Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First Entry: How to Cast an Ingot (Fine Silver Ingot)

Ok so this is the Beginning of my section on how different materials are prepared and hopefully eventually even some different techniques I like to work with. Now this page isn't really set up for anything like this so bear with me and I'll try and make it work the best I can. 


First Entry: How to Cast an Ingot (Fine Silver Ingot)

Necessary Materials and Tools:
-Some sort of precious metal preferably gold and/or silver 
-Water (preferably in glass or metal container with a wide opening/ top)
-Brush (size will depend on the size of the ingot mold)

Casting an ingot of metal might seem simple enough of a process, 1 grab some metal, 2 apply heat and 3 dump it into an appropriate vessel, but it really does require a certain level of care and knowledge to do it properly. 

The first thing you need to take into consideration is what material you will be casting. Not all metals behave the same way and all of them have very particular characteristics that need to be taken into account before we can begin (melting temperature, purity, compatibility and this barley scratches the surface). 
In this particular case I am going to talk about fine silver, fine silver is as close as we (humans) can get to pure silver it is 99.99..(you get the idea)..% pure silver. It is very soft, works very easily, is rather forgiving (as far as metal goes) and does not tarnish much. 

Different representations of Approx.: 1 troy ounce of fine silver (31grams) from left to right: casting grain (how all my projects start), "one dollar" (LOL) USA coin, a cast ingot, bezel wire, round wire)
Now that we know what material we are working with we can begin to understand the following steps that need to occur. Since we know that silver melts at a fairly low temperature (1763°F) we need to have our tank regulators set accordingly. Yes, we do want to melt the material but we don't want to overheat it and "cook" it by being too aggressive. It is actually possible to "boil" off some of your metal if you attack it with too intense of a flame, causing it to literally evaporate in the form of bright sparks. When working with precious metals you want to use a flame that is big and hot but not super intense and heavily oxidizing you want is to be almost a little reducing and a little "bushy" (not a super fine tip on the flame). To achieve this I usually have my propane fuel regulator set to around 5psi and my oxygen regulator set to no higher than 10psi (typically I work between 5psi and 10psi sometimes lower, a little pressure goes a long way).

Here is my oxygen regulator set to 4psi, I decided that was just about right as my tank is about half full and I don't want to waste more oxygen than I need too. 
Here is my fuel regulator (propane) also turned up to about 4psi.
Ok the next step is to decide how much material you will be casting. Not very important when creating an ingot that will be processed into other forms but, sometimes a very crucial step; for example if one was preparing a "charge" for a lost wax casting/ mold, where you need a very specific amount of material to fill a void. Another example which comes into play in my work is; I like to cast ingots into one or two ounce ingots simply so I can easily keep track of how much material I am using/ processing. 

        Just a bit over one ounce.

Important: Make sure your work space is rather flat and constructed of appropriate materials; if your ingot mold is not flat enough your material will pool on one side (the high side) and possibly spill over causing a mess and a waste; alternatively your material could flow to the other side (the low side) and be stretched thin (these issues are most concerning when casting a wire ingot like I will be doing here but may also be relevant with other molds).

Note: It is also important to know what type of mold you have and how it works. Many times molten metal will stick to other metals so many molds need to be lubricated to provide a barrier that will keep the two metals from sticking together. I usually dab a little motor oil over my molds with an old brush before I cast into it.     

Safety Notes: Always use a torch and hot molds in appropriate surfaces and work areas. Many people choose to do this process using gloves and special safety glasses, protecting your body is always a good idea. I find that gloves interfere in my case more than they help; so I take extra care around hot working areas and always have a pair of Kevlar gloves within reach just in case. Same with eye wear sometimes it helps sometimes it gets in my way; for this reason I like goggles that have a flip screen so you can protect your eyes when you want to, but still easily be able to see in the daylight again.  

Now it’s time to get cooking. Lubricate your ingot mold, spark up your torch and begin to pre heat your ingot mold and crucible. This is a very crucial step because it allows the surface of the ingot mold and crucible to become hot and ready to accept the material; as well as not having to subject the material to excessive heat before the crucible is at an appropriate temperature.  

