Bellfounding Using the Lost Wax Casting Method

CNC & Machining Music Workshop
Bellfounding Using the Lost Wax Casting Method

The lost wax casting method has been in existence for nearly 5000 years, being used to create all manner of things including jewelry, vessels for liquid, and sculpture. The process consists of carving the item to be cast in wax, then packing it with clay. Once the clay hardens, it’s heated up to melt away the wax. Molten metal is poured in its place, creating the cast.

The art of casting carillon bells has been perfected over many centuries. Using a bronze alloy with a specific ratio of copper to tin, they’re cast with the ideal shape and thickness to produce a clear ringing tone. Once cast, they’re turned on giant lathes to have material shaved off at just the right spots during the tuning process.

Bellfounders such as the Paccard Fonderie des Cloches have been making bells in much the same way for well over 200 years. A notable carillon in the US is at Yale University, which houses 54 bells and can be played similarly to a piano, albeit with gigantic levers attached to each bell. Students chosen as carilloneurs are allowed to play whatever tunes they wish, from the Beatles to Scooby Doo, tolling across New Haven from the top of Harkness Tower.

22 thoughts on “Bellfounding Using the Lost Wax Casting Method

  1. flugfrei jones says:

    want.. to.. build.. arduino controller.. for.. carillon… (and blast ragtime)

    1. Michael Colombo says:

      Sounds like fun, but you’d be hard pressed to do so without some seriously hefty solenoids, servos, or stepper motors.

      1. Saphir says:

        Please note that the levers on the playing stand move only the clappers, not the bells. That’s MUCH less weight.

    2. Pierce Nichols says:

      It seems like the right actuator for this is air cylinders… they’re relatively inexpensive, and they’ve got the muscle to do the job. You can drive them with solenoids that draw half an amp or so.

      1. Reggie Mcwoowoo says:

        Me and three others like this

  2. Timothy Gray says:

    So why has nobody created a makerbot that prints in WAX so we can cast this stuff? I cant find any wax string that will work in a makerbot to do this.

    Honestly, someone figuring this out will turn the whole world on it’s head. I could print a custom intake manifold for an engine to accept a standard Blower and make supercharging engine easier… Because the casting part is easy.. it’s making the mould that is hard.

    1. Norm B. says:

      Wax has too many problems – slow hardening, warpage, applying the next layer will melt it. However commercial systems have developed materials like thermopolyesters that are more stable yet burn-out clean. Here’s an example:
      I’d love to see this stuff made available for a makerbot.

      1. makerbeam says:

        Some pleople have made impressive results with Lost PLA Casting from 3D Prints. More info here:

      2. Martin says:

        While that may be the case with regular parafin wax, it’s worth considering the potential of goldsmiths wax as used in their take on lost wax casting.
        It is sufficiently stable to allow for casting in place of heat resistant gemstones allowing for rapid manufacture of pieces using pre-cast waxes.
        The stones are snapped into place in the wax blanks, invested with the appropriate plaster mix, burnt out and are then ready for casting. Break open the investment and a fully set ring is inside, ready for clean-up.
        High dimensional stability, rapid hardening.

    2. Tommi Nummelin says:

      If these guys manage to make it, they might have just what you need:
      “After a successful launch (thanks to your support!), we will continue development of an entire palette of materials for your printer. A variety of colors, transparency, flexibility, and even burnout capability for lost wax casting processes are all possible with SL.”

      The kick with selective laser sintering is that it can potentially do metal. I really hope one day I’ll have a titanium-printing 3D printer in my shop!

  3. Everything You Don’t Know About Bells | Arts For All, Inc. Heart Beat says:

    […] of bellfounding called lost wax casting is presumed to date back nearly 5000 years according to Makezine. You read that correctly – a method used thousands of years ago is still used in present day […]

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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