Casting jewelry from pewter is not as difficult as you might think. It’s just important to do this *very* careful and watch each and every step of what you’re doing carefully.
You’re going to work with molten, incredibly hot metal if you follow this tutorial, which can cause considerable damage to your furniture, your floor, your hands, your feet and any other valuable body / interior part that get into its way.
I am by no means responsible for any of such possible damage if you don’t follow this tutorial without constant awareness and carefulness.
I am also not responsible for anything that should happen to you, other people nearby or any of your or other people’s belongings if you are not careful, I repeat it.
Underage persons should, if at all, only follow the steps in this tutorial together with a mature person – one that has permission from their parents (if the person is no parent of the underage person) *plus* owns / has rented the building in which this tutorial is followed.
Read this tutorial at least three times before starting anything, making sure that you understood each and every step of it. If you have problems understanding any of these steps, please ask.
For all the jewelry you want to make, you’ll need at least:
- Pewter (obviously!)
- A heat proof surface on which you can work (And I mean: HEAT proof. We’re working with molten metal here! A *large, thick* wooden kitchen cutting board made of *good* wood always works, but will probably be unusable for anything else afterwards.)
- A steel pot (possibly small) in which you can melt the pewter – possibly small, about half the size of a water glass, with a notch for pouring
- A hot burning flame, e. g. a gas burner
- A soldering iron
- some polymer clay which can be hardened in the baking oven, e. g. Fimo
- possibly fine artist’s plaster to cast a mold
- a sharp, fine drill (~2mm) and a machine to operate it (e. g. Dremel)
- Rhinestone glue
- Point-back and flat back rhinestones in various shapes
- Some basic jewelry elements, e. g. for earrings a ring to go through the ear, for a brooch a pin etc.
And this is how to do it:
- Use your polymer clay to make a model of the jewelry exactly the way you want it in the exact size you want it.
It is a *very* good idea to work the jewelry in a way remembering that you’ll once have to remove that thing from a mold. This means that the backside should be broadest, the top narrowest. If you don’t do it that way, you won’t be able to pick the pewter jewel from the mold.
If you want to add shaped (not pointed!) crystals to the finished jewel, it could be a very good idea to have them at hand to make imprints of the basic shape of those crystals into the clay. Same for pearls.
The backside should be absolutely flat.
Let the clay model harden in the oven (depending on your model; read #4 for details).
After finishing (and possibly baking) your model, add a very *thin* layer of non-hardened clay (~1mm) to the backside.
- Lay the hardened clay model with the soft clay backside out on a *flat* surface (table) which is covered with baking paper and press on it a little to make the non-hardened clay on the backside stick to the baking paper.
In a distance of at least one inch to the model, make a closed ring (circle or oval shape, depending on the model) with a roll of non-hardened clay. You can reuse that clay for other jewelry later.
The ring should be at least one inch higher than your model (seen from the side) and surround the entire model – think of building a wall around a castle, one without *any* gates, in a distance of at least 1 inch to the model.
Attach the clay sausage firmly to the baking paper by pressing it gently to it. From the side you still shouldn’t be able to see your clay model over the roll of surrounding clay; your wall should still be about an inch higher than your model! The thickness of that ring is not so important – about half or even a quarter of an inch is sufficient.A drawing of what it should look like if your jewelry model was, for example, a star:
The ring of clay around the model is there (if it still shouldn’t be obvious…) to keep the now following plaster from pouring out, but instead stay close to the model and cover it with a nice chunk of plaster to form a mold.
- Mix and pour some plaster into the ring with the model.
The ‘sausage’ of clay around it will prevent any plaster from pouring out. Do this in thin layers of about 5mm and let the plaster dry in between the layers until the highest point of the model is *completely* covered with at least an inch of plaster.
Let the plaster dry. This can take several days depending on the room temperature and the plaster’s thickness.
- After the plaster is dry, take away the ring of clay and turn the hardened plaster chunk around.
Then, and maybe the help of a needle and scalpel is needed, remove the clay model from the hardened plaster. Be careful while doing this – don’t damage the mold that the model has left in the plaster! It’s alright, however, to cut away some of the top sides with a sharp knife, in order to make the following casted pewter model get out easier.Some don’t use hardened, but still soft clay for the model while the plaster mold is made. I find that this is a bad idea as one can’t determine if the casted pewter model will get out correctly if the clay that has to be removed is still soft.
This ‘soft clay’ method however works perfectly if you want to cast just one single, fine jewel for which the mold can be broken as soon as the pewter has cooled down. In that case the plaster that surrounds / covers the model should not be thicker than a quarter of an inch, so that it can easily be broken apart without damaging the pewter model.