Very Important!!! If you don't pre-heat your ingot mold your material will get shocked into a small tightly packed crystalline lattice structure and probably be weak, fragile, brittle and prone to cracks, inclusions and bubbles.
Pre-heat your crucible as well, the hotter things are the better, you should be sweating a bit or you’re not doing it right.
Note: Please notice the very colorful flame, particularly the greenish color; this green hue is produced by the burning flux (among other things that may work there way into your crucible) but if you have ever cast copper in a foundry, this green hue is also a telltale sign of a nice reducing environment. This environment is crucial in keeping the copper from oxidizing with the air especially in an intense fire which needs oxygen to burn.
Keep heating your crucible until you reach this point...    

Once your crucible is glowing a bright orange/ red you’re ready to add your material.
Note: If we were to prepare an alloy, say of sterling silver or a gold alloy, the general rule that I follow is to start with whichever material has the highest melting point, and proceed to gradually add the other metal/s in small quantities; again starting with whichever material has the higher melting point. For example let’s say we were making a hard 12K gold of 25% copper, 25% silver and 50% gold. We would first melt the copper (1981°F) then add small amounts of gold (1945°F) and finish by adding  small amounts of silver (1761°F) until the full amount of material has been added and melted; if done properly and agitated well the mixture should be consistent and molten throughout. Also note that it is not uncommon for metal smiths to cast an ingot of an alloy two or three times to ensure it has a consistent distribution and color.   

Now with our material in our nice warm crucible we can begin to heat and melt the material. 
You will begin to see the material begin to glow a bright orange/ red just like the crucible and it may become difficult to see what is actually happening inside the crucible. A pair of specially tinted goggles or safety glasses may be helpful if you want to protect your eyes and see the action.
Note: If you see sparks coming out of your crucible your fire is to intense and you should pull back your torch, add more fuel or decrease the oxygen. You want your metal to gradually melt as uniformly as possible. 
Once you see a very reflective/shiny molten silver bead like blob at the bottom of the crucible you are getting very close. 

Now would be a good time to add a sprinkling/ dash of flux into the crucible to purify the material of any undesired contaminants. To do this simply remove the torch for a moment (as shown above) and sprinkle the flux into the crucible (watch your fingers as everything should be very hot by now). Now we need to make sure all the material is molten, to do this I will typically use a test I call the jiggle test; agitate the crucible by jiggling the handle a bit. If you see the material swirling around the crucible very freely and bouncing and jiggling with surface tension and ripples (like water in a glass) you should be good to go. Tip: It can be helpful to prod into the bottom of the crucible with a steel rod (or clothes hanger) to check for possible clumps of not quite molten material, this should be done very quickly to avoid melting the rod into the alloy. As soon as you are certain all the material is molten you may proceed to casting.

Ok now the for the climactic sometimes intimidating part of the process pouring this precious molten material you have just been sweating over and making sure that you don’t miss! 
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you want the metal to reach the mold completely molten and stay molten in the mold until it begins to solidify (you don’t want it to start solidifying while you are pouring). To help transition the material from one vessel to the next keep your flame on the edge of the crucible on the side you will be pouring from. Pay attention to the position of the flame in the picture, on the edge of the crucible also heating the mold. I’m pouring to the left, holding the crucible in my right hand and the torch with my left hand). Once the flame is in the correct position you can begin to tip the crucible over to the side and the blob of metal should move easily into the corner. Begin to tip the crucible onto its side allowing the material to flow up the side and down into the mold. You want the edge of the crucible to be exactly above where you want the material to fall or flow into. Begin to pour into one side of the mold and allow the material to flow at a constant smooth rate and fill the cavity toward the other end.

Note: It can be very useful to prepare several things to be cast at one time so that you can take advantage of your nice warm mold and crucible. 
Allow your ingot to cool down a bit and solidify, if your fast and good enough you should be able to watch your metal solidify and see the crystal lattice structures forming over the surface of the ingot.

Once things have cooled down a bit and your ingot stops glowing you should be able to turn your mold on its side and have your ingot plop right out.

Allow your ingot to cool slowly to ensure that all of the crystal structures have time to form large strong organized patterns. This is a crucial step for some materials that cannot handle rapid cooling (quenching) but is a good idea for all materials (unless you are trying to achieve something specific) as we always want our material to be strong and well formed. Once it has cooled properly the ingot should be placed into a warm “pickle” bath to remove any unwanted residues and pieces of flux that may have poured out of the crucible with your material. In this picture you can see two ingots being “pickled” inside my crockpot set to a low heat.   

