DIY







Build Your Own Home Metal Foundry

You can make your own shop tools and probably earn a living besides if you follow the plan outlined in this article, including instructions, diagrams and details of working with metal.

| January/February 1982

It's funny how an event will sort of get stuck in your mind. I can clearly remember, some 20 years ago, holding a complicated-looking — and expensive — machine part in my hand and thinking how difficult it must be to form that piece. Today, however, I'm able not only to duplicate that part (for pennies), but am able to make just about any component I need — to equip my shop, fix my car or merely tickle my fancy — by going no farther than my own back yard! Did I buy a tool-and-die company? Well, not quite. Instead, you might say I "founded" one, for a total investment of about $30 and the time it took me to learn, through experience, the basics of home metal casting. 

Establishing a Compact Foundry 

Believe it or not, it's fairly easy to establish a compact foundry at home, since — if you enjoy puttering around the house — you probably already have on hand most of what you need to build one. Metal casting (a craft that's been practiced for thousands of years by so-called "primitive" people) harbors no secrets: If you can whittle a whistle, you can make a pattern ... if you've ever built sand castles, you can make a mold ... and if you can boil water, you can melt metal and pour it into that mold. It really is that simple.

Of course, I never intended to take up foundry work just for fun. Someone (whose name is long forgotten but whose message has hung on) once told me that a metal lathe is the only machine in a shop that can duplicate itself. So, thinking about the old chicken soup recipe that starts out "first you get a chicken," I figured that if I could build a lathe — using my new casting skills — nothing would prevent me from going hog-wild and manufacturing all the other tools I needed to outfit my workshop.

However, I hadn't counted on the unsolicited business that came my way once I'd set up my home foundry (and has often kept me too happily busy to cast tools for myself). When word got around that I was casting metal, it seemed the whole dang county was beating a path to my door, looking for me to make kitchen utensils, repair tool parts or fabricate structural members (for wind plants, greenhouses, geodesic domes and more) in exchange for goods, services or cold cash. After a while I began casting distinctive objects of art that — with the help of a simple on-site foundry demonstration — paved my way with green at local flea markets and crafts festivals where enthusiastic onlookers fairly tripped over themselves to better their view and lighten their billfolds!



The Basic Components of a Metal Foundry

When I said it doesn't take much material to set up a small foundry, I meant it. For example, wood charcoal is the "classic" foundry fuel although the casting industry now uses natural gas almost exclusively. But after an unsuccessful attempt at using a homemade gas burner, I switched to charcoal briquets and have stuck with them ever since.

Besides being inexpensive and readily available, the solid fuel can fire a foundry that's set up in a rural area where there might not be a gas line. Better yet, the charcoal can even be manufactured right on the homestead (simply cover ricks of hardwood with earth and allow them to smolder from within for several weeks). Doing it yourself has an advantage other than low cost, too, because homemade charcoal doesn't contain the binding agents — found in store-bought briquets — that eventually create airflow-blocking klinkers in the furnace. (The charcoal-making process also yields gaseous and liquid by-products — such as methane, wood alcohol and other volatiles — that can have value in themselves.)

jennyross
3/28/2014 3:53:38 AM

Greatly useful post. Thanks for the blue prints. Will be greatly useful to metal workers especially. will surely share this one with our readers at http://www.bipico.com







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