Friday, August 28, 2009

Busy Thursday!

Thursday was a good productive day for both of us. The flask went into the kiln at 8:45 AM, after warming it up to 300 F. I had to go outside and check out the day. Here are the boys . . .

They're guarding us from the Morning Glory that wants to take over the world!

Here are the custom wedding bands I cast Wednesday. All devested, pickled and ready to be de-sprued!

These were cast using the customers' own gold. I prefer to cast with at least 50% new metal to ensure the best quality of the castings. In this case they supplied their own gold in the form of rings they had had made before.

Because there was just enough gold I had to be very careful about how they were sprued. Frankly I spent hours thinking about it and weighing sprue wax and thinking some more!

This is a definte case where experience pays off. My spruing worked the rings turned out and this is what was facing Pat first thing in the morning!

After checking the kiln I checked all of the waxes I was planning to sprue. Like candling eggs, here's what you don't want to see!

Air bubbles in the wax will end up as holes in the final cast pieces. Throw that wax away and use another one.

Here are the waxes for the next tree all cleaned up, sprues cut at 45 degree angles and they're ready to go.

The sprues on the gold bands was so heavy that Pat had to use a miniature cut-off disc to seperate them. Here she's pre-polishing the interior of one of the rings.

Using the same rubber wheel on the outside.

After the cleanup and re-texturing and first buffing she soldered the heads on each ring. Here she's bezel setting the sapphire.

Yes, you use a small hammer to close the bezel ~ very carefully!

I added an extra 30 minutes to the 1350 F heat soak stage for this flask because it was lunch time and I was updating this blog! Here's a peak inside the kiln right after I turned it down to cool to 1000 F for the next two hours before casting.

I cast the flask with our three Ridgelines Rings at 2:56 PM. I got distracted spruing waxes so I didn't quench until 3:25 PM. It went well and all three rings turned out perfectly! After they went into the unltraonic for devesting I got back to spruing the last waxes for Friday's casting.

The waxes all sprued, smallest at the top largest and heaviest at the bottom. This is how I double-check as I go. They'll be burned out in a 3" diameter flask, so I've marked where 2" wide is so I can make sure that none of the waxes' ends are too far out.

All sprued and on their rubber base ready for the flask. The Total Wax Weight is 12.5 g. The sterling I use has a specific gravity of 10.4, so I'll be casting 130 g or around 4 1/3 ounces for this flask.

Since I work with vacuum-assisted lost wax casting, all of the wax will be melted out (lost) leaving voids or negative spaces in the investment.

The flask goes into the kiln in this position.

Before it is time to pour the flask has to be turned over so that what's now the bottom (the sprue/gate and casting cup area) will become the top.

And this is how it will look!
Pat finished up before I did, but I managed to finish investing and cleaning up around 6. I had to run a quick errand in the rain. She very kindly agreed that I should take a shower before getting into the kitchen! (As she said, "A clean cook is a happier cook!") Fast and easy meal using some great tortillini and the left over shreded chicken sald she made us for lunch.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More on Yesterday

Yesterday Pat worked on bezels while I was minding the kiln and shooting waxes. Here are some of the steps each bezel goes through before we can use them.

A bezel after being soldered to the back plate, in all of its fire-scaled glory!

Triming the excess back off.

Bezels ready for their back edges to be ground even with the incredibly thin walls.

Grinding the edges even, without grinding into the side walls!

A freshly ground bezel.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I invested two flasks this morning; the three Ridgelines Rings and the two custom wedding band carvings. Depending on their size flasks have to dry/cure for at least an hour before the rubber base is removed and they can go into the pre-heated kiln for the burnout cycle.

I've been casting for somewhere around twenty years now, and I'm not really sure why, but I always seem to have a hard time getting myself started on a casting run. I still don't understand it. I guess it doesn't have to make sense, because once I begin investing I'm back into the groove and ready to go!

I'm suspect that some of it is the intense concentration that every step takes. Casting really is as much of an art as it is a science. There are so many different meticulous steps, from sprueing the waxes to the final quench, and so many different things can go wrong at each step . . . And yet that's also part of why I love casting! Well, that and there's just something about pouring molten metal that really appeals to me!

Since these two flasks will be cast in different metals, one in gold the other in sterling, I'll be burning them out and pouring them on different days.

The custom bands went into the kiln at 12:50 AM. I gave them an extra hour at the 300 degree Farenheit range to make sure the carving wax would have enough time to melt and drain out before the temperature was raised.

Then I gave them an extra hour at the end of the heat soak stage when I'd brought the temperature back down to 600 F. Normally for gold I'd cast with the flask at a higher temperature, but because these two rings were being cast together on the same sprue and were such different sizes my experience and double-checking some records said that 600 F would work out just right.

So rather than my standard 5 hour burnout cycle I used a customized 7 hour cycle for this flask.

I pre-heated my Electro-Melt and charged it with the gold right as the temperature was rising to 1850 F. Poured at 7:50 PM. And it was a good pour! It felt good, despite my concerns over the last couple of days about the button and having enough metal, it looked like a good button.

Then the hard part: Waiting for the flask to cool enough to quench. A good rule of thumb for karat gold is 10 to 15 minutes after the red heat has left the button. So you wait . . .

The quench went well. I can often tell if a casting worked by how a flask feels in my tongs as I quench it. This was a good one! A little lively feeling, but not too lively an action (which would mean it was still too hot). This felt just right. Roughly two ounces of gold holds it's heat in a flask filled with almost a pound of investment so I had a good quench.

They went into a glass jar and into the ultrasonic for de-vesting and I got to eat Pat's wonderful and amazing enchiladas for dinner.

And these castings are beautiful!

I don't know a single caster that hasn't admitted to me that, in their own way whatever it is, they pray when they cast. I have a good friend that burns incense on her kiln. I know folks that have their own rituals. I pray. I pray for help and guidance and a steady hand. There are just too many things that could have gone slightly wrong and ruined all of that work for me to ever, ever, be able to take a casting lightly.

Casting is a very exacting science. It's also an art where much is literally out of your hands.

So tonight I'm saying Thank You God for helping these casting turn out so beautifully!

They've been de-vested and are in the pickle in the ultrasonic cleaner right now. I'll photograph them in the morning. Then the fun part comes next . . .

Because of the technical challenge of sprueing these two rings to cast together we're going to have to use a miniature cut off disc to cut them off of the sprue. And then we'll have to re-texture where the sprues were attached before we can mount the heads and set the stones. But it'll be worth it because they turned out so well.

These rings were cast together at the same time from the same gold. And this couple will be wearing them as their wedding bands for the rest of their lives.

And that is part of what makes what we get to do so incredibly special!


A quick shot of Pat's pile of bezels! Each one is made individually for a particular stone. At this point the bezel walls have all been soldered to the base plates.

Saturday and Sunday I roasted skinless chicken thighs for dinner. Each night I cooked a couple of extras. Monday I deboned the leftovers and made this eggplant mozarilla casserole! Wish I had a photo of it after it was cooked. It was even tastier than it was pretty.
More bezels photos soon!


Quick views of some of what Tom was working on Tuesday.

The beginning! Three of our Ridgelines rings waxes, wax sprue, and the rubber sprue base. The ruler will be used later to check dimesnions.

Not pictured is our Dual Therm wax pen.

The first wax is in place. This is our first Ridgelines Ring is a special order for B. through The Jewelers Workbench. (It will be a size 5 1/2 with a peridot mounted for our client when we're finished.)

All three waxes in place. The two outer rings are our third Ridgelines Ring design.

The wax pen is just visible in the background.

Adding molten wax to smooth out the base. This step, one of my favorites, is known as luteing. Molten metal flows very much like water does; there are some differences because of the temperatures involved, but the principles are basically the same. It is very important that there are narrow no choke point that would restrict the flow or cause turbulance when the metal is poured.

All three rings ready on the sprue base. This 3 inch base is a bit large for casting just these three rings, but you'll see why I choose it soon.

A sideview of all three rings in place. Since the wax pen has two stations I'm able to use two different size and shapes of tips at the same time. Which is incredibly handy! The temperatures are controlled with two seperate rheostats.

Top down view with the ruler in use. I'm double-checking to make sure that no edge of any wax is within a 1/4 inch of an inner wall of the flask. I prefer a slightly over-size base and flask because whenever I can I like to have 1/2 inch between any waxes' edges and the flask's inner wall.

Top down view into the flask, ready for investing!

I had to stop as this point. All ready to invest first thing in the morning. Then into the kiln for the burnout cycle, and then casting!

At this stage it's very important to have good records. And I forgot to mention a couple of steps!

