Fail of the Week: When Good Foundries Go Bad

Like many of us, [Tony] was entranced by the idea of casting metal, and set about building the tools he’d need to melt aluminum for lost-PLA casting. Little did he know that he was about to exceed the limits of his system and melt a hole in his patio.

[Tony]’s tale of woe begins innocently enough, and where it usually begins for wannabe metal casters: with [The King of Random]’s homemade foundry-in-a-bucket. It’s just a steel pail with a homebrew refractory lining poured in place, with a hole near the bottom to act as a nozzle for forced air, or tuyère. [Tony]’s build followed the plans pretty faithfully, but lacking the spent fire extinguisher [The King] used for a crucible in the original build, he improvised and used the bottom of an old propane cylinder. A test firing with barbecue charcoal sort of worked, but it was clear that more heat was needed. So [Tony] got hold of some fine Welsh anthracite coal, which is where the fun began. With the extra heat, the foundry became a mini-blast furnace that melted the thin steel crucible, dumping the molten aluminum into the raging coal fire. The video below shows the near catastrophe, and we hope that once [Tony] changed his pants, he hustled off to buy a cheap graphite or ceramic crucible for the next firing.

All kidding aside, this is a vivid reminder of the stakes when something unexpected (or entirely predictable) goes wrong, and the need to be prepared to deal with it. A bucket of dry sand to smother a fire might be a good idea, and protective clothing is a must. And it pays to manage your work area to minimize potential collateral damage, too — we doubt that patio will ever be the same again.

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A Different Use For Microwave Oven: Melting Aluminum

Microwave ovens are a treasure trove of useful parts: transformers, an HV capacitor, a piezo speaker, and a high torque motor, to name just a few. In a new twist, [Rulof Maker] strips all that out and uses just the metal case to make a furnace for melting aluminum, copper and bronze.

His heat source is a quartet of 110 volt, 450 watt quartz heating elements which he mounts inside in the back. To reduce heat loss, he lines the walls with ceramic fiber insulation. Unfortunately, that includes covering the inside of the window, so there’s no pressing your nose against the glass while you watch the aluminum pieces turn to liquid. If you’re going to try making one of these yourself then you may want to consider adding a fuse.

It does the job though. In around nine minutes he melts enough scrap aluminum in a stainless steel bowl to pour into a mold for a test piece. But don’t take our word for it, see for yourself in the video below.

If want more information on what useful parts are inside then check out this primer. Or you can leave the parts in and use the oven as is for melting lead, but keep a fire extinguisher handy.

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Move Over Aluminum: Cast Iron for the Home Foundry

When it comes to choice of metals that can be melted in the home foundry, it’s a little like [Henry Ford]’s famous quip: you can melt any metal you want, as long as it’s aluminum. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; there’s a lot you can accomplish by casting aluminum. But imagine what you could accomplish by recycling cast iron instead.

It looks like [luckygen1001] knows a thing or two about slinging hot metal around. The video below shows a fairly expansive shop and some pretty unique tools he uses to recycle cast iron; we were especially impressed with the rig he uses to handle the glowing crucibles from a respectful distance. The cast iron comes from a cheap and abundant source: car disc brake rotors. Usually available free for the asking at the local brake shop, he scores them with an angle grinder and busts them into manageable chunks with a hammer before committing them to the flames. The furnace itself is quite a thing, running on a mixture of diesel and waste motor oil and sounding for all the world like a jet engine starting up. [luckygen1001] had to play with the melt, adding lumps of ferrosilicon alloy to get a cast iron with better machining properties than the original rotors. It’s an interesting lesson in metallurgy, as well as a graphic example of how not to make a flask for molding cast iron.

Cast iron from the home shop opens up a lot of possibilities. A homemade cast aluminum lathe is one thing, but one with cast iron parts would be even better. And if you use a lot of brake rotors for your homebrew cast iron lathe, it might require special handling.

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Digital Kiln

A kiln or foundry is too often seen as a piece of equipment which is only available if a hackspace is lucky enough to have one or individuals are dedicated enough to drop the cash for one of their own. [The Thought Emporium] thought that way until he sourced materials to make his own kiln which can also be seen after the break. It costs half the price of a commercial model not including a failed—and exploded—paint can version.

