Frequently Used Wax Tools
Dental probes and knives make good wax tools. Your local dentist or dental hygienist or school for the same can supply you with used tools for free. If they don’t sterilize them for you the procedure is to soak them in laundry bleach (Javex®) for twenty minutes and follow by baking in your oven at a very low temperature (200°) for about half an hour or so. This is supposed to kill all the nasties one might encounter.
A good general purpose wax tool I use at times is made of bronze, which holds it’s heat for a while yet does not conduct well enough to burn one’s hand. The tool is made from brazing rod (thick stuff) and is about 10 inches long. One end is a long narrow tapered point and the other a small flat blade.
Serious wax working and especially production spruing for casting needs an electric wax tool which is made easily by installing a light dimmer switch in the line for a pencil type soldering iron. For safety and looks install the assembly in an ‘experimenters box’ from Radio Shack. Get someone who knows simple wiring to help you do this if you are unsure of how to proceed. Shape the point of the tool to a long narrow taper. Some soldering tools have replacement tips that can be made into different shapes. Not all soldering tools can be used for this. Like any home-made electrical tool you must have a licensed electrician look at it before you use it in a home or business. Insurance people don’t like them unless they are approved-not to mention the chance of injuring or killing yourself. Plan in all such things for the worst case such as spilling your coffee across the table and onto the tool and you. Wood burning tools cannot generally be reshaped-the end is a thin copper coating on a ceramic tip and is ruined by any abrasion.
Because filing wax is soft it can be carved with almost anything even if the tool is not hardened steel. Many tools can be made from nails, forged out coat hanger wire and old files. For burrs any coarse tools will work, such as rotary rasps intended for wood and various milling and machining bits; even those which are no longer of use to machinists. Dremel® has several coarse burs that are very good.
If one takes a tapered broken burr or tapered rod and grinds or files half of it away it becomes a drilling tool for wax or plastic that does not gum up.
I also use various other tools for working wax such as gears out of broken alarm clocks as burrs. Often they have an spindle attached to them already to fit into the flex shaft. Even nails can be filed into toothed burrs for wax.
A professional wax carver in Calgary named Gary McMillan uses a Bernz-o-matic® type propane torch for all his work because of its quick temperature control options; heating up a leaf-bladed hot wax tool for spooning wax on and building it up and a needle held in a pin vise for almost everything else. The pin vise enables him to adjust the length from the pin vise jaws easily and so alter the rate of temperature loss in the needle by using the jaws as a heat sink. This provides rapid control over a number of different temperatures of the wax when on a tool or being mixed in a spoon. The rapidity of use makes this the best option for speed and production applications of working wax. The torch is set into a wooden frame so that it is tilted to about 10 degrees up and with the tip pointing upwards.
McMillan uses a large white Magic Rub® eraser as a sawing platform for cutting wax. This prevents it being broken from the pressure of sawing.
Another McMillan innovation is to use ordinary nails as wax gravers. They have all the same end shapes as regular engraving tools but are rapidly made and stay sharp forever because one is only working wax. No handles are used, instead one pushes gently with the crook of the index finger. This makes a lot more sense than using metal gravers and handles on wax which is what most goldsmiths automatically do. It may also be quicker than using scrapers to shape the wax.
For carving a flat bottomed hole into a filing wax to fit a cabochon stone (one cuts the hole first and then files wax down towards it to make a bezel) I have found that grinding a standard drill bit off flat at the tip gives one a burr that sinks to the depth required if tipped and then when held at a right angle to the wax being worked does not sink further but only carves outwards so that one can create perfect flat bottomed holes to fit cabochon stones and also make channels for channel setting.
I have seen several wax injectors made from a electric pressure cooker, fitted with gauges and the Jelrus® replacement injection nipple. A fridge compressor can serve as a compressor to run a wax injector with a gasoline filter in the line to filter the air going in to it. Jeff Demand has constructed a small wax injector intended for file-a wax type waxes which operates at higher pressures (30-40 psi) and enables him to inject his molds with wax which can then be filed and further worked.
There is an orange injection wax available for regular injectors which is soft and flexible, has good memory during removal from the rubber mold but hardens after three days into a material that can be filed without gumming and clogging the files. Rio Grande is the source I’ve heard quoted.
Rubber Mold Vulcanizer
This is basically a commercial heavy aluminum rubber mold frame, two steel plates and two C-clamps. The frame can be laboriously sawn out of thick aluminum sheet, be cast, be a cut-off a thick rectangular pipe or purchased.The model and rubber are laid in as usual, and then the steel plates are clamped as tightly as possible to the frame with the C-clamps and the whole assembly is placed in the oven at 350-400o F for an hour. Preheat the oven. Check instructions. It is a good idea to tighten the clamp periodically if you have used excess rubber. Jeff Demand uses a small toaster oven for his vulcanizing heat source with clamps similar to those pictured below for the frame. These days too one can use other molding compounds, for short runs the alginate systems and for permanent ones compounds such as the Silastic® ones.