|What hand carving looks like.||Three in their cans, one more to go.|
A small inventory of handmade wax carvings is accumulating in the studio ready for lost wax casting. The 100 degree Texas weather and non-air-conditioned studio are not conducive to firing a kiln up to 1200 degrees for 10 hours. One casting session was done a few weeks ago when the weather dropped into the 80’s for a few days.
Crying about the Texas heat seems to be a favorite excuse. That’s actually not a serious problem as I am not operating like a “got to get it done” business. However, it’s nice to mix the silver casting along with doing the wax design.
There is a hankering at the moment to do this one-of-a-kind hand carving of the wax. That could be because the hand carving is performed in an air conditioned office area. But it is also more than the comfort. It is a lot of fun to make something entirely by hand.
Designing with computer drafting (CAD) is also a favorite process in the comfort in the office. But the several CNC machines that do that intricate machine carving are out in the unconditioned shop. Ugh!
Creating by hand the very fine detail that my computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines can produce is not possible for me. That’s why I like using the CAD software drawing approach. With a good drawing, a CNC machine can usually make it. There is a lot of artistic effort and sense of accomplishment in creating the drawings. The machining process needs to be fully understood and exploited. The results are very rewarding.
The hand work is a totally different approach. A sketch is created but never a CAD drawing. It’s just not needed. A picture or a model of what is intend is also useful.
Sometimes just sitting down and cutting wax usually works but is not a great idea. A general plan is a definite advantage. A good idea with a sketch or picture solidifies where to go, is the best first step.
Working drawings are almost never presentation quality. Not trying to sell the piece before it is made. A presentation is usually SOP (standard operating procedure) for professional high value commissioned work. Someday it may be needed but no demand for commissioned, high priced work exists at the moment. Ha!
Actually, requests to duplicate previous pieces do come in. So far they have been fun re-work and the results ok for both me and the customer. Recently, orders for a whole series of flying horse pendants and pins from one example made on spec for my daughter, came in. Custom ring designs are occasionally requested.
A rubber mold duplication system is available to do wax injection molding with popular repeat designs. It is perfect for use duplicating hand carved originals. A CNC part can be duplicated by running the program again or using the mold process. It’s nice to have options.
Hand work presents or reveals the real artist in me. Every mark or flaw on the wax is there because I put it there. There is considerable enjoyment, to create directly through manual hands-on effort. It is different (and a lot slower) than sitting back and watching the machine do all the perfect cutting.
Having and using both methods is an enjoyable advantage. Some items need, even demand, the cool precision detail of machine carving. Others designs deserve the warmth of fine handmade work.
I am getting better with hand carving. Seeing the outstanding hand work done by others induces a desire to stay involved in quality handmade work. No allowance for my peripheral neuropathy limitations is ever an excuse for poor work. Hand work is just a bit slower, with care how to hold things. Right now it does not prevent carving anything imagined. It’s good for my spirit to work directly with my hands. It’s a type of personal satisfaction felt in creation of the work. Best therapy available.
Machine and hand carving are both rewardable. One method is no “better” than the other. There is no contest between them. So, no winners or losers. Just skills to develop and results to be enjoyed
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.”
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.
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.
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…
These are my first attempts at glass enameling on Sterling Silver. I think they came out well and I am excited to do much more of this work. My efforts should only get better with practice.
These are not the only pieces. I made two of the Pegasus and three of the Rose Hearts.
Like lost wax casting there is no certainty on how each piece will come out of the heat. Temperatures for firing the glass are 1450 F. Success rate is very high but there is always that chance of the unexpected.
A day’s work turned into two. I had two investments out of four crack after firing, so I had a bit of a do-over. But this is the result. The rose hearts are always good sellers so I need to keep a few on hand. The ruling lines are 5/16” spacing. Click on picture to enlarge.
The Pegasuses (Pegasii ?) are an experiment. The three little ones are charms or very small pendants. The two larger are definitely pendants. They are Sterling silver but have been acid treated to raise a coating of fine silver. These two pieces will be glass enameled red. They are wearing in-line roller skates. It’s the mascot of my daughter’s Pegasus skating club.
The large tags are an experiment too. The one marked “Adams” is a commission, but I also decided to make a generic “Texas” version.
I am considering a slightly new direction with my metal working / art adventures. I would like to add some color to my work. Silver with some occasional black tarnish doesn’t add much excitement to silver jewelry. I could start to add colored gems. That would be a major next step.
There is another option I have been mentally exploring called glass enameling. First thought might be the kind of paint that comes out of a rattle can (spray can) made by a brand name, Rust-Oleum. Nope, not that kind.
The enameling I am considering is fusing glass particles to a metal substrate with the use of high heat. Hot enough, 1450 degrees, to melt the colored glass and fuse it to the metal. It’s been done for centuries and one of the best known processes are from France called Cloisonné and Champlevé. Another process called Basse-taille offers a similar result but uses only translucent enamels to show the features of the metal underneath the coating.
It was also a practice in China and other countries in the far east. The example shown above is from the Ming Dynasty. Examples can also be found in Europe, the near east and many other world cultures.
All processes fuse colored glass enamel into cells created in the base metal. The cells are created with metal wire frames in the Cloisonné method and by carved or formed recesses with the Champlevé. There are many variations as in any type of art.
The results can be very stunning and beautiful. It is a creative process with a lot of controlled heating required. Just the kind of challenge to keep it rare and collectable.
There is an alternative chemical epoxy cold process method that can be used to create a similar look, but I think the old school firing is my preference. It’s the heat of the fire that attracts me to lost wax casting… and to this glass enameling process.
I have a little project I am going to try. If it works out the way I imagine, I’ll certainly exhibit the results and it may be the start of a unique product line of glass enameling.