Step 3: Making the Outer Wall of the Mold

The outer wall of the mold acts as a dam to contain the molten glass and prevent it running all over the kiln. I made the wall out of soft firebrick. A half inch wide template was cut from cardboard. The cardboard template was used to mark out arcs on a K-23 soft firebrick. The arcs were then cut out with a band saw. The saw blade is pretty much ruined in the process, but will last long enough to cut out enough pieces to make several dams.  New blades for my band saw cost less than $10 at Harbor Freight, so it is no big deal to ruin one now and then cutting up firebricks. With care, one brick will yield enough pieces to make one 12.5 inch ID dam with a wall thickness of about 1/2 inch.

I cut a circular disk 12.5 inches in diameter out of thick Styrofoam using a hot-wire foam cutter. This disk serves as a template for assembling the arcs to make the dam, and keeps the finished product reasonable round. The pieces are assembled as tightly as possible around the Styrofoam disk. High-temperature furnace cement is used to glue the pieces together.

Molten glass is dense, and exerts considerable hydrostatic pressure on the inside of the dam. A failure will cause molten glass to run out all over the inside of the kiln. So after the cemented ring sets up, I usually reinforce the joints by cementing on short scrap pieces of firebrick left over from cutting out the arcs. Several wraps of thin stainless steel wire wound tightly around the mold and held in place with dollops of cement will help prevent dam from opening up and spewing out molten glass if it should crack or if one of the joints fails. These features are shown in the last photo below, taken at a later stage of mold construction.

The inside surface of the mold will get several coats of kiln wash before firing. Kiln wash prevents the molten glass from adhering to the mold.
<p>Just a thought... why not make your mold out of a plastic that will withstand the temperature of molten wax. I think it was the Egyptians that invented the 'lost wax' process, but it is better known as 'investment casting'. You make a positive out of wax by casting it in a mold that you can reuse. Once the positive is made, make a mold of 'refractory ceramic material' around the wax, heat the mold and remove the wax, then cast your mirror. I know; easy for me to say.</p>
<p>So... Question, if I wanted to make a telescope with enough power and resolution to read news print on the moon, how large would my mirror need to be, and what would the final product weigh? How accurate would the finished product need to be? Could I operate it at low altitude, or would I need to find a mountain top somewhere?</p>
<p>&gt; how large would my mirror need to be</p><p>Super big. </p><p>According to <a href="http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=61205" rel="nofollow">http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php...</a> to resolve a flag on the moon you'd need a 10,000 inch telescope in orbit to see the flag as a single pixel in your sensor.</p>
<p>Buggery! There has GOT to be a better way to get live high resolution pics of the moon's surface!</p>
Wow! Now THAT is cool! Question though,: Why aren't large 'scopes made with precision lightweight materials like, say, magnesium alloy, then silvered to create a lightweight first surface mirror? Assumming there not...
<p>The reason that light weight metals are not used is due to their thermal expansion. Magnesium alloys expand 7 to 8 times more than plate glass, thus distorting your surface.</p>
<p>To back up colin.bravi's point - using any lightweigh (aluminum, magnesium, titanium, etc). metallic alloy would give you a larger coefficient. There does exist an alloy, Invar, which has a coefficient of thermal expansion that is half of borosilicate glass. However, it's density is ~8 g/cm^3 as opposed to ~2.5 g/cm^3 for borosilicate.</p>
<p><a href="https://ssl.instructables.com/member/xarlock667/" rel="nofollow">xarlock667</a>, No offense, but you have no idea what you're asking--you're vastly overestimating the resolution power of telescopes. The biggest telescopes on Earth, not amateur but the professional ones, can resolve objects down to the size of a football stadium on the Moon. Literally, that's not an exaggeration. Your mirror would have to be, I don't know, maybe the size of Los Angeles. Possibly Arizona. </p>
<p>As I was saying... creative and resourceful. It would appear to be easy to cut the bold head off a shanked bolt, a couple of fender washers. a lock washer and a couple of nuts, and there you have it!</p>
<p>As a buddy of mine says, &quot;It ain't braggin' if it's true!&quot;. What an awesome achievement! I admire your resourcefulness and creativity. Add to that the fact that your instructions for us aspiring to do the same are great! I'd love to buy one of these in a 14&quot; diameter... if I could afford it.</p>
<p>I have a good big kiln, I might try to make a mirror. Thank You for the good instructable sir.</p>
hi i from Medellin Colombia beatifull mirror you giftme one 14&quot; for a social telescope thanks you fredyalexp@yahoo.com<br><br>happy childrens
<p>This may be the best Instructable I have yet looked at. Your approach to the problem of casting an astronomical capable mirror has been thoughtful, and extremely analytical. It has also been made very clear for those of us who have studied this instructable. Not only have your methods used sound engineering and good technique, but there is also a very useful note of pragmatism in your sourcing of materials and creating the actual honeycomb mold structure. Very impressive and extraordinarily well done. Congratulations.</p>
<p>I assume that the honeycomb is to add stiffness to the mirror, right? I would suggest &quot;next time&quot; to consider isogrid(triangular shapes) or orthogrid(square shapes) cause these patterns add also flexural rigidity while honeycomb is rigid mainly in compression in the direction normal to surface(but needs support on the other side).</p><p>With isogrid maybe you can also avoid the back plate of the sandwitch and save even more weight (isogrid is used to produce light and stiff panels for rockets and spacecrafts </p><p>http://hypersizer.com/industry/projects/Pretest-prediction-composite-isogrid.php </p><p>)</p>
<p>Thanks for posting this. I've got an older 8&quot; Meade, but I've promised myself that I wouldn't go larger diameter unless I built it myself (why? cost.)</p><p>This inspires me. Thanks!</p>
<p>How do you silver it?</p>
I've heard that mirrors can be put in a rotating mold that makes a convex surface. The rotation of the mold full of molten glass makes a perfect convex shape.
This is my favorite instructable I've ever seen. I've been tossing around the idea of building a telescope, and had no idea you could cast your own blanks at a reasonable cost. <br> <br>You rock! I'll definitely be checking out your site!
A pressure washer is supposed to be very effective for removing the plaster too. <br> <br>GREAT project.
Awesome instructable! I'm curious, have you tried vibrating the kiln to get out the bubbles? I haven't worked with one so I don't know how well it'd work, but I know that's how they get carving ice so clear.
<p>This instructable is awesome. The finished mirror (on your website) looks truly professional. Congrats.<br> <br> <br>In case you didn't know, it is possible to add flux to float glass to lower its melting point. I successfully did this with bottle glass after looking at the prices of commercially available glass billets.<br> <br> <br>My recipe was inspired by the flux recipes from the &quot;Post-Consumer Container Glass Remelting Process Assessment&quot; via the Clean Washington Center (CWC).<br> Link:<br> <br> <br><a href="http://www.cwc.org/glass/gl965rpt.pdf" rel="nofollow"> http://www.cwc.org/glass/gl965rpt.pdf</a><br> <br> <br>Lots more useful (technical) glass info here:<br> <br> <br><a href="http://www.cwc.org/glass.htm" rel="nofollow">http://www.cwc.org/glass.htm</a><br> <br> <br>My flux recipe was a combination of sodium carbonate, sodium tetraborate, and potassium nitrate. I didn't add the more toxic fluxes (lithium, lead, barium) nor the de-colorants (antimony, manganese).<br> <br> <br>I've also read about people using an angle grinder fitted with a diamond sanding pad mounted on an adjustable arm to sand/grind glass as it turns on a potter's wheel / lazy susan. I'd post the link, but can't remember where I read it.<br> <br> <br>Hope it helps.</p>
Very nice and thorough Instructable. I have just acquired an old Quickfire 6 kiln and your instuctions on building your mold encourage me to try casting. <br>Thanks
Beautiful. Thanks to you, stars twinkle brighter and unseen nebulae emerge to amaze us. Great work!
Any thought to spinning the mirror as you cool it to get it a rough shape? Could save you from having to remove one pound of glass in rough grinding! <br> <br>Best Wishes
About the plaster: <br>Does the heat actually reverse the chemistry that's set in motion by the water? If the removed plaster dust is mixed with water, will it set like new plaster? <br> <br>A way to lighten the mirror further, is to make the hexagons at the rim taller, even slope their tops (down toward the center) slightly, so after grinding/figuring, the top surface is of uniform thickness. <br>
This is a work of art. Thank you for sharing the process.
Excellent work!!!!
Wow! I'm almost speechless after reading your instrucable. Excellent work.
Wow! Now THAT is cool! Question though,: Why aren't large 'scopes made with precision lightweight materials like, say, magnesium alloy, then silvered to create a lightweight first surface mirror? Assumming there not...
Awesome work!
fantastic project! very inspiring.