How To Get Into Lost Wax Casting (with A Dash Of 3D Printing)

I’ve always thought that there are three things you can do with metal: cut it, bend it, and join it. Sure, I knew you could melt it, but that was always something that happened in big foundries- you design something and ship it off to be cast in some large angular building churning out smoke. After all, melting most metals is hard. Silver melts at 1,763 °F. Copper at 1,983 °F. Not only do you need to create an environment that can hit those temperatures, but you need to build it from materials that can withstand them.

Turns out, melting metal is not so bad. Surprisingly, I’ve found that the hardest part of the process for an engineer like myself at least, is creating the pattern to be replicated in metal. That part is pure art, but thankfully I learned that we can use technology to cheat a bit.

When I decided to take up casting earlier this year, I knew pretty much nothing about it. Before we dive into the details here, let’s go through a quick rundown to save you the first day I spent researching the process. At it’s core, here are the steps involved in lost wax, or investment, casting:

  1. Make a pattern: a wax or plastic replica of the part you’d like to create in metal
  2. Make a mold: pour plaster around the pattern, then burn out the wax to leave a hollow cavity
  3. Pour the metal: melt some metal and pour it into the cavity

I had been kicking around the idea of trying this since last fall, but didn’t really know where to begin. There seemed to be a lot of equipment involved, and I’m no sculptor, so I knew that making patterns would be a challenge. I had heard that you could 3D-print wax patterns instead of carving them by hand, but the best machine for the job is an SLA printer which is prohibitively expensive, or so I thought. Continue reading “How To Get Into Lost Wax Casting (with A Dash Of 3D Printing)”

Recovering Metal From Waste

Refining precious metals is not as simple as polishing rocks that have been dug out of the ground. Often, complex chemical processes are needed to process the materials properly or in high quantities, but these processes leave behind considerable waste. Often, there are valuable metals left over in these wastes, and [NerdRage] has gathered his chemistry equipment to demonstrate how it’s possible to recover these metals.

The process involved looks to recover copper and nitric acid from copper nitrate, a common waste byproduct of processing metal. While a process called thermal decomposition exists to accomplish this, it’s not particularly efficient, so this alternative looks to improve the yields you could otherwise expect. The first step is to react the copper nitrate with sulfuric acid, which results in nitric acid and copper sulfate. From there, the copper sulfate is placed in an electrolysis cell using a platinum cathode and copper anodes to pass current through it. After the process is complete, all of the copper will have deposited itself on the copper electrodes.

The other interesting thing about this process, besides the amount of copper that is recoverable, is that the sulfuric acid and the nitric acid are recoverable, and able to be used again in other processes. The process is much more efficient than thermal decomposition and also doesn’t involve any toxic gasses either. Of course, if collecting valuable metals from waste is up your alley, you can also take a look at recovering some gold as well.

Thanks to [Keith] for the tip!

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Gorgeous Mini-Lathe Makes The Most Out Of Wood And Metal

It’s a cliche that the only machine tool that can make copies of itself is the lathe. It’s not exactly true, but it’s a useful adage in that it points out that the ability to make big round things into smaller round things, and to make unround things into round things, is a critical process in so many precision operations. That said, making a lathe primarily out of wood presents some unique challenges in the precision department

This isn’t [Uri Tuchman]’s first foray into lathe-building. Readers may recall the quirky creator’s hybrid treadle-powered and electric lathe, also primarily an exercise in woodworking. That lathe has seen plenty of use in [Uri]’s projects, turning both wood and metal stock into parts for his builds. It wasn’t really optimal for traditional metal turning, though, so Mini-Lathe 2 was undertaken. While the bed, headstock, and tailstock “castings” are wood — gorgeously hand-detailed and finished, of course — the important bits, like the linear slides for the carriage and the bearings in the headstock, are all metal. There’s a cross-slide, a quick-change tool post, and a manual lead screw for the carriage. We love the finely detailed brass handcranks, which were made on the old lathe, and all of the lovely details [Uri] always builds into his projects.

