious wax carver. Perhaps and enthusiastic wax carver. Doesn’t matter, I do a lot of work making wax masters for lost wax casting. Some of it is handwork and some of it is performed on a computer controlled milling machine.

I am not a purest hand carved wax artist. I’ll use the best method for the intent I desire. However, I do enjoy the hand work for truly unique designs. I will work with any method that produces Items of which I can be proud to say, “I made.”

Hand Carving

Cold carving wax is a subtractive process. When done by hand all kinds of material removal tools can be used. Actually there is very little cutting or carving. It is mostly filing and scraping that gets the unwanted wax removal accomplished. Power tools with burrs and other rotary bits are used. Anything or process that will remove wax is perfectly acceptable. Finer removal is with abrasives and solvents.

Using some heat, there is an additional process that can be employed. Depending on the temperature, wax can change from hard, soft, mush, to liquid. Also vapor if really hot. This is done with heated tools.

Using heat also permits additive wax sculpting which is almost always a necessity. For me that makes wax carving more forgiving and creative than wood or stone carving. It is much closer to sculpting clay. Mistakes and accidents can be repaired.

The most conventional and basic process is to heat metal cold process tools in an alcohol lamp flame and apply them to melt or soften the wax. With skill wax can be repositioned and added as desired. The technique requires careful temperature control with constant alternating of the carving tool between the heat source and the work. With effort it is an excellent skill for the detail wax carver.

The dentistry industry created an alternate method used to form wax dental masters using electrically heated and temperature controlled wax carving tools. The electrically heated tool, called a wax “pen” works perfectly fine for the jeweler and wax sculptor. It eliminates the alcohol lamp (and open flame) from the process. It also provides very controllable and sustainable temperature control and precise wax placement.

Machine Carving

This is a totally a subtractive carving process (so far). However, with the advent of 3D printing there is now a method of additive creation using computer controlled machines. Some high end jewelers are currently using the 3D printing process.

I am an enthusiastic user of carving by CNC machine. There are no “on the fly” decisions made that are an inherent process of hand carving. All the creative work is in the drawing and design “up front”. I don’t think that diminishes the artist as a creative person in any way.

What it requires is an entirely new set of creative skills that must be fully developed and completely understood by the artist. There is very little serendipity or “chance” in creating once the control program is sent to the machine for carving. However, there is a huge resource of “soft” tooling and simulation available in the alternate universe of the computer artist. For me it is every bit “the design” that is important. How it becomes the wax master is important but secondary. Some of the old masters used apprentices to do the grunt work.

My System

As I said, I chose to use whatever process I enjoy. The whole purpose is to love what I do. I personally have no intention to get hung up on traditional methods for the sake of tradition. By no means do I suggest there is anything wrong with tradition. I like exploring the old ways. It is a part of the mystique of lost wax casting. Through the centuries much of the process and tooling was modernized by the artisans when possible.

So manual or machine, or a combination of both… it all works for me. The truth is most customers have no idea of the process of creation. They judge me on the results of my effort and knowing the artist.

I think 3D printing may be somewhere in my future, but the output quality is lacking within my price range. I find it an interesting concept but of no value to the work process I currently enjoy.

The machines are here to stay as a part of my studio. Just another tool of the trade.

I have just invested in a modern but manual wax carving equipment. It is the electrically heated wax “pen” I mentioned above. It won’t on its own value make me better at what I do. It will allow me to work much easier with the additive process of wax carving by hand. So I remain “vested” in manual wax carving.

Just loving it every way I can…


I do my art work for my own enjoyment and feeling of accomplishment. My skill is constantly improving in my own estimation, but then improvement is always the goal of work such as this. My grandfather, whose artistic talent was in oils and watercolor, taught me that he was never completely satisfied with his own work and that the true measure was from those who admired his work.

There is always a bit of insecurity when I move to call a work finished as there is always a thought I could have done it a bit better or changed something here or there. There is also a concern that I could also go too far and spoil what I already have and like. That is all why I like what I do. I have a hundred options and I get to make the choice of what direction and how far to go.

What keeps my sanity is moving on to newer and always better projects without remorse about what was marked “finished” in the past. I think anyone who makes things and gives or sells them to others have the same thoughts. Being the creator, we know there are faults that can be fixed on the next attempt.

My wife creates beautiful quilts and I am sure she knows where every stich is a bit off or where perhaps a different color could have been used. To me they always look wonderful and there are no such concerns about the details. They are truly invisible flaws or not flaws at all.

What the artist feels is the work is a reflection of our skill and judgements. We have a lot of our personal standards on display. Some may call them abilities. So we leave a bit of ourselves in the work we do. Everyone adds that part of ourselves to everything we do whether we realize it or not. To that standard we are all artists displaying out talents. The key word is talent.

The word talent is well used in most human vocabularies. It’s meaning is measurement but It is not a precise measurement except for perhaps biblical currency. Talent can refer to aptitude or even a theatrical cast of actors.

We can know we have a talent or actually consider ourselves talented, but it is the comparison and judgement of peers and others beside ourselves that awards the title. We may be born with an aptitude but we have to display the talent.  A great cook develops a talent for creating excellent meals.

I believe talent can be, but is actually seldom a gift. It is usually earned through study, effort and practice. The key is that the target or goal must be something we are motivated to achieve. It should not be a decision made by others. I know that is sometimes the case.

I currently do my work for myself but I am not narcissistic. I consider how others will judge my work and talent and I want it to always express my best effort to date. If I like what I make, I am pleased with myself. If it is “liked” by others I am extremely pleased, and encouraged to do more.


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