Making hollow casts in open or ‘closed’ moulds – Part 2

This follows on from the previous post in which I mentioned that hollow casts can be made in ‘closed’ moulds i.e. without having to set up a pouring hole. The cast is achieved in exactly the same way as the puppet head .. by building up a sufficiently thick layer in both halves of the mould, then joining them together. In fact it can even be a little easier since the two mould halves often have a consistent rim to work up to. This method of casting is a big advantage when the prototype form offers no convenient area for setting up a pouring hole, as is the case with the form below.

silicone rubber mould of a light bulb

Chloe Allen moulded this lightbulb while participating in our Modelling, mouldmaking and casting course in 2012. She wanted to preserve the distinctive shape of the contacts at the base, which would have to be remodelled if this area were cut out to form a pouring hole.

light bulb casts in Sculptamold and PU resin

The cast on the right, which came out near-perfectly, was a thin shell casting using polyurethane resin (Biresin G26 in this case) and Fillite. Note how finely the silicone rubber and resin have captured the smoothness of the glass. When silicone rubber is used on glass the surface must be very thinly greased with Vaseline to prevent the silicone from sticking. The distinctly different result on the left was obtained using Sculptamold as a casting material. Sculptamold is a mix of casting plaster and cellulose fibres, bought ready-mixed in dry form, making a thick paste when water is added. It feels and looks very similar to papier-mâché pulp, except that it sets hard in about the same time as regular casting plaster i.e. around 30mins. One has to work fairly quickly and paste the mix into both halves of the mould to form a thick shell. The paste is very workable and has good thixotropic properties, meaning that it is non-slump. When working with polyurethane resin the shell can be left fairly thin at the rim, because this will be strengthened when more resin is rotated around the closed mould. But Sculptamold is too thick to do this with .. instead the walls of the cast need to be built up to a good thickness right to the rim, but preferably with the top edge sloping down towards the centre of the mould, so that the mould halves will close properly when they’re put together. Usually once this is done the Sculptamold has already set firm, the top edge can be trimmed with a knife if need be and excess Sculptamold cleaned away from the mould surfaces. A little more needs to be mixed and then ‘piped’ or troweled on one or both of those edges before the two mould halves are joined together. Since the edges were sloping downwards most of the fresh Sculptamold will be pushed towards the centre of the mould, though a little will be squeezed the other way and will form a thin flashing on the cast which can be easily removed.

Because of its mix of plaster and fibres Sculptamold traps a lot of air, and this is impossible to get rid of, resulting in the surface effect shown above. Although the plaster component becomes firm very quickly the fibres retain moisture so, like traditional papier-mâché pulp, the material needs many days (weeks even! .. for thicknesses over half an inch) to dry out completely. After the two mould halves have been pressed together the setup should be left at least for a couple of hours before the cast can be safely demoulded. Even then the damp Sculptamold surface is somewhat fragile, rather like slip-cast clay, but this can be an advantage because it means that the mould seam can be more easily cleaned up, even using sponge and water to blend it a little if need be.

A while ago I wanted to reproduce two interesting fragments of driftwood I’d found on the Thames shore (we live only a couple of hundred metres away). The one below was a fairly complicated form which I knew would be difficult as a poured cast because of air entrapment, plus the fact that I didn’t want to compromise any detail of the form by cutting out a pouring hole.

Thames driftwood hollow resin casts

Thames driftwood hollow casts

In each case the original driftwood is on the right, the resin copy on the left. The paintwork isn’t complete in these photos .. just a basecoat with the first, lighter dry-brushed colour over it. I’d scrubbed the casts with warm water and Cif to give a slight ‘key’ to the resin surface and to remove any remaining greasiness. I used Rosco SuperSaturated acrylic, a theatre/film scenic paint which dries especially matt and has a strong binder.

I made the silicone moulds in the usual way .. by embedding the form up to a half-way point all round in plasticine or wax; coating the first silicone half over that, followed by the first-half plaster jacket once the silicone was cured .. etc. See previous articles e.g. Making a supported silicone mould for a life-size head .. for details of this method. Again as usual I coated the two mould halves with a polyurethane resin/Fillite mix, building up a strong shell.

silicone rubber mould of driftwood

As with the mould above for the smaller of the two forms, it can get tricky to determine in some places where the object surface ends and the mould seam surface begins, especially if some parts of the object are flat and thin. Although I’m only thinking of this now, and am yet to try it .. it could help if the very first, thin layer of silicone on the object, the detail coat, is coloured differently from the rest to make the border of the form clearer. Silicone rubber will accept a small amount of powder pigment to colour it without affecting its properties, as I illustrate in the next example.

showing resin edge cleaned up

As always with this method, the edge of the resin shell needs to be cleaned up so that there’s nothing preventing the two silicone mould edges from fitting together. If in doubt or if the mould halves no longer meet properly when testing them together, it’s better to shave away a bit more than necessary. Usually the resulting gap in the shell is filled when the final batch of liquid resin is rotated around inside the closed mould. In the failed example below, either the resin/Fillite mix was a little too thick with Fillite to begin with or I’d waited too long before pouring into, closing or rotating the mould. The resin hadn’t travelled enough along the whole seam line.

faults in hollow casting

Here’s a brief account of making a similar mould .. at least, done for the same reasons .. but with some differences in the method. Once again, I used these found objects mainly as test pieces .. this time tackling a dryer ball. The original below is pink and the cream coloured one is the cast. Fairly obviously this form presents only one option for making a poured cast .. setting up a pouring hole in the space where the writing is. But I wanted to keep the writing, and in any case .. managing to fill all these little ‘horns’ without trapping air would be impossible without the assistance of a vacuum chamber to pull the air out. I don’t deal with these more commercial methods because most people, like myself, are unlikely to have one.

