Home Foundry – Foundry Work at Home

I The Equipment
Many amateur mechanics who require small metal castings in their work would like to make their own castings. This can easily be done at home without going to any great expense, and the variety and usefulness of the articles produced will make the equipment a good investment.
With the easily made devices about to be described, the young mechanic can make his own telegraph keys and sounders, battery zincs, binding posts, engines, cannons, bearings, small machinery parts, models and miniature objects, ornaments of various kinds, and duplicates of all these, and many other interesting and useful articles.
The first thing to make is a molding bench, as shown in Fig. 1. It is possible to make molds without a bench, but it is a mistake to try to do this, as the sand is sure to get on the floor, whence it is soon tracked into the house.
The bench will also make the operation of molding much easier and will prove to be a great convenience.
The bench should be made of lumber about 1 in. thick and should be constructed in the form of a trough, as shown. Two cleats, AA, should be nailed to the front and back to support the cross-boards, BE, which in turn support the mold while it is being made. The object of using the cleats and removable cross-boards instead of a stationary shelf is to give access to the sand, C, when it is being prepared.

About one or two cubic feet of fine molding-sand will be required, which may, be purchased at the nearest foundry for a small sum. Yellow sand will be found a little better for the amateur’s work than the black sand generally used in most foundries, but if no yellow sand can be obtained the black kind will do. If there is no foundry near at hand, try using sand from other sources, giving preference to the finest sand and that which clings together in a cake when compressed between the hands. Common lake or river sand is not suitable for the purpose, as it is too coarse and will not make a good mold.

 Fig. 1 – Convenient Arrangement of Bench and Tools

For mixing and preparing the sand a small shovel, D, and a sieve, E, will be required. If desired the sieve may be homemade. Ordinary wire netting such as is used in screen doors, is about the right mesh, and this, nailed to replace the bottom of a box, makes a very good sieve.

The rammer, F, is made of wood, and is wedge-shaped at one end and flat at the other, as shown. In foundries each molder generally uses two rammers, but for the small work which will be described one will be sufficient. An old teaspoon, G, will be found useful in the molding operations and may be hung on the wall or other convenient place when not in use.

The cloth bag, H, which can be made of a knitted stocking, is filled with coal dust; which is used for a parting medium in making the molds. Take a small lump of soft coal and reduce to powder by pounding. Screen out all the coarse pieces and put the remainder in the bag. A slight shake of the bag over the mold will then cause a cloud of coal-dust to fall on it, thus preventing the two layers of sand from sticking, but this operation will be described more fully later on.
Fig. 2; Homemade Flask

The flask, J, Fig. 1, is shown more clearly in Fig. 2. It is made of wood and is in two halves, the “cope,” or upper half, and the “drag,” or lower part. A good way to make the flask is to take a box, say 12 in. by 8 in. by 6 in. high, and saw it in half longitudinally, as shown. If the box is not very strong, the corners should be braced with triangular wooden strips, A A, which should be nailed in, previous to sawing. The wooden strips BB are used to hold the sand, which would otherwise slide out of the flask when the two halves of the mold are separated.

The dowels, CC, are a very important part of the flask as upon them depends the matching of the two halves of the mold. A wedge-shaped piece, CC, is nailed to each end of the cope, and the lower pieces, DD, are then nailed on the drag so that they just touch C when the flask is closed. The two halves of the flask will then occupy exactly the same relative position whenever they are put together.

After the flask is done make two boards as shown at K, Fig. 1, a little larger than the outside of the flask. A couple of cleats nailed to each board will make it easier to pick up the mold when it is on the floor.

A cast-iron glue-pot makes a very good crucible for melting the metal, which can be either aluminum, white metal, zinc or any other metal having a low melting-point. This completes the equipment with the exception of one or two simple devices which will now be described.

 II – How to Make a Mold

Having finished making the flask and other equipment, as described, everything will be ready for the operation of molding. It would be well for those who have never had any experience in this line to visit a small brass foundry, where they can watch the molders at work, as it is much easier to learn by observation; but they must not expect to make a good mold at the first trial. The first attempt usually results in the sand dropping out of the cope when it is being lifted from the drag, either because of insufficient ramming around the edges or because the sand is too dry.

A good way to tell when the sand is moist enough is to squeeze it in the hand. If it forms into a cake and shows all the finger-marks, it has a sufficient amount of moisture, but if it crumbles or fails to cake it is too dry. An ordinary watering-pot will be found useful in moistening the sand, but care should be taken not to get it too wet, or the hot metal coming in contact with it when the mold is poured will cause such rapid evaporation that the mold will “boil” and make a poor casting. A little practice in this operation will soon enable the molder to determine the correct amount of moisture.

When molding with sand for the first time it will be necessary to screen it all before using it, in order to remove the lumps, and if water is added, the sand should be thoroughly shoveled until the moisture is evenly distributed. The sand is then ready for molding.

The operation of making a mold is as follows: The lower half of the flask, or “drag,” and the pattern to be molded are both placed on the cover board as shown at A. A quantity of sand sufficient to completely cover the pattern is then sifted into the drag, which is then filled level with the top with unscreened sand. This is rammed down slightly with the rammer, and then more sand is added until it becomes heaped up as shown at B. It is then rammed again as before.

 Fig,. 3-Making a Mold

It is impossible to describe just how hard a mold should be rammed, but by observing the results the beginner can tell when a mold is too hard or too soft, and thus judge for himself. If the sand falls out of the flask when lifting the cope, or if it opens up or spreads after it is poured, it shows that the mold has been rammed too little, and if the surface of the sand next to the pattern is cracked it shows that the mold has been rammed too hard. It will be found that the edges of the mold can stand a little more ramming than the middle. In finishing the ramming, pound evenly all over the surface with the blunt end of the rammer.

After ramming, scrape off the surplus sand with a straight-edged stick, as shown at C, and scatter about 1/16 in. of loose sand over the surface for a good bearing. Place another cover board on top, as shown at D, and by grasping with both hands, as shown, turn the drag other side up. Remove the upper cover board and place the upper half of the flask, or “cope,” in position, as shown at E.

In order to prevent the two layers of sand sticking together, the surface of the sand at E should be covered with coal-dust. This is done by shaking the coal-dust bag over the flask, after which the dust on the pattern may be removed by blowing. The cope is then filled with sand and rammed in exactly the same manner as in the case of the drag.

After the ramming is done a number of vent holes are made, as shown at F, from the surface of the mold to the pattern, in order to allow the escape of air and steam when the mold is being poured. These vent holes may be made by pushing a wire about the size of a knitting-needle down through the sand until it touches the pattern. The “sprue,” or pouring-hole, is next cut, by means of the sprue-cutter shown at the right, which consists of a piece of thin brass or steel tubing about 3/4 in. in diameter.

Now comes the critical part of the molding operation—that of lifting the cope from the drag. It is here that the amateur often becomes discouraged, as the sand is liable to fall out of the cope and spoil the mold; but with a little practice and patience the molder can lift the cope every time without breaking it, as shown at G.

The next operation is that of cutting the gate, which carries the molten metal from the sprue to the opening left by the pattern. This is done with a spoon, a channel being cut about 3/4 in. wide and about 1/4 in. deep. The pattern is then drawn from the mold, as shown at H, by driving a sharp pointed steel rod into the pattern and lifting it from the sand. When a metal pattern is used a thread rod is used, which is screwed into a tapped hole in the pattern. Before drawing it is well to tap the drawing-rod lightly with another and larger rod, striking it in all directions and thus loosening the sand slightly from the pattern. Some molders tap the pattern gently when withdrawing, as shown at H, in order to loosen any sand which has a tendency to stick.

After drawing the pattern, place the cope back on the drag, as shown at J. Place a brick or other flat, heavy object on top of the mold above the pattern, to prevent the pressure of the melted metal separating the two halves of the mold, and then pour.

III- Melting and Pouring

Having prepared one or more molds, the next operation is that of melting and pouring. An ordinary cast-iron glue-pot makes a good crucible and can be easily handled by a pair of tongs, made out of steel rod, as shown in the sketch. In order to hold the tongs together a small link can be slipped on over the handle, thus holding the crucible securely.

A second piece of steel rod bent in the form of a hook at the end is very useful for supporting the weight of the crucible and prevents spilling the molten metal should the tongs slip off the crucible. The hook is also useful for removing the crucible from the fire, which should be done soon after the metal is entirely melted, in order to prevent overheating. The metal should be poured into the mold in a small stream, to give the air a chance to escape, and should not be poured directly into the center of the opening, as the metal will then strike the bottom hard enough to loosen the sand, thus making a dirty casting.

Fig. 4 -Pouring the Metal
If, after being poured, the mold sputters and emits large volumes of steam, it shows that the sand is too wet, and the castings in such cases will probably be imperfect and full of holes.

A mold made in the manner previously described may be poured with any desired metal, but a metal which is easily melted will give the least trouble. One of the easiest metals to melt and one which makes very attractive castings is pure tin. Tin melts at a temperature slightly above the melting point of solder, and, although somewhat expensive, the permanent brightness and silver-like appearance of the castings is very desirable. A good “white metal” may be made by mixing 75% tin, 15% lead, 5% zinc and 5% antimony. The object of adding antimony to an alloy is to prevent shrinkage when cooling.

A very economical alloy is made by melting up all the old type-metal, babbitt, battery zincs, white metal and other scrap available, and adding a little antimony if the metal shrinks too much in cooling. If a good furnace is available, aluminum can be melted without any difficulty, although this metal melts at a higher temperature than any of the metals previously mentioned.

In casting zincs for batteries a separate crucible, used only for zinc, is very desirable, as the presence of a very small amount of lead or other impurity will cause the batteries to polarize. A very good way to make the binding posts is to remove the binding posts from worn-out dry batteries and place them in the molds in such a way that the melted zinc will flow around them.

The time required for a casting to solidify varies with the size and shape of the casting, but unless the pattern is a very large one about five minutes will be ample time for it to set. The casting is then dumped out of the mold and the sand brushed off. The gate can be removed with either a cold chisel or a hacksaw, and the casting is then ready for finishing.

Excerpt from the book: