Sand casting is true alchemy. I take scraps of recycled sterling silver, melt them down and turn them into pieces of beautiful jewellery. From a real seashell that I’ve found on the beach to a gorgeous 925 sterling silver shell necklace, the process is magical and full of wonder.
The secret to getting great results in sand casting is all in the preparation. Here I have packed the metal rings with sand. Not sand from the beach, but a slightly sticky, oily sand called delft clay, which is red and perfect for picking up the tiny details and textures of organic forms.
There’s a lot of detail that helps to get the mould right and the secret to great casting, is to build a mould that will help the flow of silver. By that, I mean, think about how the silver will flow into the mould; the angle, the width of the spru hole and make sure your chimneys are clear so the displaced air can escape. Chimneys are the tiny holes and channels you build into your mould. As I say, sand casting has many parts to it and accuracy is key to creating a beautifully detailed seashell. I’ll have to write another post, I think, focussing on creating moulds!
Pressing this winkle seashell into the sand creates a beautiful impression. See here how the ridges of the shell have been captured in the sand. Those lines that you can see will be the ridges of the silver shell when it’s cast. Every time I create a piece like this, even using the same shell, it will be slightly different. That’s the beauty of casting.
Sand casting isn’t for the faint hearted. Safety comes before anything and preparation is again, really important. I will only do this in a safe space. The process involves melting the silver to a temperature where it is molten so it can be poured at lightening speed into the mould before it sets again. It can take 10 minutes to melt the recycled silver and a fraction of a second to solidify again.
The recycled sterling silver needs to be heated using a large burner or torch. See above the crucible filled with sterling silver scraps, along with any pieces that I’m not 100% happy with. I’ve turned up the heat and am waiting for the silver to melt into a liquid. If you’ve tried this then you’ll know that it takes patience. You need a strong grip of the torch and watching silver melt is quite mesmerising so 100% concentration is a must.
The silver might look molten but there may be still solid bits lurking under the surface so it’s important to carefully swish the silver round to keep the heat constant throughout. I always pop in a small amount of borax powder to reduce the impurities. Those can be flicked to the sides of the crucible. You definitely don’t want them in the pour!
Pouring takes skill and accuracy but that comes with practise. It’s important to keep the torch on the molten silver right to the last second. The pour should be decisive and fast, at the same time as being controlled and accurate.
Following the pour and the removal of the piece, which I’d hope turned out well, all that is left is a burnt impression of the silver shell in the sand. Sand cast moulds cannot be reused so it’s time to leave the rings to cool, recycle the good, clean sand and set up another mould.
Here is the small winkle shell with the spru, which is formed as the molten silver rushes into the mould. I’ve used a saw to cut the spru from the shell, which I will recycle and melt down next time around. This is the silver shell in its raw state. It’s unfinished, unloved and will need more hours of work to create a wearable piece of jewellery.
If you’ve had any experience of silver jewellery making then you’ll know that it’s 20% origination and 80% filing! I like the filing process because after the noise and bluster of casting, it’s calming and therapeutic. It’s where the term handmade really comes into its own. By the time this piece is finished, I’ll be well acquainted with every curve and it won’t leave my studio until I’m satisfied that it’s the best natural recreation of the original.
I like to put on my favourite podcast or audiobook and file until I’m 100% happy that whoever receives one of my pieces, will love it as much as I do.
See here, the real seashell alongside the sterling silver seashell. It will reduce about 10% in size and of course, solid silver is heavier than a real, hollow shell. This little one weighs 4.6g, which is light enough to wear as a bracelet charm or a pendant on a necklace. It’s below the legal limit for UK hallmarking so I won’t send it to be hallmarked, unless a customer specifically requests it.
You can buy this 925 sterling silver winkle shell charm necklace from Silver Nutshell Etsy Shop. Simply place your order and I’ll do the rest.
My pieces are made using recycled sterling silver and beautifully wrapped in recyclable or reusable packaging. You can add a personalised ‘In a nutshell… ‘ message and I use postal boxes so you don’t need to be in to receive your parcel. Say something special by gifting a piece of the natural world and create connections that will last for a lifetime.
A piece of nature jewellery is perfect to buy for special occasions such as an anniversary, to say thank you, happy birthday or as a special gift for bridesmaids. This 925 sterling silver winkle charm is also a great way to send love and best wishes to your favourite little mermaid.