How the lost wax casting process results in the best cosplay and biker designs for this year’s festivals.
By John Maddin
As I begin my third year as a jeweler, I’m excited to share new pieces, and talk about my process. More designs are in the works, as well as reworking older ones. Look out 2024 as Xenomorphisis Jewelry is taking shape! My rings, pendants, ear clips, and other body jewelry step up your cosplay/LARP game. Bikers will turn heads with outrageous demons and skulls decorating their knuckles while riding.
Ok, now things are going to get technical! For those of you unfamiliar with lost wax casting, you can read on to learn about that below. It’s neat.
Lost Wax Casting
Lost Wax Casting is one of the worlds’ oldest methods of creating jewelry, dating back more than 6000 years. The modern method works like this:
First of all, you create your jewelry design in wax, using wax pens and dental tools for carving detail. Once it is finished and any surface scratches smoothed away, you create a wax “tree”, which is basically a wax base with a wax spindle attached to it, and from the spindle you attach your wax jewelry design, or multiple designs if you’re making a big batch of jewelry, the end result looking much like a little wax tree.
Next, you place the tree inside a steel cylinder with a rubber base to hold the bottom of the wax tree in place. Wet plaster is then carefully poured into the cylinder, which is gently vibrated to remove any air bubbles. The plaster then dries, creating a mold around the design, and then you remove the rubber base which reveals the bottom of the wax tree at the very center.
Wax is replaced with a silver mold
Meanwhile, the jewelry kiln has been heating up to around 1100 degrees for centrifugal casting. Once at the right temperature, you take a pair of tongs and place the plaster mold in its cylinder inside the kiln. As the mold heats, the wax turns to steam and evaporates, leaving just the mold. Evaporating wax is lost.
Then comes the actual casting, for which I use a centrifugal casting arm. It’s a metal arm on a spring-loaded base, and you crank it around several times to generate a good deal of tension, and then lock it in place. A circular metal shield wall surrounds the casting arm, to protect against any flying molten metal if an accident occurs. At the far end of the casting arm are a couple of braces; one to hold the HOT plaster mold, and another to hold a ceramic crucible with a hole at one end that will match the hole in the bottom of the plaster mold. In that crucible you place your silver, weighed to balance out the wax tree and thus completely fill the plaster mold. Using a blow torch you then melt the silver until it reaches the consistency of liquid mercury.
When the plaster mold has been fired to the temperature level of the melted silver, which takes a couple of hours, then the fun begins. You don’t melt the silver until the plaster mold is ready. But when it’s ready: Take out the mold from the oven with the tongs and GENTLY (don’t want to crack the mold!) place it in the brace at the far end of the casting arm. Tuck the ceramic crucible up next to it so that the hole in the side of the crucible matches the hole in the mold. Securely lock the braces in place so neither the crucible or the mold can fall out. Pour in your silver in the crucible, melt it to the right level, and then QUICKLY stand back and release the lock on the casting arm. The casting arm, with the braces locked, then spins at a HIGH rate of speed, using centrifugal force to make the liquid molten silver flow from the crucible into the super-heated mold, filling every nook and cranny. Let it spin for a bit to make sure all the silver gets where it’s needed, and then carefully slow down the arm. Using the tongs again, grab the cylinder with the plaster mold and dunk it into a big water container. After the steam dies down, you can then reach into the container, fish around with your hands through the now-liquid plaster, and find the jewelry. If you’ve done it right, every bit of what was once wax is now completely replaced with silver. Cut off the metal sprues, polish your original original design, and you now have a beautiful piece of silver jewelry.
Soft metals versus hard
Soft metals like silver and gold are good at capturing detail, which is what my jewelry is all about. You do see Biker Jewelry out there (lots of it, actually) that is done in stainless steel. Some of the designs I’ve seen are pretty good, but the level of detail simply isn’t as good as it is with silver or gold. It’s a lot cheaper, but it just isn’t quality level. The level of detail I can get with silver easily outweighs any urge to cast in steel. As for gold, last I checked it was around $2000 per ounce, which is way up in the upper stratosphere for me, out of my reach. Silver is hovering at around $20 an ounce, a tenth of what it is for gold. So, .925 Sterling Silver is what I use.
Creating cosplay, LARP, and biker jewelry
Some jewelers do simple designs that are easy to make rubber molds of to create multiple wax copies. Many traditional jewelers go this route. As for me, I like to create creatures out of myth and fantasy, dragons and demons and skulls and whatever else bubbles up from my imagination. This entails some definite time spent on detailed work to make the creature come alive. If some people are reticent about wearing a scary creature in silver, the response I give is that everyone has their own demons to deal with, the difference here being that I take them and turn them into tiny silver sculptures. They’re no longer controlling you, you’re controlling them. It often gets a good laugh, and sometimes even a sale.
If you’re into cosplay, biker rings, heavy metal skulls and fantasy art jewelry, then I’ve got what you need to complete your wardrobe and make people stare in awe and wonder.
Where to buy Xenomorphosis
Get yourself over to my Etsy shop and find the right piece for yourself or someone you love. Follow on Instagram and Facebook and check out new designs. I update my website with the latest pieces as well. You can sign up for the newsletter, including what markets I will have my booth at. Don’t forget to like, share, and comment!
Edited by Michelle Walch