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Lard Lamp - a solid fat burner made by lost wax casting

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Picture of Lard Lamp - a solid fat burner made by lost wax casting

Here's how to make a very simple little fat-burning lamp that is specially designed to be used with fuels that are solid at normal room temperatures, such as the leftover fats from cooking bacon, sausages, duck, lamb, etc.
The reason it is able to do this is that surrounding the wick, there are protrusions in the shape of petals - these capture some of the heat from the flame, which is then conducted down through the body of the lamp and dispersed through the feet, heating the fat reservoir and keeping it liquid and able to flow up the wick.

It's made by Lost Wax Casting using everyday materials - this method is quite easy and can be used to make a wide range of other small metal objects.

In brief, Lost Wax Casting consists of:
  • Making a wax model of the object you want
  • Encasing the wax model in something heatproof such as clay or plaster
  • Melting out the wax
  • Pouring molten metal into the space left by the wax
  • Removing the mould material and tidying up the finished object
 
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Step 1: Step1: Gather the necessary materials

Picture of Step1: Gather the necessary materials
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OK, so we'll need some pliable wax.  You might be able to make this yourself by melting candles and blending it with vegetable oil or vaseline, but the easy option is just to eat some cheese - the red wax protecting the rind of Edam cheese (and some other varieties) is perfect - pliable and malleable like modelling clay if warmed in the hand a little.

You'll need something to make the mould.  I used decorating filler.  Patching plaster or plaster of Paris will all work quite well.  Potter's clay can be used instead, but must be pressed into place around the wax model, which isn't easy for delicate work.

You'll need some metal for casting.  You can buy pewter or white casting metal in ingot form at good craft stores and online, but I just bought an old (but not antique) dented petwer tankard from a charity shop - it was really cheap.

And you'll need something to melt the metal in - an old food can is good - as wide and flat as you can find.

Step 2: Step 2: Make the wax form

Picture of Step 2: Make the wax form
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Start the wax form by warming a small ball of wax in your hand, pushing a pencil through it, then rolling it between your palms so that it forms an elongated cylinder around the pencil.

Use a sharp knife to trim the ends neatly, then cut slits lengthwise at each end towards the middle (but not meeting in the middle)  If you want your lard lamp to have four petals and four legs, cut four slits at equal spacing around the wax cylinder.

Remove the cylinder from the pencil and splay out the four segments ar either end - the ones which will form the feet need little done to them.  Shape the top ones into petals (or something else, if you like)

Add a small ring of wax where the wick will emerge - and any other small details you fancy.  The petals can be engraved carefully with a toothpick at this point, if you like.

If at any point, the wax becomes too soft to hold its shape properly (which can happen if you're handling it a lot), just put it in the fridge for a while.

Finish the wax form by fixing four small cones of wax to the bottom of the feet - these will form channels into which the metal will eventually be poured.

Step 3: Step 3: Prepare and set the mould

Picture of Step 3: Prepare and set the mould
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Select a container in which to make the plaster mould - this should be larger than the wax form in every direction.  I used the bottom of a plastic bottle.

Stand the moulding container in boiling water, then place the wax form into it - the bottom of the wax cones should melt and stick where they touch the warmed plastic, then remove it from the hot water and leave to cool and set. (it's actually not a bad idea to put the whole thing in the fridge at this point, to toughen up the wax ready for the next step.

Ignore the instructions on the decorating filler or patching plaster and mix up a batch using sufficient water to bring it to a thick, but pourable consistency.

Pour the plaster over the wax form to cover it by at least an inch above the highest point.

Agitate the mixture carefully by plunging a bamboo skewer up and down in the corners (or any place that you know is well away from the actual wax object hidden inside) - doing this should help any small air bubbles to rise - meaning the plaster should hug the wax form more perfectly.

Step 4: Step 4: Time passes...

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Leave the plaster to set for a couple of days - it will take longer than the drying time on the pack for two reasons: because we used more water than the pack dictated, but also, because it's a big, solid block of material

It will dry eventually though - and cutting away the plastic container after a couple of days, then leaving it in a warm, airy place will help to dry it all the quicker.

Give it at least a week drying before continuing to the next step.