Sadly, at the end of the video below we see that the lathe suffers from a fair amount of chatter when turning brass. That’s probably not unexpected — there’s not much substitute for sheer mass whenit comes to dampening vibration. We expect that [Uri] will be making improvements to the lathe in the coming months — he’s not exactly one to leave a job unfinished.

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Proteus, The Shape-Shifting And Possibly Non-Cuttable Material

How cool would it be if there was a material that couldn’t be cut or drilled into? You could make the baddest bike lock, the toughest-toed work boots, or the most secure door. Really, the list of possibilities just goes on and on.

Proteus chews through an angle grinder disc in seconds.

Researchers from the UK and Germany claim that they’ve created such a magical material. It can destroy angle grinder discs, resist drill bits, and widen the streams of water jet cutters.

The material is made of aluminium foam that’s embedded with a bunch of small ceramic spheres. It works by inducing retaliatory vibrations into the cutting tools, which turns the tools’ force back on themselves and quickly dulls their edges.

The creators have named the material Proteus after the elusive and shape-shifting prophet of Greek mythology who would only share his visions of the future with those who could get their arms around him and keep him still. It sounds like this material could give Proteus a run for his money.

The ceramic spheres themselves aren’t indestructible, but they’re not supposed to be. Abrading the spheres only makes Proteus stronger. As the cutting tool contacts them, they’re crushed into dust that fills the voids in the aluminium foam, strengthening the material’s destructive vibratory effect. The physical inspiration for Proteus comes from protective hierarchical structures in nature, like the impact-resistant rind of grapefruit and the tendency of abalone shells to resist fracture under the impact of shark teeth.

How It’s Made

Proteus recipe in pictures.

At this point, Proteus is a proof of concept. Adjustments would likely have to be made before it can be produced at any type of scale. Even so, the recipe seems pretty straightforward. First, an aluminium alloy powder is mixed with a foaming agent. Then the mixture is cold compacted in a compressor and extruded in dense rods. The rods are cut down to size and then arranged along with the ceramic spheres in a layered grid, like a metallurgical lasagna.

The grid is spot-welded into a steel box and then put into a furnace for 15-20 minutes. Inside the furnace, the foaming agent releases hydrogen gas, which introduces voids into the aluminium foam and gives it a cellular structure.

Effects of cutting into a cylinder of Proteus with an angle grinder.

According to their paper, the researchers tried to penetrate the material with an angle grinder, a water jet cutter, and a drill. Of these, the drill has the best chance of getting through because the small point of contact can find gaps more easily, so it’s less likely to hit a ceramic sphere. The researchers also made cylindrical samples without steel cladding which they used to test the compressive strength and prove Proteus’ utility as a structural material for beams and columns. It didn’t fare well initially, but became less compressible as the foam matrix collapsed.

The creation process lends some leeway for customization, because the porosity of the aluminium foam can be varied by changing the bake time. As for the drill bit problem, tightening up security is as easy as adjusting the size and/or density of the ceramic spheres.

In the video after the break, you can watch a chunk of Proteus eat up an angle grinder disc in under a minute. Some may argue about the tool wielder’s technique, but we think there’s something to be said for any material that can destroy a cutting disc that fast. They don’t claim that Proteus is completely impenetrable, but it does look impressive. We wish they would have tried more cutting tools like a gas torch, or experimented with other destructive techniques, like plastic explosives, but we suppose that research budgets only go so far.

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Make Your Own Plasma Cutter

Of all the tools that exist, there aren’t many more futuristic than the plasma cutter, if a modern Star Wars cosplay if your idea of futuristic. That being said, plasma cutters are a powerful tool capable of making neat cuts through practically any material, and there are certainly worst ways to play with high voltage.

Lucky enough, [Plasanator] posted their tutorial for how to make a plasma cutter, showing the steps through which they gathered parts from “old microwaves, stoves, water heaters, air conditioners, car parts, and more” in the hopes of creating a low-budget plasma cutter better than any on YouTube or from a commercial vendor.

The plasma cutter does end up working up quite an arc, with the strength to slice through quarter-inch steel “like a hot knife through butter”.

Its parts list and schematic divide the systems into power control, high current DC, low voltage DC, and high voltage arc start:

  • The power control contains the step down transformer and contactor (allows the DC components to come on line)
  • The high current DC contains the bridge rectifier, large capacitors, and reed switch (used as a current sensor to allow the high voltage arc to fire right when the current starts to travel to the head, shutting down the high voltage arc system when it’s no longer necessary)
  • The low voltage DC contains the power switch, auto relays, 12V transformer, 120V terminal blocks, and a terminal strip
  • The high voltage arc start contains the microwave capacitor and a car ignition coil

At the cutting end, 13A is used to cut through quarter-inch steel. Considering the considerably high voltage cutter this is, a 20 A line breaker is needed for safety.

Once the project is in a more refined state, [Plasanator] plans on hiding components like the massive capacitors and transformer behind a metal or plastic enclosure, rather than have them exposed. This is mainly for safety reasons, although having the parts exposed is evocative of a steampunk aesthetic.

In several past designs, stove coils were used as current resistors and a Chevy control module as the high voltage arc start. The schematic may have become more refined with each build, but [Plasanator]’s desire to use whatever components were available certainly has not disappeared.

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Solve Your Precision Woes With A Sliding Angle Grinder

Angle grinders are among the most useful tools for anyone who’s ever had to cut metal. They’re ergonomic, compact, and get the job done. Unfortunately, one of the tradeoffs you usually make when using them is precision.

But thankfully, there’s a DIY solution. YouTuber [workshop from scratch] demonstrated the build process for a sliding angle grinder in a recent video, welding steel beams into a flat frame and attaching fitted beams on top to slide across the rows. Where necessary, spacers are used to ensure that the slider is perfectly fitted to the beam. The contraption holding the angle grinder – a welded piece of steel bolted to the sliding mechanism – has a grip for the user to seamlessly slide the tool across the table.

The operation is like a more versatile and robust chop saw, not to mention the customized angle references you can make to cut virtually anything you like. The build video shows the entire process, from drill pressing and turning holes to welding pieces of the frame together to artfully spray painting the surface a classy black, with familiarity enough to make the project look like a piece of cake.

As the name implies, [workshop from scratch] is all about building your own shop tools, and we’ve previously taken a look at their impressive hydraulic vise and mobile crane builds. These tools, largely hacked together from scraps, prove that setting up your own shop doesn’t necessarily mean you need to break the bank.

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Reducing Drill Bit Wear The Cryogenic Way

There are a lot of ways that metals can be formed into various shapes. Forging, casting, and cutting are some methods of getting the metal in the correct shape. An oft-overlooked aspect of smithing (at least by non-smiths) is the effect of temperature on the final characteristics of the metal, such as strength, brittleness, and even color. A smith may dunk a freshly forged sword into a bucket of oil or water to make the metal harder, or a craftsman with a drill bit might treat it with an extremely cold temperature to keep it from wearing out as quickly.

Welcome to the world of cryogenic treatment. Unlike quenching, where a hot metal is quickly cooled to create a hard crystal structure in the metal, cryogenic treatment is done by cooling the metal off slowly, and then raising it back up to room temperature slowly as well. The two processes are related in that they both achieve a certain amount of crystal structure formation, but the extreme cold helps create even more of the structure than simply tempering and quenching it does. The crystal structure wears out much less quickly than untreated steel, therefore the bits last much longer.

[Applied Science] goes deep into the theory behind these temperature treatments on the steel, and the results speak for themselves. With the liquid nitrogen treatments the bits were easily able to drill double the number of holes on average. The experiment was single-blind too, so the subjectivity of the experimenter was limited. There’s plenty to learn about heat-treated metals as well, even if you don’t have a liquid nitrogen generator at home.

Thanks to [baldpower] for the tip!

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