Working MDF Maquette

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Once I had gotten my laser cutting to work, I sort of went a bit mad with it really. I decided to cut an MDF version that I could glue together as a working maquette. I was really happy with how it came out. Above are photos of the maquette and various ways it can fold up and also have some photos of the making process. I didn’t take photos of it being laser cut because if I’m honest I was too busy being terrified of the MDF catching fire, it was very intimidating with all the fumes and such. Thankfully nothing caught fire.

Pewter Casting

When I knew that I wanted to try making a space themed medal, I knew almost straight off the bat that I wanted to make a pewter version because thematically, it fits with what I’m going for.

After the failure with the plaster, I decided to ask the tech dem, Martin about what would be the best way to go with it. He suggested I try using the delft clay and bangle. I hadn’t used this before but he showed me how and I was surprised by how quick it was and it was perfect for what I wanted.

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The big reveal.

The other moment that this was all leading up to.

The following day the bronze was safe to pick up and work with. To get rid of the shell, I got a hammer and whacked the base of the tree and the shell started to come off.
This is a mostly cleaned up tree. I have to admit that I wasn’t that excited by them. I don’t know if that’s because my main intention was to make my medal with pewter or if it’s because I had had this major struggle with trying to get my wax pieces on the tree and they were all warping and melting too much and so these were a bit messy. I’m sure I’ll like them more once they’re polished up but I did feel a bit like they were rubbish or less impressive compared to everyone else’s.

Like I said, I’m hoping I’ll feel better about them once they’re detached and I can clean them up but as it stands I’m not sure how I feel about them. I’m glad that I was able to do the process and learn how to do and I might try it again in the future.


The Bronze Pour

The moment this has all been leading up to.

The loaded up crucible.
The heated up furnace.

The photos above were taken by me and below were taken by Menna and Tasha who took then and kindly shared them on Facebook in case we were unable to take photos.

The process began by Dallas loading up the crucible. He put 30 kilos of bronze into it and heated it up. Although he was doing it in order to show us how to do it, it would normally be up to us to load the crucible. He then heated it up. The bronze would be heated up to a whopping 1600 degrees!

We were warned that we would need to drink plenty of water because the sheer heat in the foundry would dehydrate us very quickly and that it was an exhausting process! With hindsight I can say, he was not kidding!

Whilst the bronze was getting to temperature, we prepared the shells. At this point they had been briefly heated in the kiln to help the bronze flow better and also so that there’s less of a shock to the shell.
My role in this was the drosser and so I was scraping out all the gunk to make sure didn’t get into the work. Once I did this, the pourer and the deadman (Michaela and Lawrence respectively) went on to pour the bronze into the shells.
After everything was poured, the pourer and the deadman put the crucible upside-down onto the furnace.

Even though I wasn’t doing any of the heavy lifting (major tip of the hat to Michaela and Lawrence!) the process really did take it out of me but it was sort of enjoyable as well and I was really happy that I got to be involved.

After that it was just a waiting game before I could see how my pieces came out.



Making a molochite shell

Now that I had a wax structure, I needed to cover it in molochite. Dallas did a big demonstration on how to make the shell. It seemed pretty simple although it did turn out to be a bit of nuisance.

The first thing to do was do two coats of thick molochite. This was meant to be a double cream consistency and then I needed to coat it with this really fine molochite.

The nice thing about these first two coats was that they didn’t need much time in between the coats. The next five coats were quite different.

These next five needed to be single cream consistency. This was where the problems started to arise. The main problem I found, and to be fair it can’t really be helped, was that at times it was way too crowded and there were a lot of people trying to pour the molochite all at once. Whilst a lot of people had just one tree, I had two and sometimes I would do my first tree and then people would start with their tree and then I would have to wait for this whole cycle of people just to do my second tree. Like I said it couldn’t be helped but it was annoying.

The other thing that went a little wrong was that during the week when I was doing this, Dallas was away for a week and we had to mix our own molochite. The problem with this is that we mixed it a little too thin (actually quite a bit too thin admittedly) and so when we thought were done with the coats, Dallas advised we added a couple more. This didn’t bother me too much, I’d rather just get it right but it was a tiny bit annoying but it was our own fault for not mixing the molochite correctly so I can’t complain.

Mixing some double cream molochite for my first coats.
Mixing the (what’s meant to be single cream but more like dish water) molochite for the remaining five (that turned out to be seven) coats.
Cleaning up the rim of the cup so that the wax can escape during the burnout.
The wax burnout. It was incredibly smoky!
The flame going into the kiln.
The fire from all the wax.


Making wax versions of my model

In order to do the bronze pour, I needed to make a wax tree and make a molochite shell. However before I did any of that I needed to make mould for the wax.

My first attempt at doing the mould was in plaster. I did this because I knew that I also wanted to make a pewter version and I thought that you had to use plaster to do pewter casting (turns out that was complete bogus and you can use lots of things to cast pewter but I didn’t know this at the time). So I figured it would be killing two birds with one stone!

So I started by putting the things I wanted to make a mould of into some clay so that they wouldn’t move about when pouring the plaster.

I decided to laser cut some letters so that I could perhaps find a way to incorporate text into the project.
The first two main pieces of my medal.

After putting the objects in the clay and putting the walls I tried to mix and pour the plaster. This is when things sort of went a bit wrong. This is mostly because I had forgotten most of the process. Or rather I forgot about all the nuances of it. So what I did was I literally mixed and poured the plaster straight away. You’re not meant to do that. You’re meant to keep mixing and wait for it to start heating up a little.

