If you know a beekeeper, the chances are you know someone with a surplus of beeswax.
This leaves me with a bit of a problem – beeswax accumulates and I ought to do something to get rid of it.
Maybe it’s just me but I don’t have a heck of a lot of call for candles and although I do use lip balm and leather polish, the amount of raw materials the bees make far outstrips my desire to polish my shoes and lubricate my lips. Even amount of wax I can give away is quite limited.
Taking of lubricating lips, clearing out one of the boxes from moving ( three years ago! ), I stumbled across a hip flask. I don’t know why people went through a phase of buying me these things, being seen with one in today’s health conscious society would lead to certain conclusions about my substance use. This one also leaks so should I attempt to use it, the resulting moist patch on my trousers would only make such assumptions worse.
There’s no recycling stream I’m aware of for pewter but I don’t want to just throw it out. I have a cunning plan to turn combine it with the bees wax via the lost wax process.
Lost wax casting isn’t particularly difficult – if you can make something in plasticine you can make it in metal. The basic plan is make something out of wax, surround it with something solid, melt away the wax and fill the gap with metal.
I taught myself to do this when I was eleven, so honestly, anyone can do it. It doesn’t even take long – you can finish this project in a couple of hours.
You will need –
- Wax – bee, paraffin or cheese varieties all work
- Plaster of Paris
- A few paper cups
- Lead free pewter ( or try plumber’s solder)
- Modeling tools ( matchsticks, tweezers, anything you can improvise)
- An oven – for baking out the mold.
- A tin of some description for melting metal in
- Pliers for holding hot metal
- Some sort of safety glasses
- Sandpaper and stuff
With the autumn well under way there’s more than a sufficiency of leaves around, on our favourite dog walking route there’s a gingko tree. I don’t rate them much except at this time of year when I have to admit they do look amazing and I think their leaves would make quite nice plant labels.
Leaves are a bit thin, and not made of wax but dripping an even layer of beeswax over one gives a decent thickness. After flattening it out with a rolling pin, it doesn’t take long to trim up the splodge and pick the leaf off leaving us with a wax impression.
Plaster comes next – it’s vital that the first layer is totally free of bubbles, the best way to achieve this is to smear it on with a finger then top it up by pouring.
The set block needs to be de waxed, putting it face down in a hot oven for quarter of an hour does the job. If you don’t want to fill the house with blue smoke, put a wad of kitchen towel under it to catch the wax. Please don’t burn the house down, it’s bad karma.
With the wax gone we have a leaf shaped void that needs a bit of a tidy – just work around the edges with whatever tools come to hand then plonk the block back in the oven to dry out – for something this small half an hour will do. When it’s cooked, put it on a chopping board with a pad of newspaper underneath.
It’s time to get the metal ready. Pewter melts around the 150 to 180C mark – easy stove range. It will still bloody hurt if it gets on you so gloves and eye protection might be a plan. The poor flask gets stomped on crammed into an old can and put on the hob. Melting takes a couple of minutes, the temperature is about right when the surface of the liquid metal just starts to colour.
Pour the metal into the mold and use a bit of scrap wood, thick card or something to press down on the top. Keep the pressure on for a minute or so.
Yay! We’ve made a leaf – a very untidy one but we can deal with that. You should be able to get the metal out without damaging the mold so you can reuse it.
Pliers and sandpaper do for trimming the leaf up but though it’s done it looks a bit raw and shiny. Pewter will darken with age and develop a pleasing patina but I don’t want to wait.
To speed things up I get the whole thing covered in soot from a few matches. It looks awful but after a quick buff with a cloth I’ve got something that looks suspiciously professional. I’ll make a few more then wait impatiently until spring when I can use them.
Not that I’m trying to show off here but whilst I was at it I made myself a shot glass –