On-Site Casting: Beginner's Guide

June 1999

Precious Metals & Bench:News

On-Site Casting: Beginner's Guide

Casting can enhance your image as a full-service jeweler. Here we look at everything from basic to advanced equipment. Future articles will look at wax and investment, two key parts of casting

Offering custom work is a strong marketing and public relations tool for independent retail jewelers. Custom work often includes casting. Whether you're just getting started or expanding your casting capabilities, you have many options in tools and equipment.

In the Beginning
Each step in the casting process affects the final piece. The quality of the wax model directly relates to the quality of the mold. The investment you use and the skill with which you prepare the mold determines the smoothness of the interior surfaces. The temperature of the metal and the speed at which it's injected into the mold affect the inner surfaces, where problems can cause cracking and surface flaws in the finished cast. The more sophisticated the equipment, the more control you have over temperature and timing.

If you plan to do a lot of casting, it's exponentially important that it be right the first time. Your casting operation will never be profitable if you have to spend time finishing or recasting pieces.

Routine is important regardless of the equipment you use, says Wayne Harper of Swest Inc., a supplier of casting equipment with locations in Dallas, TX; Seattle, WA; and Norcross, GA. Keep records of your casting methods. If there's a problem, you'll be able to pinpoint your error and correct it.

Buying Equipment
You'll find a dizzying array of machinery, tools and supplies from which to choose if you're just starting out, but the good news is the products on the market fall into several distinct groups and price ranges.

For most retail jewelers, the basic kits offered by the major distributors will be more than sufficient in terms of production capacity. Any of the kits noted here can produce several hundred rings a week. If you plan to do large-scale casting or casting for other jewelers, you'll need higher-capacity equipment. More sophisticated and expensive equipment will give you more consistency in the quality of your casting. This will save time in finishing.

Getting started in casting is easier and is less costly and occupies fewer square feet than most people think, says Elaine Corwin of Gesswein, Bridgeport, CT. With no more than a 6-sq.-ft. table and a casting kit, you can cast successfully in a short time.

Corwin recommends setting up the casting facility in a glassed-in area where customers can watch the process. Of course, you may want to wait until you become proficient with your new equipment!

Basic Casting Kits
Basic starter kits includes a centrifugal caster and small furnace. Swest offers such a kit for just over $900. For around $2,000, Swest offers a vacuum casting kit. Check with your supplier on the pros and cons of the various casting methods in terms of such potential pitfalls as porosity in cast pieces.

Shor International Corp., Mount Vernon, NY, one of the oldest suppliers of casting equipment, offers two kits to set up a casting bench. Kit #1 has a Pro-cast vacuum caster, a centrifugal casting unit and all the supplies you need to get started. It comes with an instruction book; you can buy a video to help develop your technique. The kit sells for $2,475. For $1,945, Shor offers a similar kit without the centrifugal unit. Whether you want vacuum casting or centrifugal, you'll need a vacuum to treat the investment, a plaster-like material used in casting.

Gold International Machinery Corp., Pawtucket, RI offers the Orogold Model 74-900 Small Production Casting Shop, which provides everything you need to start casting. The price is $3,150.

The Bigger Jobs
For higher-volume casting where more consistency is desired, look for closed-system casting machines incorporating a unit to melt the metal. Rio Grande, Albuquerque, NM, a major supplier of casting equipment, offers such a unit within its self-contained Neutec J-2R IV Casting Shop Upgrade System ($14,500), in which the melt-cast process is done in an oxygen-free environment.

Casting systems with computers provide high-quality casting. They can cost $25,000 or more; if you plan to cast platinum, the price ranges as high as $75,000. Many of these machines will cast gold, silver and platinum, but metals experts recommend using separate equipment for platinum because of the risk of contamination. Also, the technical requirements of platinum are different. (See p. 86 for more on platinum casting.)

All the suppliers stress their technical support. Shor International offers a free technical support hotline from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST every day. "We once had a caster call on Christmas Eve," says Shor. "When you have a problem with a cast, it can't wait until the next business day." Swest will offer workshops Aug. 21-22 in Dallas, TX, and Oct. 2-3 in Atlanta, GA; each will cost $85. Rio Grande offers a video that addresses major problems casters face and walks you through every step of the process.

  • Gesswein & Co., Bridgeport, CT; (203) 366-5400.
  • Swest, Dallas, TX; (800) 527-5057.
  • Shor International Corp,. Mount Vernon, NY; (914) 667-1100.
  • Gold International Machinery Corp., Pawtucket, RI; (800) 619-GOLD.
  • Rio Grande, Albuquerque, NM; 800-545-6566.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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