The Lost Wax Process
Part 1: Creating the Wax Master
Take an inside look at how a piece of jewelry goes from an idea on paper to a piece of wearable art!
In this article we will walk you through the process as a piece of jewelry transforms from an idea on paper to a piece of finished jewelry.
It all starts out with an idea and a sheet of paper. In this example, we are going to make a wax master of the Irminsul to be used for pendant and pin castings. The image can either be hand drawn or printed from a computer illustration. It is then glued onto a piece of “carving wax”, a specially formulated wax that carves easily and can be burned out completely and cleanly from a mold cavity. Ordinary white glue works well to glue the paper to the wax.
Next, the outline of the image is transferred onto the wax by poking holes along the lines with a pin, scribe or a hobby knife to form a sort of pointillism image on the wax (Think “connect-the-dots”). This will be the guide by which the piece can be carved.
The paper is then removed and the rough shape carefully sawn out of the wax block. It is sawn out using a jeweler’s saw, close to the line, but not on the line. The final millimeter or so will be carved down with files.
Next, tools like hobby knives, files and wax carving tools (these are very similar to dentist’s tools) are used to carve the details in. The shape of the wax master can be formed either by carving away the rough shape until the finished piece is achieved, or globs of wax can be melted and applied to the master to build up the form you want.
Alternately, a wax pen, , a device a lot like a soldering iron but with sensitive heat control can, be used to perform many of the carving operations.
When the details are carved in or applied onto the piece, it can be polished by gently rubbing it with a felt polishing wheel. This step is optional as the final polishing can be done on the finished metal jewelry piece made from the master without risking damage to the delicate wax sculpture.
Another option, only for the brave, is called flame polishing; this is where the finished wax master is passed near an open flame to melt the surface for a fraction of a second, smoothing it. This method usually results in a loss of the sharp details that have been painstakingly carved and risks ruining the whole piece altogether.
The wax master featured in this article was used to make the following pieces of finished jewelry: