London Jewellery School tutor Anna Campbell works a lot in precious metal clay but recently she decided to try a class in wax carvingwhich required her to think about jewellery making in a different way.
With wax carving (also know as lost wax casting) you start out with a lump of wax which you cut, carve, file and sand down until it is the shape you want. Once this is complete, the wax piece is sent to a caster. You choose the metal you would like the piece to be made into (for example brass, sterling silver, gold). The wax piece is attached to a wax tree, along with several others, so that many pieces can be cast at once.
The tree is then encased in a plaster-like substance called investment. Once this has hardened the wax is burnt out leaving a cavity in the mould. Molten metal is then poured into the mould. Once the metal has cooled and hardened the jewellery pieces are cut from the ‘tree’. When you receive your piece back it will still need a bit of work to polish up. It will have a sprue, a bit of additional metal where the piece of jewellery had been attached to the tree. This just needs to be filed off.
Have a look at this excellent video showing the whole process when jewellery making is done on a more industrial scale. Forward to 50 seconds to see how the wax tree is made and cast.
In the class we started out by creating a technical drawing of our design, complete with measurements. This is a drawing, usually on graph paper, showing all angles of the piece. This means the front, side and top profile.
I found this challenging. In my metal clay work I tend to work with a basic sketch and the piece evolves. With wax you need to be a bit more disciplined and have a good idea of how it will look in the end.
The drawings and a piece of wax ready to start.
I decided to have a go at making a ring (although you can make what you want. Others in the class made earrings, pendants etc). Once I had the beginnings of a sketched idea I cut myself a block of wax. Then there is a lot of sawing, filing and sanding to make the piece. A lot!
This again is different from the way other jewellery makers tend to work. We usually work by adding to rather than removing so it is a little more like sculpting in that respect. Using wax is a really interesting and forgiving way of making jewellery. If it breaks you can melt the wax to fix it. If you take off too much wax you can always melt and add more.
The finished wax piece
A few days after the class I took the wax carved piece to a caster. The casters used by the London Jewellery School are
West One casting, 24 Hatton Garden, London, EC1N 8BQ
If you live outside of London you can take your wax piece to a caster closer to home or you can send your piece to one of the above and have the final jewellery delivered to you (the cost of casting isn’t included in the course fee).
I took mine to Just Castings and had it cast in sterling silver. I was very impressed with the quality of the casting and I thought the price was very reasonable as my ring is quite a large piece.
My finished ring (Copyright Anna Campbell 2014)
I am really pleased with my first attempt at wax carving. It does take some time and patience to get right but it is a great way to make a piece in silver that could not be made in the traditional way. You don’t need a lot of tools at home to work with wax and the wax itself is inexpensive. I will definitely be trying it again in the future.
Interested in trying it yourself? We have two levels of wax carving class at the London Jewellery School