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How to master the art of lost wax

November 12, 2009

I had a private chuckle when I read this article in The Guardian. The reason being is that in a previous life, my ex husband and I owned and ran a fine arts, bronze casting foundry, and the question of how the bronze “magically” came out of a mold that had once contained a wax pattern, was a fairly common one from visitors (and some clients). It is a complicated process, from mold-making to wax pouring to the firing of molds to the pouring of molten bronze. An alchemical process always full of excitement and danger. Our pour crew (including me) executed the pour like a finely choreographed ballet, which is was. We had to know and totally trust each other’s moves on the pour floor or there could have been disastrous results with a crucible full of 2,000 ° F molten metal. Thank goodness there never were.

How to master the art of lost wax

With its layers, phases, funnels and pins, this ancient sculpture technique is devilishly complicated. But I think I’ve got it

Molten bronze is poured into a mould created using the lost wax process

So that’s how they do it … Molten bronze is poured into a mould in the final stage of the lost wax process. Photograph: Frank Trapper/Corbis

Yesterday I tried to understand the lost wax method of bronze casting. First used in ancient China, later deployed by Greek and Roman sculptors to create their lifelike human figures, and still in favour (I assume) with craftspeople who cast bronze, this is a technique absolutely central to the history of sculpture. But have you ever tried to follow an explanation of it?

In textbooks and museum displays alike, I have come across many brief accounts of the lost wax process. But at a certain point, it all gets confusing. The inner and outer moulds, the pins and pipes, boggle the mind. Probably the only way to truly comprehend it is to do it. But at the V&A Museum in London, in its gallery devoted to the materials and methods of sculpture, you can learn quite a lot if you pay attention. So here goes.

The lost wax method does what it says on the box: it works by creating and then destroying a layer of wax which is then replaced with molten bronze. First, you have to make your wax model. Mould a statue or, in the case of ancient China, a complex sculptural vessel.

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How to master the art of lost wax

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