Paul Woods <paul@...>
For the benefit of anyone not familiar with the brass investment casting process: I do CAD design work for cast brass model railroad parts, along with other methods (laser, photoetch); the 3D-printed master is made 2% oversize and a rubber mould is made from it. Today the rubber is transparent, and the mould is poured as one block then cut in half with a scalpel. I always do my 3D-printed patterns with sprue gates but sometimes an area won't fill with metal properly, and any additional sprue gate can simply be carved out of the mould to correct the problem. A special hard wax is then injected into the mould, making as many wax copies as required. These waxes are then 'treed up', that is, stuck on a wax cylinder so that they look like branches on a tree, then the whole lot is dipped in high-temp plaster repeatedly to build up sufficient thickness. The plaster mould is heated to run the wax out (hence the term 'lost wax'), so that molten brass, bronze or whatever can be poured into the resulting cavity.
My casting supplier tells me the shrinkage occurs in the rubber mould, not the metal casting because the column of molten brass in the cast keeps pressure on the mould as it cools, helping reduce shrinkage. I usually see shrinkage i.e. low spots where the surface should be flat, where a large cavity is filled through a smaller sprue gate and so the metal in the sprue gate can freeze before the metal in the cavity, preventing more metal from flowing in. Uneven cooling is the sworn enemy of metal casting of any kind, so large thick sections should be avoided; it will usually give a better result if a large part is either hollowed out or assembled from smaller parts.
It can be an expensive waste of time trying to burn styrene parts out of plaster moulds because styrenes can include fillers to make them harder, and these are not always combustible. The ash can get pushed into the smaller nooks of the mould by inflowing metal, preventing the fine details from filling.
To the best of my knowledge, wax masters cannot be used for spin-casting pewter, because the type of rubber compound used (at least, by my local supplier) to make the mould produces heat as it sets, sufficient to soften or even melt styrene, so wax doesn't stand a chance. This similarly rules out the use of 3D-printed resin masters, so if metal masters cannot be made by hand then the process has to be plastic master - brass casting - pewter casting. This can still be worthwhile but you have to require huge numbers of something, such as tieplates, to justify the effort. The tricky part is judging the amount of shrinkage to allow for because the brass casting process involves shrinkage and then so does the pewter casting process, so one multiplies the other. I would love to find a spin-caster who can use wax patterns because that would reduce the costs quite a lot.