Dryer ball original and cast

I also wanted to try covering with a complete silicone layer first, without embedding the form and applying it in two halves as I’d mostly done before. I intended to cover it and then split the silicone skin with a scalpel. The problem though would be finding the right place to cut once the form is covered .. ideally I needed to cut around the middle exactly in between the rows, where the manufacturer’s seam line is. I thought I’d solved the problem with the following, but it didn’t work out as cleanly as hoped.

covering half-way with silicone rubber

I applied the silicone rubber layer in two stages .. the first one above, and once this had cured, I completed with the second half below. It doesn’t make any difference if it is applied in sections like this .. the second section will fuse completely with the first. My idea here was to colour the second half to make the cutting line along the mid-point clearer. This is ordinary, not especially finely ground powder pigment, used in theatre scenic painting. The best way to mix with the silicone is to combine it thoroughly with a very small amount of silicone first .. to wet it in other words .. before adding more silicone. I’ve found that powder pigment blends very readily with silicone rubber. Apparently up to 10% powder pigment by weight can be added to silicone without affecting its properties. For this I used roughly 3g Ultramarine for 40g silicone rubber.

Applying coloured second half

Below is the containment setup I made around the mould using modelling wax, in order to make the first half of the rigid mould jacket, also called the mother mould. This enclosing jacket is necessary, especially when making larger moulds, to keep the flexible silicone skin in its proper shape. There are more, step-by-step photos showing how to model this containment at the end of Modelling wax in the Materials section.

setting up for mould jacket_5

The mould jacket can easily be made using a hard casting plaster, especially if this is left for a while to thicken up so that it can be troweled on over the form. For this though I decided to use Jesmonite .. which is basically the same as plaster but using an acrylic polymer liquid in place of water. This makes the material much tougher, and if a reinforcement such as jute scrim is also used, a stronger but thinner shell can be made.

mixing Jesmonite

Jesmonite powder and polymer liquid can be mixed together in a ratio of anything between 3:1 to 2:1 powder to liquid dependant on the pouring consistency needed. 3:1 gives a thicker mix and is more economical since the powder (basically just a fine casting plaster) is by far the cheaper of the two. Contrary to the way plaster is normally mixed .. the polymer liquid should be added to the powder. This should be thoroughly and vigorously mixed until the consistency is even. This is possible by hand for small amounts but the manufacturer of Jesmonite recommends using a special power drill attachment for mixing larger quantities.

1st pour for mould jacket

Above, I have poured the first small batch of Jesmonite over the mould form and to fill the ring around it. Below, I’ve started pasting small pieces of jute scrim into the wet Jesmonite. More can then be mixed up to cover the scrim .. and the procedure can be repeated to build up a strong shell.  I used two layers of scrim for this small form, but one would probably have been enough .. even for much larger mould jackets such as the one featured in Making a supported silicone mould for a life-size head .. I only used 2-3 layers.

layering with jute scrim

finished mould jacket half

The Jesmonite took very little time, less than 40mins, to set hard and shortly afterwards it was safe to remove all the wax and turn the form over. The silicone will eventually be sliced using the Jesmonite rim as a guide.

cleaned up first mould jacket half

But first, shown below, I’ve set up a wax wall for making the second half of the Jesmonite mould jacket. This is exactly the same procedure as before except that the Jesmonite rim needs to be thoroughly Vaselined to prevent the second half from sticking to it!

preparing for second half

Here is the completed mould being dismantled. I had thought that applying the silicone in two colours would indicate the line I had to cut in the silicone (i.e. between the rows of ‘horns’) clearly enough. But it wasn’t accurate enough, and in the end I got some parts of the horns on the seam line.

completed mould halves

It meant that these along the seam were much more difficult to fill, and my first tryout using polyurethane resin and Fillite didn’t work perfectly.

making the hollow cast

But for the second attempt I used a very thin, unfilled resin .. Tomps Fast Cast .. manually filling each ‘horn’ bit-by-bit, including a lot of jiggling around with cocktail sticks to dislodge trapped air. It was quite a lot of painstaking work .. but here again is the perfect cast, just to prove that it’s possible!

Dryer ball original and cast

4 thoughts on “Making hollow casts in open or ‘closed’ moulds – Part 2

  1. i’m also a driftwood collector, in fact most of my finds consist of an horizontal and vertical part forming a cross. Kinda of delicate pieces, especially the horizontal. now i would like to duplicate each in sterling silver. a good reproduction is a must. i would you consider making a silicone mold?

    • What temperature is melted silver? Special types of silicone rubber will manage ‘white metal’ as you probably know .. but I think the limit is around 300 degrees C.

  2. Reblogged this on Arcimboldi Studios and commented:
    Another detailed tutorial from David part 2 on making casts in open or closed moulds.

    “My own ‘making’ encompasses sculpture, model-making, painting, graphic work and design. My ‘teaching’ involves undergraduate or post-graduate lecturing/tutoring both here (England) and abroad; running my own short courses, whether independently or hosted by institutions; writing instructional books and articles. I am, for example, author of the (fairly successful) book Model-making: Materials and Methods”
    David Neat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s