Tips & Tricks for carving into Sand Moulds:

Follow these guidelines to help you create a successful iron casting from your sand Heart Mould. Almost any age can make one of these, from 4 years old to 99 years old. So dig in !!

Before we start, there are just 4 important things to consider : 

1)  Safety first !  We HIGHLY recommend wearing a dust mask & safety glasses when carving sand. The particulate of flying sand grains always seem to find your eyeballs and can irritate your throat.

2)  If you want to write any words & numbers on you heart, you MUST WRITE THEM BACKWARDS!!  Sand moulds are not your final product. The casting are the reverse of whatever you carve into the sand.

3)  Leave at least 1 inch of sand between whatever you are carving and the edge of the mould. You can go 1/2 inch deeper into the impression of the shape, but nothing more !  Too thin of a sand mould may result in breakage, and therefore your piece won't turn out. Sand moulds than get thinner than 1 inch thick are too weak to withstand the 2400 deg molten metal that we pour into them.

4)  Be creative !  Feel free to go outside the lines, bend the rules, or carve into the two hearts and merge them as one big thing if you want.  If you have an awesome idea that's not heart shaped & you want to fulfill it at this pour ~ go for it!  Let the heart be your starting point, and go from there !

A pile of Hot 'n' Heavy iron Valentine's  !!

A pile of Hot 'n' Heavy iron Valentine's  !!

Let's Get Started !!

Tip 1 : Draw your design/ image / words / ideas on paper first.  If you need to reverse the image because you have words, put the drawing up onto a window and trace the design onto the back of the paper. You can use this initial tracing as a visual  to help you create the final carving on the sand mould.

Tip 2 : Use a sharpie or pencil to lightly transfer your drawing directly to the sand mould. Make sure you like what you see before you start to scratch into the sand ! 

Wisconsin.....Drawn Backwards of course !!  Remember to do your design in reverse if you want to see your final iron casting to read "correctly".  (*this is subjective of course!*)

Wisconsin.....Drawn Backwards of course !!  Remember to do your design in reverse if you want to see your final iron casting to read "correctly".  (*this is subjective of course!*)

Tip 3 : Now that you have your idea's drawn out,  you’re ready to carve into your sand ! This is no small feat! Remember that everything you scratch from the sand will fill with metal. This is called a "Reductive process", meaning you are taking materials away in order to create the final form. 

Common tools to use for carving into your sand block are: 

  • Long metal nails~ The favorite here. The flat head side is great for broad strokes of sand removal, while the point is great for details. 
  • Old chisels~ Let me emphasize "OLD" here, as you wouldn't want destroy a nice sharp working chisel by cutting into the sand.
  • Metal banding or strapping~ Great for large & deep carving, you can bend it into a "U" shape, and use it to scoop with 
  • Dremel Tools~ Wonderful finishing detail tool.  * note: MUST wear all saftey gear possible!  Also know that you will destroy whatever cutting tool you decide to use with it, so don't use something expensive like a carbide tip. Diamond tips are pretty disposable and work well enough for these. Find them at any Harbor Freight store for the best value. 
  • Dental Tools~ If you happen to have any, these hard stainless tools are great for details
  • Kitchen Utensils~ Forks, spoons & butter knives all work really well for their own characteristic advantages. Use the fork to layout initial lines of pattern work, and follow those up with another detail tool. 

Whatever you do... Stretch the limits and don't be shy to GO OUTSIDE THE HEART SHAPE WALLS!!  

However, make sure to leave 1/2" border of un-carved space on the inside of your heart mould. (See picture below of that border). If you carve off the edges of the whole sand mould, then you will sadly watch all of the metal in the hearts drain out onto the ground over the edges. 

You also have 1/2 inch of carving depth to use from the bottom of the heart surface, before you have officially gone too far :}  Try not to get your carvings *too* deep, because you need at least 1/2" of sand on the bottom to insulate the iron from breaking through!

Above: Here are your only physical boundaries :}

Tip 4 : Try to keep your design as one cohesive piece. Using the sand mould space to carve tiny "charm-like" features that are separate from the main design is really tough for us to hit with our 100 lb. ladle of molten metal. Chances are, you'll just get a giant sloppy chunk of metal that we tried to desperately make successful. So avoiding separations in your design is ideal. 

Tip 5:  If you want to create some details that are attached to your design but scatter off a bit on their own, such as creating flowing strands of hair, for example, try to keep those features at least 1/4 " wide and at least 1/8" deep.  The reason is because, again, we will be pouring these tiny features with a big ladle, and it's difficult to catch all the details if they are too little. Making them at least 1/4 wide and deep will give you the most chance of them turning out, and not breaking too easily when you go to shake out your final casting. 

Tip 6 : Think about what you want to do with it when your done. Do you want to hang it on the wall ?  Set it into cement or epoxy and make a plaque?  Use it as a trivet ?  Plan how it will be displayed by created a couple finishing touches in your sand mould. This may include scratching a small arc above your impression between the two lumps of the heart, which will create a metal loop to hang the final iron creation onto a nail for display.

A simple carved feature between the two heart bumps would allow you to hang your creation on the wall with a nail.

Another idea is to carve away some tabs on the outside rim of your shape so you can drill a hole into it later for mounting, or sink it into epoxy and trapping the tabs behind a frame. If you want to set hot things onto your creation, like a teapot, try to carve all your details to the same depth for a level surface that is easy to grind flat after.

If you have a drill and some bits at home, you can carve in tabs on the sides of your heart, and use them to drill a small hole for mounting. Another possibility is to use tabs for anchors under an immersion into epoxy or cement, if you had plans for building a plaque or obelisk type of sculptural idea. 

Hope this gives you a strong start to your sand mould carving adventures !  If you run into any snaffoos, questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to Alisa@FeLionStudios.com. She is more than happy and willing to walk you through the process steps and get you the best casting you can make!