A flip-top foundry for metal casting

Flip-Top Foundry Helps Manage The Danger Of Metal Casting

Melting aluminum is actually pretty easy to do, which is why it’s such a popular metal for beginners at metal casting. Building a foundry that can melt aluminum safely is another matter entirely, and one that benefits from some of the thoughtful touches that [Andy] built into his new propane-powered furnace.

The concern for safety is not at all undue, for while aluminum melts at a temperature that’s reasonable for the home shop, it’s still a liquid metal that will find a way to hurt you if you give it half a chance. [Andy]’s design minimizes this risk primarily through the hands-off design of its lid. While most furnaces have a lid that requires the user to put his or her hands close to the raging inferno inside, or that dangerously changes the center of mass of the whole thing as it opens, this one has a fantastic pedal-operated lid that both lifts and twists. Leaving both hands free to handle tongs is a nice benefit of the design, too.

The furnace follows a lot of the design cues we’ve seen before, starting as it does with an empty party balloon helium tank. The lining is a hydrid of ceramic blanket material and refractory cement; another nice safety feature is the drain channel cast into the floor of the furnace in case of a cracked crucible. The furnace is also quite large, at least compared to [Andy]’s previous DIY unit, and has a sturdy base that aids stability — another plus in the safety column.

Every time we see a new furnace design, we get the itch to start getting into metal casting. And with the barrier to entry as low as a KFC bucket or an old fire extinguisher, why not give it a try? Although it certainly pays to know what can go wrong before diving in.

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A Quick And Easy Recipe For Synthetic Rubies

With what it takes to make synthetic diamonds – the crushing pressures, the searing temperatures – you’d think similar conditions would be needed for any synthetic gemstone. Apparently not, though, as [NightHawkInLight] reveals his trivially easy method for making synthetic rubies.

Like their gemstone cousin the sapphire, rubies are just a variety of corundum, or aluminum oxide. Where sapphire gets its blue tint mainly from iron, rubies get their pink to blood-red hue from chromium. So [NightHawkInLight]’s recipe starts with aluminum oxide grit-blasting powder and chromium (III) oxide, a common green pigment and one of the safer compounds in a family that includes spectacularly toxic species like hexavalent chromium compounds. When mixed together, the two powders are heated in a graphite crucible using an arc welder with a carbon electrode. The crucible appears to be made from an EDM electrode; we’ve seen them used for air bearings before, but small crucibles are another great use for the stuff. There’s some finesse required to keep the nascent rubies from scattering all over the place, but in the end, [NightHawkInLight] was rewarded with a large, deep pink ruby.

This looks like a fun, quick little project to try sometime. We wonder if the method can be refined to create the guts of a ruby laser, or if perhaps it can be used to create sapphires instead.

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Electric Arc Furnace Closes The Loop

When we think of an Electric Arc Furnace (EAF), the image that comes to mind is one of a huge machine devouring megawatts of electricity while turning recycled metal into liquid. [Gregory Hildstrom] did some work to shrink one of those machines down to a practical home version. [Greg] is building on work done by [Grant Thompson], aka “The King of Random” and AvE. Industrial EAFs are computer controlled devices, carefully lowering a consumable carbon electrode into the steel melt. This machine brings those features to the home gamer.

[Greg] started by TIG welding up an aluminum frame. There isn’t a whole lot of force on the Z-axis of the arc furnace, so he used a stepper and lead screw arrangement similar to those used in 3D printers. An Adafruit stepper motor shield sits on an Arduino Uno to control the beast. The Arduino reads the voltage across the arc and adjusts the electrode height accordingly.

The arc behind this arc furnace comes from a 240 volt welder. That’s where [Greg] ran into some trouble. Welders are rated by their duty cycle. Duty cycle is the percentage of time they can continuously weld during a ten minute period. A 30% duty cycle welder can only weld for three minutes before needing seven minutes of cooling time. An electric arc furnace requires a 100% duty cycle welder, as melting a few pounds of steel takes time. [Greg] went through a few different welder models before he found one which could handle the stress.

In the end [Greg] was able to melt and boil a few pounds of steel before the main 240 V breaker on his house overheated and popped. The arc furnace might be asking a bit much of household grade electrical equipment.

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