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Kang

Weirwood (AKA Heart Tree)

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My year-old metal casting obsession threatens to take away all my minis hobby time, hence my scarcity around here lately, so this is me trying to shoehorn it all into one box.

 

Hey, it's way more miniature than the ones in the books, right?  Still a mini!  This totally counts.  It's even from a fantasy setting.

 

100% cast aluminum, made from recycled (when I got through with them) alloy car wheels.  I carved the trunk outof styrofoam and used the lost foam technique to cast it; for the top part, I assigned the mold-making duties for the foliage to a problem ant colony in my yard.  They're better with the more finely detailed work than me anyhow. :)

 

Bottom part still needs some sanding/polishing.

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let me get this straight, you poured molten alluminum into an ant hill, and this is the result?    I wonder if it would work with lead........

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 I loved watching those aluminum vs. ant videos, and have wanted to try this ever since.

 I'm having a sudden urge to experiment with pumping some kind of quick drying epoxy down an ant hole - having real ants encased in plastic might be an interesting addition to some of my mini work.

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Casting the ant hill was fun (not for the ants) as an experiment; I saw all those videos too of course; I think the one with the scientist guy had the first one, which I saw just a week or 2 after discovering backyard metal casting.  Then another guy posted one that went viral and started selling the castings, and more videos started sprouting like crazy!  I thought it looked like a cool thing to try, so I kept my eye on a few big ant hills on my property and eventually I needed this one gone anyhow...

 

But for me the lost foam casting is the more interesting part - once you've poured molten metal down one anthill, as the old saying goes - and it is certainly more challenging.  The tree base was carved out of a block of Styrofoam, buried in a bucket of sand, and magically transformed into solid metal via me wielding the awesome powers of earth, wind, and fire!  Well, not exactly... but, well, yeah, pretty much exactly.  And a little bit of electricity.  To generate the wind.  Though I have used a hand-powered bellows while canoe trip casting on a couple of occasions in the past.  When it works properly (lost foam, not canoe trip casting), which it doesn't always (never mind, same actually does apply for canoe trip casting), and you pull a good casting out of the sand still piping hot, it really does feel like magic!

 

Making this was a nice change from making more cast aluminum skulls, which is not to suggest that Cheap Styrofoam Hallowe'en Decoration Season isn't totally like another Christmas to the lost foam casting hobbyist!

 

edit - forgot to add, IIRC ant colonies have been cast in zinc, which means a fairly low melting point much closer to lead then aluminum.  I bet lead would work up to a point in a nest the right shape (which you would not know until you tried or had arcane entomological knowledge).  Some kind of clear resin does sound cool though...  It'd have to flow well through smallish spaces and have the right amount of pressure applied, and it's possible that same scientist has done it in order to count ants or whatever - he has a site somewhere.  I think he has poured plaster ones too.  Stuff like that has got to be murder to dig up in one piece though, if not impossible in the case of plaster.

Edited by Kang

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:) 

 

As someone who hopes to one day be able to sell one-of-a-kind decorative pieces such as this (or hopefully better - not criticizing the ants' work, just my own), even if it's just to subsidize the cost of my hobby (ie. fuel, scrap alloy, foundry maintenance, etc.), this is music to my ears - thank you for that very nice compliment!

 

What I would really like to do someday is upgrade and level up, start doing lost wax casting and learn to cast bronze, and maybe even iron someday (doable, but definitely considered extreme in a backyard hobby context).   But we are getting into in-no-way-minis-related-and-at-best-only-tangentially-sculpting-related territory here...  :)  .

 

I'm happy to chat more about metal casting here via PM though, if people are curious and want to ask me anything, or, if anyone here has really had their interest piqued or already actually casts metal minis, over on the Alloy Avenue forums where I am also a member.  I don't believe anyone who posts there, at least regularly, makes minis, and that seems weird to me.  So if anyone reading this does cast metal minis, I bet people there would be very interested to see your setup and what you've been doing with it; why not join up?  Who knows, you may even get some good tips.  A guy posted about buying a spin-casting machine a few days ago and I got all excited thinking maybe we were finally getting another minis guy, but he had something else in mind for it...

