If you’re used to traditional metalsmithing, then adapting to something like wax carving can feel like a challenge at first. With metalsmithing you often add decorative elements to a foundational piece, whether it’s adding a stone or a decorative gallery strip. But when it comes to wax carving jewellery, the exact opposite applies. You start with a piece of wax and slowly take away from it to reveal your design. So, getting a feel for wax carving can take a considerable amount of time and practice, but the effects are far different from anything you can achieve with more traditional metalsmithing techniques.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide on how to carve wax for jewellery making, helping you get to know the wax sculpting tools you’ll need and the steps to take to perfect your wax carving technique.
Click on the image below to learn more about wax carving.
Getting started with wax sculpting tools
- Wax tube or blocks
- Wax ring stick
- Wax blades for your piercing saw
- Wax files
- Wax sculpting tool set
- Spirit Lamp
- Methylated Spirit
The basics: How to carve wax for casting
Which wax is best for you?
Wax tubes: If you’re creating a ring then wax tube is the best choice for you. The wax tube can be cut down using a wax cutting saw blade and the excess can be kept and reused. Make sure you pick a wax tube with a central hole in the middle so that when it comes to sizing the ring as you carve, this can be done easily using a professional wax ring stick.
Wax blocks: Making a pendant, brooch, or large charm? Wax blocks will work well when you want to create a raised relief pattern that would be difficult to create using sheet metal alone. Because you can create curves and softer shapes in wax, wax sheets can be used to portray more natural scenes. Think about traditional cameos and how tactile they can be. With a wax sheet, the right wax sculpting tools, and some dedication you can create entire scenes of flowers, animals, or sculptures.
Wax wire: Although you may have been slowly taking away wax to reveal your design, you can also add some finishing flourishes using wax wire. Wax wire comes in a variety of shapes such as round, square, oval, and star shaped. These lengths of wax wire are pliable and can be used to add decorative elements to your overall design.
Note: At Cooksongold, we stock Green and Blue wax. Green is hard wax, with no flex and is for highly intricate carving. Blue wax is regular wax, highly flexible and can be used for creating intricate and unique designs.
Wax carving technique
Getting your design just right
If you’re creating a cameo or raised relief image in a wax block, the best place to start is with a point of reference. Do you have an image you would like to refer to? Once you have an image that’s to scale, fix it to your wax block and gently scratch along the edge of the image that you’re using to leave you with a rough outline to work to. This will help to guide you along the way. Remember that all you want at this stage is the outline of your design scratched or marked into the wax. Don’t overdo it – the detail will come later.
If you regularly create rings and pendants using wax tube, you may want to use a marker to lay out your plans before you start carving your wax. However, this will need to be reapplied as you carve to stop you from going astray and missing your mark. Some people can carve wax freehand, but this does take a lot of practice and concentration, as you’ll need to consistently see where your carving is headed in your mind’s eye.
Scratching, scraping, carving
Carving wax for lost wax casting is no exact science. The beauty of it is that you can get started with just a scalpel and some wax files. Whatever stage you’re at in your experience, here are our top tips for wax carving to help you get the most out of your supplies:
- Slow down! There is no need for brute force in wax carving. In fact, it’s all about finesse. So, take your time and slowly carve and scrape away at the wax. The slower and more controlled you are in your approach the more likely it is that you won’t make a mistake and start over. This will also mean that you don’t weaken the overall structure of the wax as you carve.
- Adjust your position. Using carvers and scrapers to more precisely carve out your design? Remember to adjust the position of your tool to ensure you’re removing material with each pass of your tool.
- Perfection isn’t everything. When you first start out, the whole process of wax carving can be incredibly messy, slow and difficult. But don’t let that put you off. Remember that the three-dimensional, curved designs you’re working towards may not be perfect in reality so don’t expect that of yourself when you first get started. Plus, the redeeming thing about wax carving is that if you make a mistake it can be easily rectified. And once you do carve out that perfect design, it will be cast so that you can re-create it again and again.
- Use heat effectively. Keep in mind that when you’re using your scraping and carving tools, you can heat the tip of the tool by carefully and quickly placing it in the flame of your Spirit Lamp. This will make carving much quicker and easier. You can also eliminate unwanted creases and uneven edges with localised heat too.
- Add and subtract. Although wax carving is mainly taking away excess material, keep in mind that you can add hot wax to your existing piece to form raised elements too. Once you really get used to this technique you can even go as far as building pendant bails and findings that are already a part of your design, leaving you with less to do once the wax has been cast.
- Add a soft toothbrush to your toolkit. As you work, you’ll notice that your design (and you!) tends to get covered in tiny slivers of wax. By gently rubbing a soft toothbrush over your wax every so often you can make sure that no excess wax gets in the way and you also have a clearer view of how your design is shaping up.
Repairing uneven spots with molten wax
Learning how to carve wax for jewellery is undeniably tricky and whatever stage you’re at in your jewellery making career, there will be instances when you need to rectify a mistake you’ve made in your wax carving. Whether you’re repairing a crack or you’re building up wax to remedy taking too much away there are a couple of things you’ll need to keep in mind along the way:
- Use scrap wax to repair any mistakes that you’ve made. This will keep costs down and it should leave you with enough material to make any repairs you need.
- To create the best possible bond between the wax block/tube and your repair wax, make sure you heat the original wax first. This will help the crystalline structure of the wax re-bond as it cools and dries, making the bond between the two waxes much stronger.
Finishing ready for casting
There are a few steps you can take to make sure there are no unwanted, rough edges on your wax carving before going through the lost wax casting process.
- Run your wax design through a cool flame. This will melt any tiny, unwanted bits of wax and they will become part of your overall design.
- Use your wax file to round off edges of rings and pendants for a neat, even finish. Remember to use emery paper after filing to remove the file marks you put into your design.
- Working on a design that has flat, flush surfaces? Use fine grit emery paper to tidy up any uneven edges.
- Many jewellers claim that using a small piece of an old pair of tights to polish up your wax carving is a great way of making sure that your design is smooth as you go into the casting process.
Which wax sculpting tools will speed up your process?
If you’ve already learnt how to carve wax for jewellery making using basic hand tools, then you may want to speed up your process using some advanced, professional tools. Invest in one or more of the below wax carving tools to help you speed up manufacturing and to get the exact look you require for your customers.
Advanced wax sculpting tools
- Pendant drill or flex shaft tool: If you work with metal you may have a pendant drill or flex shaft tool available to you already. With a motorised tool you can pick up specific burrs that will speed up your wax carving process significantly.
- Wax carving burrs: Choose from specific scrapers, stone setting, and finishing burrs along with your pendant drill or flex shaft tool to make wax carving simple.
- Wax trimmer and bench mate: When used in conjunction with a bench mate and your pendant drill a wax trimmer will allow you to create a completely flat surface or create your own lathe in order to speed up wax carving.
- Electric wax carving pen: This is an excellent investment if you plan on working with wax a lot in the future. It will help you to repair mistakes quickly and efficiently with a pen that heats up for you, so that you can concentrate on rebuilding elements of your carving as needed.
With plenty of practice and a little imagination, carving wax can be the key to a whole host of new jewellery making ideas that you just can’t put into practice with traditional metalsmithing tools and techniques. Invest in some basic wax carving tools and equipment before stepping things up a notch and investing in advanced tools.