Step 5: Step 5: Melt out the wax

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Place the plaster mould upside down on the bars of your oven.  Try to align the holes underneath so that they are not directly above the bars of the shelf.

Put a foil-lined metal tray on the shelf underneath.

Turn the oven on to 100C and leave it for half an hour, then increase the temperature to 200C and leave it another half hour.

You may find that the wax melts and drips out, or you might not see any at all - in some cases, the wax melts and runs out - other times, it melts and soaks into the plaster - either way is OK.

While you're heating the mould, you can start preparing the metal for melting (step 6) - because it's best for the mould to still be hot from the oven when you cast the pewter (reducing the difference in temperature between mould and metal should allow for more even cooling and setting, as well as reducing the risk of cracking)

Step 6: Step 6: Metalwork!

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If you're recycling a pewter tankard, cut it into little pieces with tin snips and place it in the metal can for melting.  Do this before or during the previous step (melting out the wax), as it's best to pour the metal when the mould is still hot.

Melt the pewter over a gas flame - I used a small butane camping stove, because I wanted to do this all outdoors (actually, in my greenhouse) - only really because of fumes from the paint and other materials on the outside of the can.

When you're reasonably confident that all of the wax has gone from the mould in the oven (after an hour of cooking, it should be) - carefully lift it out, using oven gloves or thick cloth.

Turn the mould hole-side up and put it in a dish to make it easier to handle.

When the pewter is fully melted, use pliers or tongs to carefully pick up the can and pour the metal into one of the holes in the plaster cast.  DO NOT STAND OVER THE MOULD in case it spurts or spits.  Try to work at arm's length for extra safety and wear long sleeves and thick gloves.  You shouldn't need any of this,, but better safe than sorry.

If all goes well, you should see molten metal rise up in the other three vent holes.  Steam might bubble out a bit.  Tap the mould sharply with the pliers, while the metal is still liquid, to help any air bubbles come out.

Make sure everything is safe and secure, and all hot things are left on suitably heatproof surfaces and the gas is turned off, then leave everything alone for an hour.  Keep kids, pets, etc safely out of the way of the cooling materials.

Step 7: Step 7: Remove and finish the casting

Picture of Step 7: Remove and finish the casting
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Break the mould apart with a screwdriver or chisel.  Go carefully, so as not to scratch the metal casting.

The casting will have extra pieces of metal attached from the pouring channels (these are called sprues) - they can be cut off with a small hacksaw, and any remaining protrusions smoothed away with a file and wet/dry abrasive paper..

Step 8: Step 8: Use your Lard Lamp

Picture of Step 8: Use your Lard Lamp
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Cut a piece of cotton rag and thread it through the lamp to act as a wick.

Place the lamp and wick in a shallow heatproof dish.

Melt the lard or fat and pour it into the dish, up to a level below the base of the petals.

Allow to cool and set.

Light the wick.  It will burn slowly at first, but the heat from the flame will soon start melting the fat reservoir and it will continue to give light for several hours.

Do not leave the lard lamp burning unattended.  Do not use it where it may be knocked over.

More discussion of this project, as well as details ofother objects made using this simple lost wax method may be found on my website.
curvy773 years ago
since your burning fat dosent it start to stink? or does it smell like your cooking som meat?
Yes if you use bacon fat it smells like bacon.
mmv50043 years ago
Very cool instructable! Love the minimalist set-up of it all.
tmn8tr4 years ago
In the jewelry industry we "Quench" the plaster mold in a bucket of standing water as soon(or shortly thereafter) as the metal has solidified, this causes the plaster to self destruct, leaving the casting with a slimy film covering it, but no big chunks of plaster. I have never done any pewter work before, but I can imagine this step might decrease your clean-up time a tad, as well as minimize the chance you might scratch or gouge your casting. Test the technique on a piece you don't care as much about, as I suspect timing is the key with pewter, as you don't want to quench it when it is still molten.
Great job on the instructable, by the way!