After pickling it is a good idea to rinse off the ingot in clean water and dry it off with a clean rag or paper towel (preferably a rag that you can wash and re-use). (please excuse the messy work space)

And once your ingot is clean and dry it’s ready to go. Please keep an eye out for the next entry where I will show you some different things you can do with your ingots (hopefully wire will be the next entry). Second Entry: How to Make Wire (Manually Drawing Wire) CLICK HERE! In case anyone is curious the closest ingot (on the bottom) is a two ounce ingot and was cast after the one ounce ingot (above) while the crucible and mold where hot. Thank you for reading, I hope you found this helpful and I hope you come back for more next time.    

Daniel Icaza 3/9/11


  1. great tutorial.. I am excited to try this out once i have a proper work station.

    1. Hi Melanie,
      Thank you for the comment. If you ever have any questions feel free to contact me.
      Best of luck setting up your work station :o)

  2. very interesting job.what about casting nickel white gold ?Thank you.

    1. Hello and thank you for leaving a comment.

      I do not usually work with nickle white gold, so I am not an expert in that area. I did recently write a blog post about gold, if you would like to read it here is the link:

      I am also not sure if you are looking to cast ingots or if you are hoping to do lost wax casting. Specific advice on the topic could vary depending on what type of casting you are hoping to perform.

      At any rate, I can give you some general tips that may (hopefully) be helpful to you.

      1: Pre-heat your crucible.

      2: Make sure your mold is hot enough to accept the material.

      3: Whenever creating an alloy make sure all the materials are thoroughly mixed and completely molten before casting it.

      For more specific advice I would suggest visiting the following website, if you have not heard of it before, it is in invaluable community resource.

      This specific article is quite informative:

      Best of luck and if you ever have any other questions I would be happy to help.

  3. i read your blog. its so nice and also provide good knowledge about Steel ingot quality and defects. thanks to this wonderful post.

  4. Wonderful article!! I will be trying this very soon, and finally feel confidant that I wont make a silver ingot that witll be porous and not cold work into a shape. Thx.

  5. This is pretty handy stuff. I've been considering learning to do this type of thing with basic tools, all by hand, if I can learn enough about it to feel comfortable trying it, myself.

  6. Very good information i will be trying to pour fine silver in a 1/4" slot 12" long in a lay down type iron mould, the part i don't get is when your heating the mould right before the pour isn't that burning off all your protective oil in the mould?
    Great stuff thanks

    1. Hello Vic,
      Thank you for your comment I am glad that you found the information useful.
      In regards to your question, you will have to heat the mold to the point that the oil will be smoking and "on fire" (depending on the type of oil you use). As long as your not breathing in all the fumes or getting hot oil splattered on your skin, you should be fine. After casting an ingot the oil will ignite and burn off... If your mold dries out (all the oil burns away) just add more as needed.
      Best of luck, stay safe and if you have any more questions feel free to ask.
      Best wishes,

    2. Hi Daniel have you ever tried to pour the entire length of your mold? and if so how hard is it to get one full length pour and have the piece solid with no voids?
      I personally found that going over a 5" long pour is very hard to do.

    3. Hello Vic,
      Hope your doing well.
      As far as pouring your ingot goes, it should be possible to make a full pour in any ingot mold.
      The variables that affect your poor will primarily be the temperature of your material and of your mold (are they both hot enough). Generally speaking I cast 100 gram ingots (silver and bronze) as it is an easy number to work with and melts quite quickly and easily, especially when every thing is up to heat (nice and hot).
      I will also usually poor a lot of material at a time and prepare several ingots in the same melting session.
      This way I take advantage of all the residual heat that would otherwise go to waste melting ingots at different times...
      I also make sure that my ingot mold is very hot.
      Some times I find that my first ingot does not pour very easily into the mold. If this occurs I will wait until the material cools just enough to pull it out of the mold and place it directly back into the crucible and melt it down again while still hot.
      The more ingots you pour, the hotter your mold will be and the easier it will be to fill the mold. Although the size (shape and depth) of the mold may also have a huge effect on how much material you may be able to pour at a time.
      A few other useful tips:
      -Make sure your mold is flat and level
      -If trying to fill the mold, pour into the middle so the material can run to both ends
      -Use the right amount of material for your mold, to little and the ends of your ingot will tapper, too much and your ingot may be puckered/ fat.
      Hope that helps, best wishes and happy making!