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Old 06-17-2012, 10:30 AM   #1
crazydrummerdude OP
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The 'dudes foundry.. and metal-casting ramblings.

It's about time I talk about my personal foundry. My posts will be picture-heavy, so if you want to quote me, please don't quote all the pictures!

In my old casting/machining thread, I discussed the extra school work I was involved in as I pursued my degree in Aerospace Engineering. I ended up taking several classes in those topics and got hired at the universities foundry. I received scholarships from professional foundry societies and was pretty enthused. Here are some of my better shots from my classes/employment in the foundry, as seen on the old thread;

This example was the last iteration of my design for a train car brake piece, in iron:

Preheating the ladle:



My no-bake mold:

My gating and riser design, knocked off:

The finished part:

The inside of the casting (no porosity!):

There were many days of aluminum pours. Not as exciting as iron, but still very interesting.

The old thread itself helped me connect with a few inmates and it was an overall pretty cool experience. Then, I graduated (in May 2011) and the thread died off. I got a job in the aerospace field, but it's not where I want(ed) to be. So, I applied and interviewed at a couple foundries. The engineers all said I'd be a good fit. The HR people all told me "We don't hire aerospace engineers." Ok, I guess I'll be making my own foundry sooner than expected. When I told my friends and classmates that idea, they thought I was crazy. They're probably right.

I've been casting lead with my brother for years. It's fairly unexciting as the temperatures are so low and the "crucible" itself is so small. But, I'll upload some pictures of that soon, too. Hundreds of pounds of ingots for sure..

For my aluminum foundry, I started researching and buying crucibles, tools, and refractory supplies to make my own home-built setup.. and some extra equipment in case I'm able to bump up to iron production some day. Like most of my favorite projects, I found a commercial aluminum foundry furnace next to a barn in the middle of nowhere. The wires were all hacked off, the plumbing was loose/disconnected/missing, and it was set up for natural gas. It's 250,000 Btu.

I re-wired it, re-plumbed it, and converted it to propane. That was a learning experience in itself. It turns out, every HVAC store I went to and almost every expert I asked, had no idea what to do, how to do it, or how to help me. I wanted to give my money to so many people to help me but they just looked at me, clueless. I guess this is such a unique thing that thinking outside the box is too abstract for some people. I had to teach myself everything as I went. That was at the end of last year.

The amount of dissatisfaction I feel with my job had spurred me to dive into this project further the past couple months as I let my other projects stagnate. Also, the amount of aluminum scrap accumulating in my shop was starting to get in the way. The cast iron behind my shop is still out-of-sight/out-of-mind.

So, with that, my foundry is now online and operational. Right now, I am just turning old Saturn pistons and engine blocks and brackets and whatnot into ingots. Also, as I haven't built the little "dog house" for my furnace yet, I am just running it on the forklift, so I can still wheel it back in the shop after it cools down. The body/base of the furnace doesn't pose a fire hazard (or a hazard to the forklift it's on), but the top stays quite toasty. I leave the furnace closed, with an empty crucible inside to slow-cool to prevent cracking the refractory lining (which takes about 12 hours).

I have thermocouples and monitor the melt and the furnace, but by now I'm getting good at visually determining pour times. I am tapping off a 100-pound propane tank, and fuel consumption is quite satisfactory.

A typical pour is as follows. I leaned some corrugated steel against that side of the furnace to protect my pilot light. Since the scrap is still questionable, I wear all my aluminized gear:

The furnace is at temperature, the scrap has been slagged off, and it's time:

Transferring from the lifting, to the pouring, handles:

You may notice that I'm using a small crucible. This is a 10 pound capacity and I purchased it while I was still under the impression that I was going to build my own furnace. The furnace I now operate has a 20 pound aluminum capacity. I am going to wait to operate at that capacity until I have the furnace in a permanent position.

Of course, when you have spectators, things don't go quite so smooth, so these permanent-mold ingots are a little sloppy.

I decided to punish myself and do some sand-cast (Petrobond) ingots. I used some permanent-mold cast lead ingots as the mold for my aluminum ingots. The aluminum ingots weigh 1.25 pounds each. Sand-casting these takes way more effort than they're worth. After two batches (12 bars), I just stuck to permanent molds that I'd shake out and re-pour every 15 minutes once the furnace is at operating temperature.