First it is important to weigh the empty rubber sprue base before doing anything! Once the waxes are sprued the base is re-weighed. Subtract the empty weight from the finished weight. Since these will be silver rings that number is multiplied by 10.4, which is the specific gravity of the sterling alloy that I'm using.

In this case my casting log tells me that the Total Wax Weight is 2.8 grams. Which comes out to be 29.12 g Metal Weight. To ensure a good casting I'm going to use 35 g to allow for a good full button (the base area).

A good sized button is important because metal shrinks as it cools. The smallest areas will cool and solidify first. The last areas to solidify will be the largest and thickest. By allowing for a large heavy button you help ensure that there is molten metal available for the heaviest areas of the castings as they cool. Otherwise you can have shrinkage porosity to deal with . . .

The last step, before the morning, is to record the dimensions. In this case we're looking at 3" Wide and 2 1/2" Tall (allowing 1/2" headroom above the waxes ~ which helps prevent blowout when the metal is poured).

Knowing these dimensions I consult my investment mixing chart. I'll use 15 oz of investment and 161.7 ml of water. But that's for another day!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Saturday's Market & Loafing

It's really nice when we can take the whole weekend off . . . We both had a lazy morning and we got moving a litttle later than we meant to. But we did make it to our favorite farmers' tailgate market at UNCA again Saturday!

Because it's fun, here are some photos of our shopping loot! (Grass-fed beef bratwurst isn't pictured, it's in the freezer for now!)

Our glass platter loaded down with new produce. Cukes, eggplant, tomatoes, bell pepper, candy red onions, and more garlic!

Fresh young lettuces for salads and BLTs. The bowl was a gift from our potter friend Gay Brown.

We had BLTs for lunch both Saturday and Sunday. Only the second time this season we've indulged. And they were wonderful!

Pat's bread board, once again loaded down. Clockwise from the top: Pre-sliced Anadama bread from Wake Robin Farm Organic Breads (as I said, we were later than we had meant to be, and most of the breads were gone by the time we got to the MArket!), a taste of summer sunshine fresh local black berries (the birds have eaten all of ours!), sweet heirloom red Italian peppers, a mild goat cheese (that was gone by Monday!), and fresh arugala and egg pasta from Pasta Momma.

My treasure trove! An half-pound of fresh oyster mushrooms!!! Half of them were sauteed with butte and olive oil and some heirloom sweet Italian red peppers and served over the pasta Saturday. The other half was for Sunday night's dinner! They have an incredible delicate flavor that is easily overpowered.

The plate was made by Hamilton Williams in 1997; Tim Jacks gave us a pair of them.

Green beans! These are not Blue Lake beans, I've forgotten just what variety they are. No matter, they are delicious raw and I'm looking forward to using some of them Monday night!

Casserole by and a gift from Gay Brown.

I'm not sure if Inky is wanting to help with the photography or if he is interested in sampling the cheese!

Custom work and bezels!

It was a busy week for us. We had some distractions, but we still managed to get a lot done. Maybe not as much on our own work as we would have liked, but it was a good week for us. We'll get everything done in plenty of time.

Besides our normal work, Pat did get to work on making the bezels for the stones that we are using for this run. Here she is soldering bezels together. Each one has to be made individually since each stone is a different size and shape.

This is the sketch our clients gave us to work from. Our job is to interpret their vision and make it real for them so they will have two unique and wonderful wedding bands!

Here are the two custom wedding band waxes that Pat carved for our clients! After their approval the waxes go to Tom for spruing, investing and the actual casting.

Once they are cast and cleaned the heads will be soldered on and then the stones will be mounted. Then our clients will have their wedding bands in tie for their marriage!

Tom using one of his favorite tools, our two-station electric wax pen, as he begins to sprue the two custom waxes before investing them.
(These photos were taken last Friday.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Decisions Decisions . . .

It's time to get really busy! We have a number of custom and commissioned pieces that we're working on. We're a month away from making our first delivery to Bellagio Art to Wear and we have orders from three of our Guild Shops to fill.

This is the beginning of an exciting run. We both really enjoy what we do. Some of the most Fun we have is deciding what stones we're going to use, and how we're going to use them!

Here's an overview of some of the stones that we're considering. These were purchaed at the Franklin Wholesale Gem Show this July.

Pat thinking about some of our other stones. "What do you think about . . . ?"

Tom examing even more stones.

The stones that we selected for this run!

Closer views of the twenty-two stones we'll be using first! There is some color drift in these images and some of them will be facing in different directions ~ they can look so different from different angles.