The problem was that I had done plaster pouring once right at the start of last year and then I never did it again and I don’t think my notes were very good and so I had to relearn it and retake those notes. I know that this blog is meant to be the thing to refer to for that kind of thing, but for me I just want my notebook, it’s easier to me. It was the same for the laser cutting, I was able to relearn it and use it better.

Needless to say the moulds didn’t come out all that well, they were untidy and gloopy and not very good looking. I don’t mind that too much as long as they’re functional but this was the other problem, they weren’t even functional because the plaster clung too much to the acrylic pieces and so it didn’t come out very well.

With all this in mind I decided I would make a silicon mould instead.

I learned that making a silicon mould is actually pretty simple. I first needed to roll out some plasticine.
Once it was rolled out, I pushed my objects into the plasticine and then cut the edges so I had a rectangle.
I then cut some ‘walls’ for my plasticine so that I would have something to pour the silicon into.
I then made sure that my walls fit ok and taped them together. After that I mixed the silicon and poured it onto my plasticine. I then waited for it to set.
Now that I had a mould I could start pouring my waxes. Luckily pouring the silicon was nice and easy, I was able to just heat up the wax and then pour it into my mould. It took a few attempts to get a good cast, but I started to realise that I should pour the wax straight off the hob instead of decanting it because then I got the best detail.
These are some of my waxes.
The freshly poured wax cooling in the mould.
To help the wax cool faster, I put my moulds into a bucket of cold water.
After making my wax medals, I needed to make a tree. To do this I cast the cup and the tree trunks and risers and put them together to make a toilet plunger using a hot knife.
I then built up the area around the trunk to give it strength.

After this I put branches on my tree and attached my medal pieces. The final thing I did after this was attach the risers which also the air to escape and somewhere for excess bronze to go so that it doesn’t break the mould.

Now that I had a wax tree with medals etc, I could cover it with molochite to make a shell and therefore something I can pour the bronze into.


Once I had my design, I needed to get it all laser cut. Below is a drawing of what I intended to get laser cut. ¬†I needed to do this so that I was have a ‘master copy’ that I could make a mould of and then make the object with wax. The reason why I was so intent on getting this laser cut will become clear down below.

The plan was that I would use my Adobe Illustrator drawing of this drawing and get it laser cut. In theory it was quite simple, in practice this turned into a whole saga…


A picture of the laser cutter cutting through the acrylic.

I think all in all the laser cutting failed at least three times. The whole thing was incredibly tedious and I spent a long time trying to figure out each time how to fix the Illustrator file.

The reason the laser cutting failed the first time is because the lines were far too fine for the laser cutter. The acrylic came out all warped and pieces broke and came off. The next attempts failed because the laser cutter started cutting the lines wrong because I didn’t know how to do the drawing correctly.

After the third time this failed, I started worry that I was running out of time to get this done and so I tried to make the object by hand. Here are my attempts.


First off I tried to carve into plaster. This was actually going quite well and it is very possible to get the precision that I wanted. The problem? I was just taking WAY too long to do even one piece and I needed 8-16 pieces. I just didn’t have time to try and carve that many pieces to a good level of finish and precision. I was glad I had a go and it was interesting to have a go at it, it just wasn’t feasible in terms of time.

After that I attempted to use often bake clay.


I think oven bake clay might have been able to work with what I was trying to do, I’ve seen some really impressive Scupley¬†models online. However, I am terrible at using this material and always have been. I don’t know what it is, I’ve just never really clicked with it. These models I made in a last ditch effort to make something were awful but I was just so desperate to get something out at that point. In fact they were so bad that I decided that I would rather try again with the laser cutting.

This is when I decided that I was going to massively simplify the design. I took out the type, made it all a bit bigger so the laser cutter would work better with it and redrew the simple components one line at a time instead of using the auto shapes and whiting stuff out which didn’t work last time.

Once I had done this, I tried to laser cut it one more time.


And it finally worked!

These are how the individually laid out sides.
This is how it looks all layered up and gives a rough impression of how it will look in pewter and bronze.

Now that I have this all done, I can move onto making a mould for them and then make then in wax.



I started making my maquette by annealing a piece of brass so that it would be easier to cut. I then scored it with a file and cut it as best I could (I’m really bad at straight lines!) using a jewellery saw. I used the cardboard mock up as a guide.


Once the pieces were all cut out, I filed the edges to make them look nicer but also so they were safe. I then got a really strong adhesive and glued some hinges to it and used a tiny clamp to try and get the best bond possible.
Gluing theses pieces together was really difficult because it just didn’t want to bond and so I ended up having to reattach things multiple times.
Eventually I managed to get a good enough attachment that the pieces held together. I then tried to bend it and shape it and I really like it.

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The next step was to come up with ideas of what will go on the medal. Above are some pictures of my sketchbook where I was coming up with ideas for my medal.

I was looking to design something that had text and pleasing geometry.

Once I had sort of gotten an idea, I covered up my maquette with masking tape and I then folded it up in various ways and drew on a design. The reason I decided to do this is because I only wanted the message to reveal itself if you folded it in a certain way. I figured the easiest way to figure out how to make this work would be to write it on the actual thing like this.

Once I had sorted the design on the brass maquette, I cut out some triangles and copied the designs onto them. I used a light box and a printout of the Futura typeface to get the text just right.

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After getting my paper pieces done, I decided to try putting it onto illustrator so that I could get it laser cut. The main problem I had with this was that I kind of forgot a lot to do with how to do CAD and so I encountered A LOT of problems trying to get it all laser cut.