Also known as lost mould or investment casting, lost wax sculptures give form to metal objects. As its name implies, the lost wax process uses wax in the process of casting metal. Artists or crafters sculpt the wax to the desired shape. The artisan forms a mould around the wax sculpture. Depending on the method and metal, the wax form melts in a kiln or as the molten metal fills the mould.
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No one knows exactly when the lost wax process began. Artefacts found on virtually every continent show evidence of the lost wax process. Jewellery and statues appear in tombs and temples in Greece, Italy and Egypt. Aztec pieces of gold and silver jewellery date back to 1300AD. Portuguese sailors traded bronze sculptures from the West African coast in 1400AD. Even today, artisans create Hindu religious sculptures using the lost wax process. This ensures that each sculpture is one of a kind.
The wax sculpture takes many forms. If you are casting several similar pieces, use a rubber mould to form the wax. These moulds ensure that the basic form of the casting starts out identically. You can add wax to create additional shapes or sculpt detail into the wax model. Other artisans build an original wax sculpture over a clay form. This gives the sculpture detail while the clay substructure supports the model. You can also construct the entire model freehand from wax. The wax form suspends in a container.
Ancient artisans packed sand, clay or even ashes around the wax sculpture. Today artists use a variety of materials known as investment. The composition of the investment depends on the type of metal the artisan has chosen. Ground granite forms the base of most investment material since its uniform crystalline structure packs evenly in the crevices of the wax model. Mix the investment with water to form a slick plaster-like clay. Pour the investment around the wax model, tapping the container to prevent air bubbles. Make a pouring hole in the top of the mould. Let the investment dry completely. Depending on the size of your mould, this may take up to two days.
The lost wax process uses a wide range of metals. Artisans cast panchaloha, or five-metal deities. These sculptures use a combination of gold, silver, copper, brass and lead. Bronze sculptures use copper and zinc to create strong weather resistant sculptures. The lost wax process works well with gold and silver jewellery pieces. When using the lost wax process at home, pure gold and silver, while expensive, melt easier in a kiln or over a burner. Stay away from alloys that may contain lead.
Melting the Wax
Ancient lost wax artisans poured the molten metal into the wax-filled mould. This burnt the wax away as the metal filled the crevices of the mould. Today, artisans place the dry mould in a kiln. The heating further hardens the investment material and melts the wax model at the same time. Pour the metal into the hole at the top of the mould. Allow the metal to cool and break the investment mould from around the metal form.
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