..and here's the before-and-after. Some Saturn pistons, and some sand-cast ingots.

At this point, I am still just melting down scrap into ingots that I can later flux, clean, and cast into... something. I haven't decided what I need to make yet, but I'm having fun filling up a 55-gallon drum of aluminum ingots. When I need to cast "important" items, I will not cast them out of scrap. The scrap will just be for "doo dads" and whatnot that I want to make for myself around the shop.

Since I know people will ask: Yes, I have been melting down cans and gutters and other thin-wall stuff. I have a supply of dry, crushed cans that I add to a half (or more) full crucible to avoid severe loss due to oxidization and slag. I do a similar thing with the gutters. It's funny that when I have a half-full crucible and I open the furnace, I can just feed an 8-foot section of gutter into the crucible like it's a welding rod. It just shrinks and sinks down in and the crucible fills up. The main complaint I have with them is the amount of slag I produce during that process as they're usually covered in paint. But, I can still get a good percentage of aluminum out of each gutter, and it's all free to me!

So, follow me along the journey!

Updates to come..

crazydrummerdude screwed with this post 06-17-2012 at 10:35 AM
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Old 06-17-2012, 10:50 AM   #2
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And what has the EPA said about your little foundry?

pretty cool .... I like..

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Old 06-17-2012, 03:42 PM   #3
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That's hot, err cool..yup
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Old 06-17-2012, 04:17 PM   #4
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Old 06-17-2012, 04:28 PM   #5
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Very, very cool.
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Old 06-17-2012, 07:11 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by seriousracer View Post
And what has the EPA said about your little foundry?
They said, "That's awesome! I'm jealous!" *

And I can't think of anything that I'm doing that is worse for the environment than anything anyone else is doing.. and I like the environment!

*When I talked to them in my dream.

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Old 06-17-2012, 07:11 PM   #7
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How loud is the furnace? How hot can it go? Hot enough for brass?
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Old 06-17-2012, 07:36 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by pilot View Post

How loud is the furnace? How hot can it go? Hot enough for brass?
The furnace is not loud at all; maybe as loud as a hair dryer but with more of a growl while it's running at full power. You don't even have to raise your voice.

I'm not positive yet, but I'd imagine it could get up to brass temperatures, and this is what a lot of people have asked me. Regardless, I've started saving all my brass. I just wonder how the Cu/Zn alloy will do at temperature. I wonder if it will erode my crucible/refractory, or if I'll be able to pour it as brass, and not some messed up mixture.

Since it's top-loading, you lose a lot of heat when you open the lid to charge it. Considering I have the materials to make my own furnace, I am going to make a different lid for it with a port for my thermocouple or to charge it. I'll try to get a good maximum temperature reading one of these days.

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Old 06-18-2012, 08:15 AM   #9
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Make me some brackets and shit.
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Old 06-18-2012, 02:17 PM   #10
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Cool stuff!

I've done (and am doing) similar, but with more expensive metals.

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Old 06-18-2012, 04:19 PM   #11
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Let me know when you fire it up next.
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Old 06-18-2012, 04:24 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Cumminsman76 View Post
Let me know when you fire it up next.
Probably this weekend.

Bring some aluminum!

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Old 06-18-2012, 04:43 PM   #13
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Aluminium was once called "solid electricity" for all the energy it takes to smelt from ore, and get into a useable form. It was once the most precious metal in this country, and the Washington Monument in DC is tipped with a pyramid of it, weighing 100 ounces which was the largest single-cast piece ever made here at the time.

Cool work. I've melted bronze in my forge, and I've participated in a few steel cruicible melts, and find it tricky at best. Your lack of porosity is commendable. How are you killing the charge?
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Old 06-18-2012, 05:20 PM   #14
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Subscribed. I've always been fascinated with castings since I learned of the David Gingery series on casting and making machine tools from scrap aluminum.
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Old 06-18-2012, 11:19 PM   #15
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WAY Cool!!

Good luck in your venture. If you can do bronze, I would expect one off marine work to have a market.
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