Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

A bit of a departure

Pewter casting - not something I thought would be a very accessible craft, but by chance during the excellent NEOS event (North East Open Studios), I came upon a lovely but bored-looking girl sitting at a table in the sunshine with a selection of odd white shapes in front of her. I wanted to know if some exhibits were for sale; she didn't know; I asked her what she was there for (more polite than it sounds, honestly!), and she explained that if I wanted to I could have a go at pewter casting. I did, and it was such good fun that in November I went to the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, to have another go.

The funny white shapes were lumps of cuttlefish bone, just the things you pop into a bird's cage for them to hone their beaks on. The lumps are sawn in half, revealing two almost smooth but subtly patterned surfaces, so easy to carve that you can press a fingernail or a ring into the bone. Carve the shape you want to make, pop in a channel for the metal and a couple of vents for escaping air, and then tape the two halves back together. Then the fun begins (though this is the bit for which I took a back seat! I did spend a happy day dressed in fetching green Sparrows overalls made for someone much larger than me, but the protective leather look is not for me - I'm clumsy enough as it is). This is green sand (no, really), which is sand mixed

with, er, oil, I think, making it clumpy. The taped-up cuttlefish bone is set into the sand which stops the liquid pewter running out.
Then the pewter is popped into a crucible in the centre of a small portable furnace (never knew there could be such a thing!), and a gas flame is made to flow round between the crucible and the furnace walls.

Not a cold job: it was hot when I first saw this in the bright sunlight at NEOS, but at Lumsden, with the forge's wall-sized double doors wide open to the blanched winter countryside, it was still toasty. Not long until the pewter is melted - it has a low melting point, which makes all this possible: a hotter molten metal would burn the bone and wreck the moulds.
In goes the pewter - or unicorn's blood - and then we wait, not long, for it to cool and harden. And then you open the moulds, just a bit too early so there's a bit of 'ooh! ouch!'. It's so easy that I was carried away and made seven little pewter thingies, but these are the two I like best: the tree because the mould looks just as good as the pewter (and we had to fight for this one and do it twice as the mould leaked the first time), and the sycamore seed because I just about managed to match the two halves of the mould and it is patterned on both sides.

So you can see how I'm spending my time when I should be writing! (and it's not improving my photography skills, sadly ...).

Here's the website for the Scottish Sculpture Workshop - lots of great things going on there!

Fellowship with Demons is nearly 1/5 typed and edited, despite Christmas card making and writing, mincemeat brewing, watching Skyfall and The Hobbit (I know, not the book, but still wonderful), and doing the pantomime and Nativity play and bird-ordering and wrapping. This year I remembered to make double quantities of marzipan, thank goodness, but haven't iced the cake yet. Oh, well - days to go yet, aren't there? Aren't there??