These stones are from some of our favorite cutters, and a couple are from a family of cutters that we have just begun buying from. We work with a lot of faceted stones too, but these cabs are the ones that are exciting to us right now. Since each is a unique stone the next step is making bezels for each one.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

To Market To Market We Go !

One of our mottoes is, "The better we eat the better we work!" So yesterday we went to our favorite farmers' tailgate market at UNCA. Asheville has a number of very good markets, but this one is our favorite: it's always shady, there's usually a breeze, people are happy to talk recipes or tell you how to use or store your food, there's just a really good vibe in the air, . . . It's just Fun!

We had planned to go to the market, maybe run a couple of errands then come home and each put in a half day or so working. We really need to take the full weekend off, but we both have things that we need and want to get done! Pat wants to finish the first of two custom wedding band waxes so the clients can approve it Monday. I have some paperwork and business correspondance I want to take care of, and I really want to get our calenders updated!

An overview of our morning's shopping:

I found Pat's bread cutting board at Guild Crafts last Christmas, made by a Guild member. Clockwise from top left: Blue Hill Farm Fresh Ground Golden Cornmeal with germ (cornbread on Sunday!), an eight ball squash, fresh curry pasta from Pasta Mamma, fresh zucchini pasta also from Pasta Mamma (Saturday night's dinner!), a farmstead cheese blanche (a brie) from Three Graces Creamery, a quarter pouind of fresh mushrooms (some for Saturday night with the pasta!), and a loaf of seeded rye from Farm and Sparrow Bakery.

Our glass platter, from the Guild's Christmas Sale last December, made by a Guild member. Again, clockwise from top left: The tastiest garlic I've ever had, fresh Kenebec potatoes from Madison County, tomatoes from our favorite grower, a sweet bananna pepper, a pound of young carrots that I couldn't resist ~ I know exactly how sweet and delicious these are going to be!, and a couple of young tasty cucumbers.

This platter was a gift from our Friend Gay Brown, a Guild member. Clockwise from top left: very colorful swiss chard, fresh greens, eggplant, and chiogga (I believe it's spelled) beets ~ young and tender and incredibly tasty simply grilled then lightly drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.

This bowl was also a gift from our Friend Gay Brown and is filled with fresh blue lake green beans grown by the young couple that we so enjoy buying veggies and plants from. The green beans will probably be used to make a blue cheese and toasted walnet recipe that I've been playing with lately, from the June issue of Eating Well.

By the time we got home and had a wonderful lunch of the extra pizza we had made Friday night (loaded with our own herbs) we looked at each other and both said, "You know, I'm tired. I don't wanna work today. Can I do it all tomorrow?!?"

So we took the afternoon off. Pat got some reading time in on the couch. I played around in the kitchen then got some fun and relaxing time in painting. We had a great afternoon snack of brie, seeded rye bread, rye crisps and humus. It was very good. A glass of wine for her, beer for me and a movie to relax with.

Jeannie called, from The Jeweler's Workbench. So we have another custom ring order to fill this week. I should be able to cast it early in the week, so we'll have plenty of time to finish it and mount the stone for her. It'll be ready for the customer to pick it up next Monday.

For dinner I simply grilled the scallops we bought at the market. (There's a fish monger that brings the freshest seafood I've yet found in Asheville from the coast each weekend.) Served them on the Pasta Momma's fresh zucchini pasta mixed with a little garlic and sauteed bell pepper and sweet bananna pepper. It was pretty amazing.

Later, after relaxing and letting dinner digest for a bit, we made our first trip of the summer to DQ for small vanilla cups dipped in chocolate. We sat on the hood of our trusty little car eating our ice cream snuggled together, amazed at the beautiful crepe myrtles lining the parking lot.

Then home to bed. All in all it was a perfect day.

Today promises to be an excellant day too! Up early, started this blog, and now I'm going to get busy so that I'll have the afternoon free for cooking shows!
Lets see . . . I need to email a new Collector, photograph two of our Ridgelines bracelets, get the images emailed out for another Collector, make a couple of calls about the ad hoc Technology Committee I'm heading up for the Board, answer a Board of Trustees email, re-read some papers before tomorrow morning's meeting. Balance the accounts and update the calenders and then it'll be time to relax and watch cooking shows!

Not sure just what I'm going to make for dinner yet . . . But I know cornbread, fresh greens and swiss chard will be involved!