T>
Atomic Shrimp (author)  tmn8tr4 years ago
Thanks for the tips. Actually, I'm going to get hold of some silicone mould compound tomorrow - I'm still planning to use wax for the initial forms, but I want to be able to make more than one of the same thing.
Good idea, and while you are at it, make a mold of a "glue stick" for your hot glue gun. I have a low temp one I made a mold for that I melt candle wax into. I have used the "hot wax sticks" for making extruded shapes, as well as shooting wax into a mold a few times. Keep in mind that the candle wax shrinks when it cools, so you will need to squirt a bit more in after it sets up in the mold.

T
mmv5004 tmn8tr3 years ago
that's an awesome idea!
Don't know if this has been mentioned, but wear a mask when you quench, it releases silica particles in the vapor that are annoying to ones aveolae.
M
Barrettkg4 years ago
I'm thinking about using it when i go backpacking. Make bacon i the morning and already have light for the night
they use bacon fat for bear traps, and it's impossible to get that smell off you or your utinsils. Word to the wise if your in bear country.
chefbrian4 years ago
Could I use pennies as the metal?, they are mostly Zinc and relatively easy to melt, also i have at least 600 of them drifting about
=////=====> The Petals, gOOd thinkin'..! YUP.!
I've got a small ball of wax I play with, after It warms up in My hands. It's old Votave Candels. The Tall ones.
sypher4 years ago
Awesome... I may try this...
GBMorris4 years ago
Great instructable! Who knew casting metal was so easy?

All the same, I was feeling adventurous, so I decided to make it harder for myself by making my own moulding wax out of paraffin and vaseline, as you suggested could be done. It was a disaster. The paraffin is naturally very crumbly, and the vaseline helped it stay together a bit, but it also made it droop and sag very badly. Any suggestions for a better "home-brew" wax?

Thanks!
great thanks
I have often wondered what was involved in the lost wax casting process and your instructable has managed to explain it all in a well thought out and easy to understand article. I must also add that your preference for recycling or use of materials in creating this lamp is most impressive. The use of the red wax hull from the cheese was brilliant. Too often we ignore or overlook useful resources that are part of the packaging and often tossed without any thought to other uses.
Beauty!
kill-a-watt4 years ago
lucky you for the pewter score. I've had an inexpensive lesson of the difference between pot metal and pewter from a local thrift store. I haven't yet seen any pewter. I suspect someone knows what scrap tin goes for, and never puts the stuff out for sale.

While the pot metal should work for casting, I think the temps are a bit higher.

I really wish you were using something more substantial than a tin can with a crimped on bottom.


Atomic Shrimp (author)  kill-a-watt4 years ago
Good point on the crimped can - I should have picked one where the bottom part is pressed out of a single piece of steel.
Crimped cans are very strong, I've used them to melt aluminum in camp fires and they work fine for one, maybe two loads (the high heat kills the thin walls with accelerated rust).

What's the red in the plaster after casting?
tmn8tr jtobako4 years ago
it's just the dye from the wax that stained the plaster.
jtobako tmn8tr4 years ago
Sorry, used to burnout at 1300 F or so with all the color and wax burned out.

Does the wax just sit in the plaster after melting or is it getting hot enough to burn?
Atomic Shrimp (author)  jtobako4 years ago
When I did this using cheese wax covered with clay, the melted wax ran out - I caught it in a bowl and re-used it. This lamp was my first experiment with plaster - and the cheese wax seemed to soak away into it when heated - only a very small amount ran out.
tmn8tr jtobako4 years ago
The "cheese wax" melts at a really low temp. I'm sure there isn't any wax left after burnout, even at this low of a temp.
You should be able to reproduce this project pretty closely with two copper discs.

First, drill your wick holes in the center of each disc.
File the notches into the discs.
Use your fingers(or possibly pliers or a hammer even) to give them their dished shape.
Solder together.

If even soldering is beyond you at the moment, a piece of copper tubing, used as a hollow rivet, should serve admirably.
Atomic Shrimp (author)  ironsmiter4 years ago
That sounds pretty good - you wouldn't necessarily have to get them into perfect dish shapes, just bend down their rims at, say, three equally-spaced points
I must have been VERY tired. I made it SO difficult.