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I'm glad some of you guys "Like"d this thread, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to find it again!  How do I change my settings so that posts older than 1 month will be displayed?  I have fixed this before, and probably even posted asking about it at some point over the years, but those posts are odler than one month so they're not helping right now!  :)  All I know for sure is that I always have trouble finding it when I've been away long enough for my browser cookies to wear off or whatever.

 

I have finished pictures of the tree-mini now (a bit of sanding and a bit of paint, but not much of either for this piece), but they're at home and I'm not.  Since I have posted this, I'll be able to find this thread there now easily even if I don't get an answer, so that I'll be able to post the new pix as an update here...

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I'm glad some of you guys "Like"d this thread, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to find it again!  How do I change my settings so that posts older than 1 month will be displayed?  I have fixed this before, and probably even posted asking about it at some point over the years, but those posts are odler than one month so they're not helping right now!  :)  All I know for sure is that I always have trouble finding it when I've been away long enough for my browser cookies to wear off or whatever.

 

 

You can click on "View New Content" at the top right and then it pops up on the left with the check marks of what you view and you can pick/choose what you want to see/read.

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Tried it, I'm only seeing options as far back as 1 year though...  I'm sure there's a setting somewhere to make it show me posts from all the way back!

 

This'll keep me going for a bit though, maybe help me find some older-than-a-month posts that might have the answer I'm after.  Thanks!

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Having worked with lead and watching the aluminum-v-ant videos online, I suspect that lead would cool too rapidly to form the tunnels correctly.

 

Interesting.

 

  • Lead has a lower viscosity than aluminum, which would mean that as long as it stayed liquid, it would flow more easily.
  • Lead has a lower specific heat (about half that of aluminum), but a much higher density, which means a heat capacity per volume of about twice that of aluminum.
  • Aluminum has a much higher heat of fusion, though, so lead would take less energy loss to transition from liquid to solid.
  • The temperature of barely liquid aluminum is much higher than that of barely liquid lead, which would result in a higher rate of heat flow from the metal to the casting material.
  • Because of the higher density of lead, a given sized column of liquid would have higher pressure, which would also force metal through more quickly.

Now I want to see controlled experiments.

 

Make it so!

 

^_^

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Here it is now, polished up a little and the red "sap" added to the face.
I put a couple of Prince August minis I helped cast with some friends during a camping trip last September.

 

Had some more trouble attaching the pix, hope they make it through...

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Wow, it has been almost a year already since I posted this?! I guess it has been a pretty busy year, what with kids, work, and trying to push my backyard foundry hobby on to bigger and hotter things! I did manage to get a bigger, badder, hotter melting furnace built over the course of the spring, summer, and fall, and it it scary awesome if I do say so myself. This one runs on waste oil instead of charcoal, and the refractory lining I installed in it is well-insulated and rated to 3200F!

 

Couple of days ago I dug up some video of when I poured the foliage half of the Weirwood mini. At the risk of getting hung up by my toenails for not wearing all my PPE, here it is; enjoy!

 

 

The furnace you can see at the end of the video is my old one. It still works great, but I wanted to be able to pour more at once (partly because I wonder how big this anthill casting could have been) as well as melt other metals like brass or bronze, maybe even cast iron one day. The homemade lining (a mix of sand and clay) of the old charcoal furnace would probably melt down before any cast iron I might dare to put in it.

 

Seriously though, not wearing my face shield was pretty stupid. I had no idea if that anthill was moist enough to steam-explode molten metal back up into my face or not...

 

Kang

Edited by Kang

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Quick word of caution on the lead:

 

Before anyone does this, please make sure you're certain you won't contaminate the ground water!

 

Sounds crazy, but remember they switched from lead pewter because touching themy could mess up a toddler. You can poison a well indefinitely with the original GW steam tank, for example.

 

That said, roast the suckers, especially the fire ants.

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