Delft Clay Casting - Lantern Fish

Originally, my plan was to make a belt buckle from the chased & repousse design, but it turned out a little larger and thicker than originally intended, so I've decided this is a sculpture.  I have some finishing touches to add, like a stand or frame, but it will soon be on the website for sale.

Anywhooo...  If you didn't read about how I created the original model, you may want to CLICK HERE to find out how I made this scary fish before reading about the sanding casting or delft clay casting I've done.

 Basic sand casting supplies: hammer, delft clay, mold frame & cutting instrument.

Basic sand casting supplies: hammer, delft clay, mold frame & cutting instrument.

First things first, you must have these items ready on the bench before you can begin:  delft clay or sand, a hammer, some sort of cutting knife and a mold frame.  I made my mold frame from some 1 x 2's found in the garage and did a quick nail together job.

 Mounted model on roughly cut 2" x 4" piece of wood.

Mounted model on roughly cut 2" x 4" piece of wood.

After I pulled together my casting tools & equipment, I had to attach my chased & repoussed sculpture on a stable foundation in order to press it into the sand.  I used ordinary nails & a hammer to put my copper on the pre-cut 2" x 4" piece of wood.  To make it easier to pull out of the sand, I also put two nails in the backside of the wood so I could grip the mold & pull it out.

Sculpture firmly pressed into the delft clay.

Next, I placed about an inch of delft clay into the bottom of the mold frame and packed it in tightly with my hammer and a wooden dowel.  It's important to have a strong, stable foundation so your pressure in placing the image into the sand has support.  Here you can see the two nails I used for the stability of pulling the mold out of the sand.  I pressed the mold firmly into the layer of delft clay and then packed another inch or so into the frame around the mold to create a channel to hold the molten metal.

The mold has been pulled out of the sand so you can see the image to be cast in the frame.

Once the sand is pressed firmly around the edges, I used the two nails from the reverse side to carefully pull the mold out of the sand.  You can see the reversed image in the sand that will create the sculpture in hot, molten metal.

The next step is to use your torch to heat the metal until you have enough to fill the cavity of the mold.  Unfortunately, I only have two hands, so I don't have an action photo of the melting of the metal.  For this sculpture, I used a 10 lb bar of tin alloy to cast the lantern fish.  Since the alloy has a fairly low melting temperature, this step took about 10 minutes to fill to the level I desired, which was roughly 1/4 inch deep.

The filled mold.

The sand will always burn around the edges where the hot, molten metal first touches and this is normal.  The burnt sand will eventually be cut off and thrown away because it won't cast very well the next time around.  I usually take an exact-knife and cut away the burned part of the sand before I put the "good" sand back in my box for the next casting.

Removing the casting from the delft clay mold.

Finishing the removal.

After the mold has cooled and you can touch the metal, use the dowel and your fingers to remove the sand from the mold frame and pull your casting out.  I normally place a sheet of brown butcher paper under my mold frame to catch the sand for an easy way to collect the burned sand from the reusable sand.  Plus, it keeps the sand from getting in the nooks and crannies of my bench.

Rinsing the excess sand from the casting in water.

Drying the sculpture.

Rinse the sculpture in water.  If there is still sand in the recessed areas, I used running water and a washout brush to clean the piece.  You can see the slight discoloration on the metal from the quick cooling sand and the hot molten metal.  This is normal and will be cleaned from the metal with Barkeeper's Friend cleanser once the sand has been washed away.

Painted with black acrylic spray paint.

Now that the sculpture is clean, I want to add a patina to bring out the high and low areas of the sculpture.  The best way I found to do this is to spray the entire piece with black or brown acrylic paint.  Really, you could use any color you'd like, it all depends on the aesthetic you're trying to achieve.  I settled on black for this one considering the lantern fish is a deep ocean critter.  I spray the whole piece with a couple of coats of black and let it dry.

When the paint is dry, I use a green scrubbie pad to gently scrape away the black paint from the high parts of the sculpture to define the fish and his scary features.  Take as much or as little as you'd like away from the high areas to achieve the look and feel of the sculpture.  When you're happy with the results the final step is to seal the piece with a clear glossy or matte acrylic paint finish.  I used a glossy paint to finish off my piece.

Finished sculpture.

When this was finished, I realized it was a little too big and a little too heavy to be a belt buckle, so I decided it is a sculpture.  I need to mount it somehow for display and I'm still working on the final piece, but I'm off to a great start and this project has given me a whole new perspective on metal art.  I had watched a video on DiResta and was inspired to try this technique.  If you'd like to see a really great video, click HERE to watch Jimmy DiResta do a belt buckle in fast motion.  It's a great video.

Please leave a comment below to tell me how you liked this article.  I'd love to hear feedback and if you have a technique you'd like me to review and share, please let me know, I'm always happy to get suggestions for the next article.