Sometimes we need the look, feel, and weight of a metal part in a project, but not the metal itself. Maybe you’re going for that retro look. Maybe you’re restoring an old radio and you have one brass piece but not another. It’s possible to get a very metal like part without all of the expense and heat required in casting or the long hours in the metal fabrication shop.
Before investing in the materials for cold casting, it’s best to have practical expectations. A cold cast part will not take a high polish very well, but for brushed and satin it can be nearly indistinguishable from a cast part. The cold cast part will have a metal weight to it, but it clinks like ceramic. It will feel cool and transfers heat fairly well, but I don’t have numbers for you. Parts made with brass, copper, and iron dust will patina accordingly. If you want them to hold a bright shine they will need to be treated with shellac or an equivalent coating afterward; luckily the thermoset resins are usually pretty inert so any coating used on metal for the same purpose will do.
It is best to think of the material as behaving more or less like a glass filled nylon such as the kind used for the casing of a power tool. It will be stiff. It will flex a relatively short distance before crazing and then cracking at the stress points. It will be significantly stronger than a 3D printed part, weaker than a pure resin part, and depending on the metal; weaker than the metal it is meant to imitate.
[Gregg Eshelman] reproduces plastic parts for antique car restorations for a living; likewise, he’s very good at it. Greg always chimes in with helpful hints whenever we post about resin casting. Shown above is a lens for a car turn signal. Manufactured in 1941, having [Gregg] cast a few copies is an easy option for replacing the rare part.
[Gregg] uses a similar method to us, but it is easy to see that he has done it more and his process has been refined by lots of experience. We really liked how he avoids using expensive foam core by wrapping cardboard in packing tape, or using the kind that has a plastic coating on it; the kind most retail packaging is made out of. He also has better techniques for keying the part to be manufactured, and prepping difficult geometry between different mold halves. It also never would have occurred to us to use Dremel cutting disks to cut the sprues and air vents in the silicone, a surprisingly tricky material to cut precisely with a knife.
It’s always nice when a professional takes time to write about their processes for the hobbyist trying to emulate it. We hope [Gregg] writes more tutorials, and continues to contribute in the comment section. If you have your own fabrication techniques to share we’d love to hear about it on the tips line.
Resin casting lets you produce parts that would be otherwise impossible to make without a full CNC and injection molding set-up. It costs about as much as a 3d printer, 300 to 600 US dollars, to get a good set-up going. This is for raw material, resin, dye, pressure chamber, and an optional vacuum degassing set-up. A good resin casting set-up will let you produce parts which are stronger than injection molding, and with phenomenal accuracy, temperature resistance, and strength. I will be covering various techniques from the simple to advanced for using resin casting from a hacker’s perspective.
[thelostspore] was experimenting with resin casting, and discovered that he needed a pressure casting chamber in order to get clear casts. There are commercial solutions for sale, and they are really nice. However, many hackers are on a budget, and if you’re only casting every now and then you don’t need such a fancy set-up.
Re-purposing equipment like this is pretty common in the replica prop making community. Professional painters use a pressurized pot filled with paint to deliver to their spray guns. These pots can take 60-80 PSI and are built to live on a job site. By re-arranging some of the parts you can easily get a chamber that can hold 60 PSI for enough hours to successfully cast a part. Many import stores sell a cheap version, usually a bit smaller and with a sub-par gasket for around 80 US Dollars. [thelostspore] purchased one of these, removed the feed tube from lid and plugged the outlet. He then attached a quick release fitting to the inlet of the regulator.
We used this guide to build our own pressure casting set-up. Rather than plug up the outlet on ours, we put a ball valve with a muffler in its place to quickly and safely vent the chamber when the casting has set. We recommend putting a female quick connect coupling or another ball valve in combination with the male fitting (if your hose end is female). It is not super dangerous to do it the way the guide recommends, but this is safer, and you can disconnect the compressor from the tank without losing pressure.
All that was left was to test it. He poured an identical mold and it came out clear!
[Florian] has a few arcade games and MAME machines, and recently he’s been trying to embed objects in those hard plastic spheres on the end of joysticks. A common suggestion is to 3D print some molds, but even though that’s a great idea in theory the reality is much different: you’re going to get layer lines on the casting, and a mirror finish is impossible.
No, a silicone mold is the way to do this, but here 3D printing can be used to create the mold for the silicone. Instead of a few pieces of hot glued cardboard or a styrofoam cup, [Florian] is 3D printing a a container to hold the liquid silicone around the master part.
After printing a two-piece part to hold both halves of a silicon mold, [Florian] put the master part in, filled it up with silicone, and took everything apart. There were minimal seam lines, but the end result looks great.
In addition to making a 3D printed mold container, [Florian] is also experimenting with putting 3D printed parts inside these joystick balls. The first experiment was a small 3D printed barrel emblazoned with the Donkey Kong logo. This turned out great, but there’s a fair bit of refraction that blows out all the proportions. Further experiments will include a Pac-Man, a skull, and a rose, to be completed whenever [Florian] gets a vacuum chamber.
Visiting the Midwest RepRap Festival, you will, of course, find a ton of 3D printed baubles and trinkets. A slightly more interesting find at this year’s MRRF was a lot of resin cast parts from [Mark VanDiepenbos]. He’s the guy behind the RotoMAAK, a spinny, ‘this was in the movie Contact‘-like device designed for spin casting with resins. At the festival, he’s showing off his latest project, 3D printed resin molds.
With the right mold, anyone with 2-part resins can replicate dozens of identical parts in an hour. The only problem is you need a mold to cast the parts. You could print a plastic part and make a silicone mold to cast your part. The much more clever solution would be to print the mold directly and fill it with resin.
[Mark] printed the two-part rabbit mold seen above out of ABS, filled it with urethane resin, and chucked it into his RotoMAAK spin casting machine. Six minutes later the part popped right out, and the mold was ready to make another rabbit.
Hackaday doesn’t always get the entire back story of a build. The usual assumption is that someone decided to build something, and with just a little bit of effort the project makes it into the Hackaday tip line. This doesn’t do justice to the builder, with skills honed after years of practice and experience. A 200-word summary is deceiving, and makes everything look almost too easy. [Michal] decided to buck that trend and sent in his half-decade long adventure of becoming one of the best micro-scale machinists we’ve ever seen.
In 2006, with years of robots made out of hot glue and cardboard behind him, and the quality of 3D printers not up to his exacting specifications, [Michal] snapped. He sunk the better part of $3000 into a Roland MDX-15 desktop mill. After several months of futzing about with acrylic sheet, [Michal] came across the wonderful machining properties of modeling board.
Determined to do something useful with this modeling board, [Michal] started looking into resin casting. Casting in resin is a common technique in the artist and model maker communities to mass produce small plastic parts. After getting his hands on eight liters of polyurethane resin, [Michal] made a useful part guiding the direction his skill set would grow in the coming years.
After years of experimenting with techniques, materials, and mediums, [Michal] eventually honed his craft and was able to finally start building real robots. These projects were a far cry from the cardboard and milk jug contraptions made earlier in his career. [Michal] was now producing incredibly precise gear assemblies with accuracies within 0.002 mm.
You may remember [Michal] from his robot with pivoting wheels we showcased last week. He got a lot of email from people wanting to know how to start delving into his unique blend of artistry, engineering, and craftsmanship. The good news is you can now learn from his mistakes, so a planetary gearbox shouldn’t take more than a few months to finish.