Take a disc of copper (copper penny anyone?).
Drill the wick hole.
Use a fine saw blade or dremel disc to cut 3 or 4 slits from the circumfrence to near the wick hole.
Bend away.
No solder. no rivets, and cost only a penny!

although I don't have a [roper scale reference in the pictures.
Penny may not be big enough, and may need to use a scrap piece of copper plate instead.
Pennies are copper clad zinc slugs! Sawing notches will allow moisture to start electrolysis and make them look cruddy.
If you use a penny dated between 1946 and 1982, you'll have a 95% copper penny, giving you either a brass or a bronze metal that should alleviate the zinc issues Tim Temple mentions above. Plus, the copper won't have a tendency of peeling off the zinc as you are cutting/bending it.
Actually, a smashed penny will work. Plus, since it is already thinner, it is easier to cut, plus makes a jazzy eye-catcher!
Swing by your local heating-Air conditioning-sheet metal shop, and ask if they have a few small pieces of scrap copper.
Take a picture of what you want to build to show them, and most will have some pieces and give the scraps to you.
I has solder-fu.

From copper water pipes to SMD.
Darwinfish4 years ago
That's a very cool piece, and a great overview of lost wax casting. Does the burning lard smell much?
Atomic Shrimp (author)  Darwinfish4 years ago
Surprisingly, it doesn't smell much more than an ordinary wax candle - except when extinguished - the smoke smells like sausages!

I expect soot could be an issue with this lamp, but to be honest, it's more of an experiment in recycling, than an earnest offering in home lighting.
I wonder... would bacon grease smell more?
I can honestly say, being served breakfast in bed, by the light of a bacon candle or two, would be a GREAT way to start a romantic winter day.
And if breakfast was Bacon and eggs, you could use the very grease from breakfast, for the candles!
I've used bacon grease before. It's not a particularly clean flame, so give it plenty of vertical space and airflow or expect soot. As was mentioned, it's the smoke that smells strongest, so the odor is only really noticeable when lighting and especially when extinguishing. I didn't find it unpleasant, but I still relegated them to outdoor use, only.
I wonder if you could use coconut oil.
it sits at room temp, looking like lard, but quickly turns to liquid in your hand.
I also have no idea if it burns or not. I will just stick to bacon grease, since we have a tendency to make the most of that.
very good
noel0leon4 years ago
cool idea. it reminds me of Indian Diyas
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diya_%28light%29
bryan31414 years ago
this begs to be combined with a 3d printer loaded with low temp wax....
yes it does!!!
been working on gettting a mendel put together this looks like a good first project lol ill make an ible on it cool project man. btw how much heat can something like this put off.
Atomic Shrimp (author)  srainsdon4 years ago
A lamp this size is about equivalent to a candle. I'm not sure it could be made bigger, as the limitation is how fast the fat will soak up the wicks, but it wouldn't be too hard to make one with multiple wicks, if more heat/light (and soot!) is required.
chefnick4 years ago
Find a restaurant nearby where you are a regular and on friendly terms. Ask if you can get a gallon or two of their used fryer grease. It is usually of no use, and it can also be turned into bio-diesel. I used to give mine to a customer for that use in particular. Now I have 7 gallons a week of useable fuel for a lamp/candle!
twighahn4 years ago
use a dremel to take off the uglies
skimmo4 years ago
does a lard oil burner smell really bad?
Atomic Shrimp (author)  skimmo4 years ago
When it's burning, it hardly smells at all (very faint smell of frying). When extinguished, the smoke is a bit smelly (this could be overcome by snuffing it with a thimble or some such)
snuff or sniff lol
fair enough, i like it
buteomont4 years ago
Great instructable!
Phil B4 years ago
The title of your Instructable made me think only of burning lard, but I really have no interest in that, nor do I have any lard available. I finally looked at your Instructable and very much enjoyed learning about your use of the lost wax casting method to make something. I have enjoyed learning more about this method ever since my dentist explained his laboratory was using it to make a crown to replace my tooth. It has a wide variety of applications. So far I have not had a need to make anything with it, though. I am glad I looked at your Instructable.
Kaiven4 years ago
That whole metal casting process is new to me. Thanks for the ideas! This is another awesome reason for me to build a forge...(or foundry)
kenbob4 years ago
well done, i love it.
scubaru4 years ago
Thats impressive, nice work! I go to school part for machining, so I may attempt this but with all hand machined parts, give it a shot I suppose.