In this case it can also be a good idea to work with plaster that can’t be put into water as soon as it’s hardened, for it will then break apart. After casting your single jewel, you can simply put the chunk of plaster with the casted pewter model into water, and the plaster will fall apart, leaving a perfect jewel behind.
For something like the shapes of the belt in ‘Moretto’s young woman‘, however, you should work with the hardened clay method, as your mold has to cast several equal shapes one after another and therefore has to be stable and mostly unbreakable.
- As soon as you’re finished and have a perfect mold, stick some clay to the backside (former upper side when making the mold) of the chunk of plaster you now have. Balance it out carefully until you are sure that the now upper surface (with the mold) is completely flat and straight.
- Break / cut off some pewter from the usual chunks in which it is sold.
It’s at first a bit difficult to determine how much pewter one needs for a jewel; I think most people tend to break off too much (so did I). Don’t worry – you can melt the excess later for other jewels.
Put the chunk of pewter into the melting pot, fire the burner and start melting.
If your melting pot has a handle (which it should) and if this handle is not isolated (which it usually isn’t), then it’s a *very* good idea to wear thick, protective baking gloves while you heat the pot up, otherwise… well, you know, burned hands hurt a lot; and a dropped, hot pot with molten metal in it that falls / splashes on your feet hurts even more…
- As soon as the pewter has molten and turned into a nice, silvery liquid, you can start pouring it into your mold *carefully*, but regularly. Don’t stop until the mold left by the model jewelry is full and even has some kind of ‘hat’ over it. If you drop some of the molten metal next to the place where your mold is – don’t worry, you can cut that off later.
If the place you drop it on is one of your body parts – hurry, cool the body part with ice cold, flowing water and see a doctor.
Let the metal in the mold cool. This can take some hours, depending on how thick your jewel is.
Don’t move the mold and try to cool it faster in, for example, a refrigerator – apart from the damage this might cause to the fridge, the metal might also crack due to the quick temperature change. Plus – if the pewter still has some kind of liquid state, it might pour out over your fingers. Ouch!
- When the metal has cooled (which shouldn’t be tested with a finger, but with a drop of water dropped to the surface of the metal!), pick your newly casted jewel from the mold.
- You might need a sharp knife to cut away excess material around the casted jewel.
- If you have to add any pins, holders or whatever to your jewel, solder them on now. If you’d do this later, you might damage the crystals with the heat of the soldering flame or iron!
- After you’ve ‘finished’ your jewel to the point that you can add point-back rhinestones, take the drill and its operating machine and make tiny holes into the surface of the pewter jewelry.
The depth and circumfence of those holes should be the size of the point-back rhinestones you want to add, which usually means: just the tip of the drill forms the hole.
You’ll need some practice to get it right – get your practice not on your jewel, but on a chunk of pewter that you have not yet transformed into a jewel!
- If you’re finished with the holes, which will probably take very long – Mr. Baumgartl of the ‘Crown Jewels’ exhibit drilled, for example, about 100 holes for rhinestones into one of the fleur-de-lys of this crown:
and of course even more into the cross right next to it – you can start setting the stones into the holes with some rhinestone glue and pliers. This will take even *longer* than drilling the holes, but is well worth the effort.
You can collect the excess that is drilled out – collect it in a small box. You can melt it again and use it for other jewelry.
- If you have any square or round flat back crystals to add to the jewelry, do that afterwards. This because if you *first* glue on the ‘easy* crystals, you can be damned sure that something will go wrong with the not-so-easy, drilled ones; and you have lost more crystals on a trash jewel than you wanted (or would have had) to…
- Finished! Now you have made your first jewelry from pewter.
- If you don’t want your crystals to be set into a base of pewter, you might think about electroplating the pewter with gold after drilling the holes but before adding the rhinestones.
There are some sellers on Ebay which sell kits to electroplate metal surfaces (with descriptions how to do that!); go and get a kit to do so there (and don’t forget to compare prices before you buy ). It’s simple – don’t be scared
- One day you might be ready to use real silver or even gold for your casted jewelry… but until then.. practice, practice, practice until you have turned at least two pounds of pewter and 100 grams of rhinestones into acceptable jewelry before you start working with precious metals and / or stones!
To get some silver to practice with it, it’s a good idea to search on flea markets (or Ebay) for spoons, forks or knives made of silver, which you can then melt just like the chunks of pewter. You may need, however, a hotter burning burner to do this, depending on the pureness of the silver. Don’t use your aunt’s or grandma’s (or other relatives) dishware – she might not be very happy!
Comments on this tutorial? I’m always grateful! And of course I am all so curious as to what you have made from this tutorial – why not send me a picture of the jewelry that you have created?