UPDATE, December 2017: Looking back at this post, there are so many things that are wrong! Anyway, a good exploration of what works and what doesn't, and modifying a design to cast and finish more easily. The main change I eventually made to this pendant is to attach the design to a backplate, so the design is simply raised from a background. With a patina, the design is similar but much easier to cast and finish. I have since scrapped this design and melted them all down. So maybe they'll be collector's items someday! And oh my goodness…thankfully my design skills have come a long way. I’ll leave this post up, though, just in case others are having the same issues.
Well, it's finally time. What better time to start casting holiday gifts than a week before Christmas?
It's been an interesting journey. It started back in Denver after I got the casting setup...I remember that my first attempt at casting with a perforated flask, I ran out of acetylene at 1 a.m. and didn't have a way to heat enough metal to cast. The second attempt, I realized that my acetylene/ambient air torch couldn't heat enough metal hot enough to cast. After switching to my old Smith Little Torch (acetylene/oxygen) with a "bud tip," I was able to get the metal melted, but never cast before we suddenly moved back to Texas.
Fast forward over a year. Since then I've taken the wax-working class with Kate Wolf, learned ZBrush, and explored printing in 3D on the Formlabs Form 2. I've printed a lot of things, but the missing link was casting them into metal jewelry.
So I was ready to go! Treed up some models, was burning them out, and my kiln fell victim to the outdoor sprinkler. Since I work late at night usually, I didn't realize that the sprinkler was scheduled to water the lawn that night. The kiln was sitting on a little window in the outdoor kitchen burning out my first 3D model flask, and a poorly aimed sprinkler doused the kiln and killed it. I awoke to an error message and a flask that hadn't completed burnout. I was crushed.
So what do you do when your Paragon SC2 kiln has been watered? Let it sit for a few days and let it dry out. Since this kiln has a metal cabinet, I removed the back and aimed the fan on the inside. Sure enough, about four days later I had the guts to turn it back on. It worked.
Next, I was ready to cast the 3D prints. I prepared the trees, the flask, and tried casting again. I was still having difficulty getting the metal heated correctly. About that time I was helping my parents downsize their house, and my dad gave me a little present...the Kerr Electro-Melt that I needed to get the metal to the right temperature for casting. Something I've learned through research—not in practice—is that metal can be porous if overheated. When melting with a torch, you don't really know how hot the metal is. Any casting I've done in the past was on a very small scale, and I probably just got lucky!
So I was ready to cast, and treed up some nine models. This time when I cast, I heated the sterling silver to about 1740°F (Kerr recommends going 100°F above the melting temperature of the metal, and silver is about 1640°F). I used the Formlabs castable resin burnout schedule, which clocks in at about 14 hours, landing on a 900°F casting temperature with a 3.5"x4" perforated flask. The result was not good!
After consulting Creative Side Jewelry Academy here in Austin, and the Formlabs forum, I found that it could be either the metal was not hot enough, or the flask was not hot enough. I found in another article that the flask can drop about 100°F in one minute in a vacuum caster, so it suggested making your flask temperature 100°F hotter. Also, filigree designs require a slightly hotter flask. The girl at Creative Side asked if I cast close to 1100°F, and I remember casting at or near that temperature in the past. Participants in the forum suggested between 900°F, or 950°F for filigree. Then the suggestion that every casting situation is different and these numbers are just guidelines, so it requires experimentation.
Fast-forward two years later, and my settings now are this: flask temperature at the end is 975°F, and metal in my Kerr Electro-Melt is 1865°F.
So I set off to cast again. This time, I used two 2"x2.5" flasks, a 2.5"x2.5" flask, and a 2.5"x3" flask, each with three models, rather than trying to cast a tree with ten models (or more?). I also tried adding a forked sprue coming into the bezel on the back, and another configuration with four sprues coming to the back of the frame. On that one I also added two small sprues coming into the back of the bezel. The sprues on the back of the frame are very easy to clean up, but when I 3D printed this one, the different support configuration distorted the frame on the bottom.
I also conquered my fear of cleaning up the jewelry! I learned from the forum that I should try tumbling the pendants for longer (these were polished about 40 minutes on a rotary tumbler), and silicone wheels work well for cleaning up raw castings. So far I hadn't had much luck with them. So I busted out the kit and it worked! I also tried these little wheels made with 3M micron finishing papers, and they worked well for grinding down the sprues from the back and finishing the back of the frame. And something surprising...the back of the pendant with a patina is as pretty as the back...so it's reversible. I'll have to play around more with that.
However, they were still usable, and became Christmas gifts!