Wax Carving

I consider myself a serious wax carver. Perhaps and enthusiastic wax carver. Doesn’t matter, I do a lot of work making wax masters for lost wax casting. Some of it is handwork and some of it is performed on a computer controlled milling machine.

I am not a purest hand carved wax artist. I’ll use the best method for the intent I desire. However, I do enjoy the hand work for truly unique designs. I will work with any method that produces Items of which I can be proud to say, “I made.”

Hand Carving

Cold carving wax is a subtractive process. When done by hand all kinds of material removal tools can be used. Actually there is very little cutting or carving. It is mostly filing and scraping that gets the unwanted wax removal accomplished. Power tools with burrs and other rotary bits are used. Anything or process that will remove wax is perfectly acceptable. Finer removal is with abrasives and solvents.

Using some heat, there is an additional process that can be employed. Depending on the temperature, wax can change from hard, soft, mush, to liquid. Also vapor if really hot. This is done with heated tools.

Using heat also permits additive wax sculpting which is almost always a necessity. For me that makes wax carving more forgiving and creative than wood or stone carving. It is much closer to sculpting clay. Mistakes and accidents can be repaired.

The most conventional and basic process is to heat metal cold process tools in an alcohol lamp flame and apply them to melt or soften the wax. With skill wax can be repositioned and added as desired. The technique requires careful temperature control with constant alternating of the carving tool between the heat source and the work. With effort it is an excellent skill for the detail wax carver.

The dentistry industry created an alternate method used to form wax dental masters using electrically heated and temperature controlled wax carving tools. The electrically heated tool, called a wax “pen” works perfectly fine for the jeweler and wax sculptor. It eliminates the alcohol lamp (and open flame) from the process. It also provides very controllable and sustainable temperature control and precise wax placement.

Machine Carving

This is a totally a subtractive carving process (so far). However, with the advent of 3D printing there is now a method of additive creation using computer controlled machines. Some high end jewelers are currently using the 3D printing process.

I am an enthusiastic user of carving by CNC machine. There are no “on the fly” decisions made that are an inherent process of hand carving. All the creative work is in the drawing and design “up front”. I don’t think that diminishes the artist as a creative person in any way.

What it requires is an entirely new set of creative skills that must be fully developed and completely understood by the artist. There is very little serendipity or “chance” in creating once the control program is sent to the machine for carving. However, there is a huge resource of “soft” tooling and simulation available in the alternate universe of the computer artist. For me it is every bit “the design” that is important. How it becomes the wax master is important but secondary. Some of the old masters used apprentices to do the grunt work.

My System

As I said, I chose to use whatever process I enjoy. The whole purpose is to love what I do. I personally have no intention to get hung up on traditional methods for the sake of tradition. By no means do I suggest there is anything wrong with tradition. I like exploring the old ways. It is a part of the mystique of lost wax casting. Through the centuries much of the process and tooling was modernized by the artisans when possible.

So manual or machine, or a combination of both… it all works for me. The truth is most customers have no idea of the process of creation. They judge me on the results of my effort and knowing the artist.

I think 3D printing may be somewhere in my future, but the output quality is lacking within my price range. I find it an interesting concept but of no value to the work process I currently enjoy.

The machines are here to stay as a part of my studio. Just another tool of the trade.

I have just invested in a modern but manual wax carving equipment. It is the electrically heated wax “pen” I mentioned above. It won’t on its own value make me better at what I do. It will allow me to work much easier with the additive process of wax carving by hand. So I remain “vested” in manual wax carving.

Just loving it every way I can…