As described in the video, these furnaces are tools capable of more than just pottery and soft metal baubles. Sure, a clay chess set would be cool but what about carbon fiber, graphene, aerogel, and glass? Some pretty hot science happens at high temperatures.

We get a nice walk-through of each part of the furnace starting with the container, an eleven-gallon metal tub which should set the bar for the level of kiln being built. Some of the hardware arrangements could be tweaked for safety and we insist that any current-carrying screw is safely mounted inside an enclosure which can’t be opened without tools. There’s good advice about grounding the container if metal is used. The explanation of PID loops can be ignored.

What else can you do with a kiln? How about jewelry, heat treating metal, or recycle your beer cans into an engine.

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Harvesting Copper from Microwave Ovens

Obsolete appliances were once a gold mine of parts, free for the taking with a few snips of your diagonal cutters. Times have changed, though, and most devices yield only a paltry supply of parts, so much so that only by harvesting raw materials can you get much value out of them. And so we have this example of reclaiming copper from used microwave ovens.

The primary source of copper in most microwaves is the transformer, which we usually see re-tasked for everything from spot welders to material handling electromagnets. But the transformer is not the only source of the red metal; [eWaste Ben] also harvests it from relay coils and the main coil and shading coils of the fan motor.  The bounty is melted down in an electric foundry and cast in a graphite mold into a lovely ingot.

Unless you’re into repeatedly casting copper trinkets, a large bar of reclaimed copper might not be something you have a burning need to possess. But bearing in mind that copper can go for about $2.50 a pound at the scrap yard, there’s some money to be made, especially with dead microwaves essentially free for the taking. As [Ben] points out, taking the extra step to melt and cast the copper harvested from microwaves makes no sense if all you’re going to do is sell the scrap, but it’s nice to know how to do it just the same.

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Pouring 1200° Tea: Foundry in a Fire Extinguisher

Let’s face it — the design of most home foundries leaves something to be desired. Most foundries are great at melting metal, but when it comes to pouring the melt, awkward handling can easily lead to horrific results. That’s why we appreciate the thought that went into this electric melting pot foundry.

Sure, electric foundries lack some of the sex-appeal of gas- or even charcoal-fueled foundries, but by eschewing the open flames and shooting sparks, [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] was able to integrate the crucible into the foundry body and create what looks for all the world like a Thermos bottle for molten aluminum.

The body is a decapitated fire extinguisher, while the crucible appears to just be a length of steel pipe. An electric stove heating element is wrapped around the crucible, PID control of which is taken care of by an external controller and solid state relay. Insulated with Pearlite and provided with a handle, pours are now as safe as making a nice cup of 1200° tea.

You’ll perhaps recall that [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] has a thing for electric foundries, although we have to say the fit and finish of the current work far exceeds his previous quick-and-dirty build using an old electric stove.

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Silicone Molds for Stove-Top Metal Casting

Casting metal parts from 3D-printed plastic or Styrofoam models is all the rage these days, and for good reason — casting is a way to turn one-offs into mass-produced parts. Seems like most of the metal casting projects we feature are aluminum in sand molds, though, so it’s refreshing to see a casting project using silicone molds to cast low-melting point metals.

Don’t get us wrong — sand-cast aluminum is a great method that can even be used to build a lathe from scratch. But not everyone wants to build a foundry and learn the sometimes fussy craft of creating sand molds. [Chris Deprisco] wanted to explore low-melting point bismuth alloys and set about making silicone rubber molds of a 3D-printed Maltese falcon. The bismuth-tin alloy, sold as a substitute for casting lead fishing weights, melts on at 281°F (138°C) and is cool enough for the mold to handle. Initial problems with bubbles in the cast led to a pressure vessel fix, and a dull, grainy surface was fixed by warming the mold before the pour. And unlike sand molds, silicone molds are reusable.

Of course if aluminum is still your material of choice, there’s no need for a complicated foundry. A tuna can, a loaf of bread, and a handful of play sand is all you need to make custom parts.

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