Lost Wax Beetle

by bookindian

The “lost wax process

You heard of the “bikini wax process” (it’s a bit like OMG what just happened? . . . that REALLY hurt!!), well the “lost wax process” is less painful, unless you get some molten bronze splashed on your body parts.

So the “lost wax method” is a process for producing one-off works of “art” like the beetle in the following photo . . . My kind of “bug” – doesn’t need to be fed and the dog cannot eat it. And you’d probably get a flat tire if you ran over it.

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I usually check Sea of Shoes to see what’s happening down Dallas way, always something of interest – and two days ago there was a photo of a gigantic bronze beetle, a belt buckle. HOLY CRAP, the thing is like nine inches head-to-butt . . . thanks to Sea of Shoes for the photo.

What really intrigued me was that it was created using the old school “lost wax process”, so I thought I would talk a bit about it.

The process is “sometimes called by the French name of cire perdue (from the Latin cera perduta)”.

Bronze is still favored for casting because it expands slightly as it cools and captures all the details of the molded image, in this case, “The Beetle” . . . “The Beetle” has been given a Latin name (by me) “cera perduta gigantus” – “lost wax giant” or should that be “gigantea”? Whatever, this beetle is the “Gojira” (Godzilla) of the beetle kingdom. There’s probably a beetle somewhere in the unexplored reaches of the Amazon rain forest as big or bigger that this bronze gigante . . .

I did some bronze “lost wax” pieces when a student at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Bronze is a mixture, or alloy, of copper and usually tin – the stuff has been around for thousands of years, you know, like the “Bronze Age” . . .

The following is from the Wikipedia:

Model-making. An artist or mold-maker creates an original model from wax, clay, or another material. Wax and oil-based clay are often preferred because these materials retain their softness.

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A wax apple . . .

Spruing. The wax copy is sprued with a treelike structure of wax that will eventually provide paths for molten casting material to flow and air to escape. The carefully planned spruing usually begins at the top with a wax “cup,” which is attached by wax cylinders to various points on the wax copy. This spruing doesn’t have to be hollow, as it will be melted out later in the process.

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Burnout (this NOT like a “burnout” at the drags): The ceramic shell-coated piece is placed cup-down in a kiln, whose heat hardens the silica coatings into a shell, and the wax melts and runs out. The melted wax can be recovered and reused, although often it is simply burned up. Now all that remains of the original artwork is the negative space, formerly occupied by the wax, inside the hardened ceramic shell. The feeder and vent tubes and cup are also hollow.

Drag race “burnout – a lot more exciting than burning out the wax . . .

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– At SFAI we used plaster and aggregate to make the mold – lighter and very resistant to thermal shock –

Pouring. The shell is reheated in the kiln to harden the patches and remove all traces of moisture, then placed cup-upwards into a tub filled with sand. Metal is melted in a crucible in a furnace, then poured carefully into the shell. If the shell were not hot, the temperature difference would shatter it. The filled shells are allowed to cool.

Release (”I Shall Be Released” – The Band, “Music from Big Pink” 1968): The shell is hammered or sandblasted away, releasing the rough casting. The spruing (or vents), which are also faithfully recreated in metal, are cut off, to be reused in another casting.”

“I Shall Be Released” is a 1967 song written by Bob Dylan.

After the “release” comes “chasing”, and all that means is cleaning off all the imperfections, like the feeder and vent marks.

Creating “cera perduta gigantus” involved sketches, maybe a clay maquette, a considerable bit of work before sculpting the wax model and completing the rest of the process . . . and you’re probably thinking –
that’s one hell of a lot of work for one big mofo “bug” . . .

And that’s why if you’re heading to Dallas to score “The Beetle” and the belt, you better be hauling some serious $$$, it’s a one-of-a-kind fashion statement that can double as that pet you’ve always wanted but couldn’t have because of the “no pets” clause in your lease agreement.

p.s. A maquette (French word for scale model) is a small scale model or rough draft of an unfinished architectural work or a sculpture.

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