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Opal Jewelry Information > Making Wax Models


How to Carve a Wax Model for Jewellery Making. 

Many jewelers make jewellery by hand straight from the metal.  This involves a lot of sawing, filing and soldering.  The problems with this are many.  Firstly, every time you saw or file a piece of gold or silver some of it is lost or wasted.  Sure, it can be gathered and refined but this does not return all the cost of the original metal.  Then soldering pieces together is time consuming, costly and results in individual pieces being joined together which years later may result in problems for repairs to the piece.

Another great way to make jewellery is to make it out of wax and then cast it into metal from the finished wax model.  I am going to take you through the steps of making a ring using the wax carving method.  What I will explain is what I do.  There may be better ways and I certainly know lots of procedures which vary a good deal.  I have to make choices each time as to which way I will make a piece.

The very first thing in making a wax model is to draw a plan.  This is, at first, a complicated and daunting task.  You can get on with wax carving without a plan and have a lot of fun and learn a good deal but you can never expect to produce anything of professional quality without a detailed plan.

Step 1. The Plan. 

A good plan will look very much like the plan that an engineering draughts person will draw for an engineer to build some piece of machinery or a building.

I use three views of the project: (a) an aerial view, which is looking down onto the face of the item, (b) a side view, which is looking at the item lying on its side, and (c) an end view, which is where the items is seen end on. For a complicated item, I even use a detailed view of a specific section.

My plans are rough looking sketches that perhaps only I can correctly interpret.  Sometimes there are some kinds of shorthand notes and there might be some lines which simply remind me of something that I have to do.  But, nevertheless, they are plans that I use.  No one else will ever see my plans – so they don’t have to be works of art.

My plans are rough looking sketches that perhaps only I can correctly interpret.  Sometimes there are some kinds of shorthand notes and there might be some lines which simply remind me of something that I have to do.  But, nevertheless, they are plans that I use.  No one else will ever see my plans – so they don’t have to be works of art.
 

Most times I work on more than one project at the same time and I get many interruptions.  Sometimes a project might be worked on over a period of days.  This is where a plan is invaluable.  If I am halfway through a project and I interrupt it for a few days to take on more urgent work then when I return to it I don’t want to be in the position where I am asking myself questions such as: “How thick is the ring shank supposed to be?”  Or, “Was I going to have this circular piece on the top or the bottom?”

 

Choose Your Wax.

Wax comes in a variety of shapes, colours and brands. The wax I mainly use comes in three consistencies: soft (blue), medium (maroon) and hard (green).  Each project will demand a choice be made from one of these consistencies of wax.

 

Step Two.  Preparing the Blank Tube.

 

From my plan I now know that the finished width of the ring is going to be 12mm.  So with sharp dividers I mark out a section of the blank tube 14mm wide.  I leave a couple of millimeters in order to file off the rough parts left from sawing.

 

 

Step Three.  Finger Sizing.

 

I know from my specifications that Sarah’s finger is a size British “O.”  I use an inexpensive tool which helps me to bore out the ring blank.  I make it almost a size”P” as this allows for shrinkage from the wax when cast into metal.

 

Step Four:  Cutting the Blank Down to Size.

From the side view of my plan I know that the ring shank will be 2.5mm and nearer to the top it will get thicker, so I will allow 4mm and the bezel will need a height of 5mm.

With dividers I draw this in the side of the blank.  I have allowed a little margin for filing and smoothing later and now I cut the blank down to the correct almost finished dimensions. 

Simple as this is it is an important step so do not resist the temptation to work on the blank as large as it is in order that you can correct mistakes easily.  This is where you will make mistakes.  When you mark the dimensions on the blank bigger than the finished size it means that at some stage you will need to file them off and then you are running blind. So, cut the blank down and then mark the dimensions once only.

 

Step Five: Marking the dimensions from the plan. 

The very first lines to be drawn on the blank are the centre lines.  I use my dividers to run a line around the blank and mark the centre line.  Next I make a line across the face. I now have an exact spot which is the very centre of my project.  These lines are the most important to me as they tell me where everything is centred.

Next I place an oval template of the correct size over this central point and scribe an oval for the bezel (this is the part which goes around the stone to hold it in place.)  Most times I place the ring in a vice with rubber jaws and then I have two hands free to hold the template and scribe into the wax.

Now I draw the two triangular cut out holes.  This is harder than it looks. I take great care to measure all the lines as accurately as possible. I then draw the cut outs for the holes on the sides.  I also draw lines where I am going to cut off all the excess wax. 

In order to see the actual lines in the wax I use a liquid paper and paint it on.  When it dries I file the excess paint off and this leaves thin white lines etched into the wax.

 

Step Six: Removing the Excess Wax.

 

Now that the lines are drawn we remove all the excess wax from around the ring.  We use a saw to cut off the larger pieces and cut smaller segments off using a scalpel.  At this stage we are not actually carving the ring’s shape rather we are roughly shaping the ring.

 

Step Seven. Piercing  the Cut-outs.

 

We now use the jeweller’s saw with fine blades to pieces the cut-outs.  This takes lots of practice and is tedious work. Use very small movements and try not to cut other parts of the ring or your fingers.

 

Step Eight: Carving the Ring.

We are now ready to carve the shape of the ring.  Lots of different tools can be used here.  I use some bought tools and some home made ones.

Dianne Wolf’s hand tools are excellent and I would recommend them.  I make a lot of my own tools from bits of metal.  The tool that I use most of all is a scalpel.  When I bought my first scalpel the store owner warned me that these were very sharp and could cut you severely.  I nodded with the usual bored expression on my face.  It only took a week to prove him absolutely correct! That cost me a week’s work.

Not only can you cut with a scalpel but you can scrape and smooth the wax.

As I live in a hot country the wax gets hot and soft and I have to put it in the refrigerator for some minutes to let it get a bit harder so that I can continue.

You will inevitably cut off too much and parts will break.  To make repairs you are best to use a wax welder or simply heat a small spatula over a spirit flame and join things together.

 

Step Nine: Finishing.

At last you get to the final stage.  I use emery or sand papers to sand the model as smooth as I can.  Finally, I use a solvent solution and I rub this over the model with a cotton bud. I also use soft cloths, bits of stocking etc.

To get a glazed finish it is possible to run the model through a spirit burner flame or use a specially made tool to apply some heat.  A hair dryer will also work.  This will smooth the model.  For getting into very tight areas I use a jeweller’s torch with a yellow flame, but this takes some practice.

 

Well, that’s it we are done.  Now it is off to casting and we make the item in the metal of our choice. Remember, it is far better to take an extra 30 minutes repairing and buffing out marks and scratches in the wax than to spend more time and dollars soldering and filing the metal item.

Author:  Gary Hocking Australian manufacturing jeweller. He has his own opal mines in Lightning Ridge NSW, Australia and loves to work with opals. He makes jewellery items to your specifications. He has his own website: http://www.jewelleryexpress.com.au   You are free to use and copy this article as long as this Bio and link are not removed.

 

 
 


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