DIY Electric Foundry for Metal Casting (120V)

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Introduction: DIY Electric Foundry for Metal Casting (120V)

About: We're Laura and Louis. Laura is an educator and Louis is an engineer. With our powers combined, we make things and try to show everyone how we tackle projects in hopes to inspire others to get up and create!

We’ve been loving our Shapeoko CNC and have made some fun projects recently. One thing we need to improve on is nesting designs to minimize waste. In order to reuse the scrap aluminum, we made this electric foundry to melt scraps into an ingot that can be machined again.

To give a overview of this project, we spent about $200 USD to complete the build and with out 120VAC circuit at home, the calculated power of this foundry is about 1.6kW.

You can check out the entire build video on Youtube linked above. (We would also appreciate a like and sharing if you think it's worth it :))

DISCLAIMER: THIS PROJECT UTILIZES HIGH VOLTAGE POWER SUPPLIES AND PRESENTS A SERIOUS RISK OF PERSONAL INJURY (E.G. THE HEATING ELEMENT IS LIVE WHEN IN USE AND MAY HAVE ELECTRICAL POTENTIAL EVEN WHEN SHUT OFF). ALSO THE FOUNDRY CREATES EXTREMELY HIGH TEMPERATURES AND MOLTEN METAL THAT ALSO PRESENTS A SERIOUS RISK OF PERSONAL INJURY. USE ADEQUATE PRECAUTIONS AND SAFETY GEAR AND CONSULT A EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONAL. THANK YOU AND BE SAFE!

Supplies

Here is the list of supplies we used: (These are affiliate links where we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, Thank you!)

Insulating fire bricks: https://amzn.to/3fnsgYJ

Furnace cement: https://amzn.to/32dCGqe

Crucible tongs: https://amzn.to/2APBApk

Ceramic terminal blocks: https://amzn.to/3ehWefr

High Temperature wire: https://amzn.to/3foqkzt

Baking pan: https://amzn.to/2ZjCu78

Graphite crucible: https://amzn.to/3ekQUrN

K type thermocouple: https://amzn.to/38Rnkc9

Heating element coil wire: https://amzn.to/2ZmIZ9i

PID Controller: https://amzn.to/3fi9NwR

1” Angle Iron: https://amzn.to/301PMUW

125/250V toggle switch: https://amzn.to/328QmTk

14 gauge Power cord: https://amzn.to/38MktBw

Step 1: Insulated Fire Bricks

We started off with 10 insulated fire bricks. There are a few different types so you want to be sure to use “soft” fire bricks like these larger white ones. They have better insulating properties compared to “hard” fire bricks which are the smaller sand colored bricks and retain heat within the interior of the foundry.

You can use the "hard" bricks if you really wanted to, but since their function is primarily structural they conduct a lot of heat and it will take a very long time for the foundry to get to temperature, if at all, since there will be major heat loss through the surface of the bricks.

We arranged the bricks to create a simple box to house the crucible, allowing it to be loaded from the top.

Step 2: Cutting Bricks

We cut two bricks in half length wise to fill the corners.These bricks are very easy to cut and shape, so we used our old Japanese pull saw to cut them in half, making sure to keep the cut straight.

Step 3: Making Grooves for the Heating Element

Next, we measured three evenly spaced lines from the floor of the foundry to the top rim around the perimeter of the inside. This marked the three rows the electric coil will seat into.

Using a square file, we filed grooves into the bricks and used a scrap piece of the electric coil to ensure the correct depth.

Step 4: Grinding and Bonding

We made a mini assembly line to make the process a bit manageable. We filed the grooves for all the interior walls and then bonded the finished pieces using furnace cement.

Step 5: Drilling and Final Bonding

For one of the short walls, we filed grooves in a ramping pattern which allows the heating coil to reach the next row. This is also where we wanted the ends of the heating coil to exit, so we drilled a small hole using a standard drill.

Then we bonded all the walls together with furnace cement and allowed it to cure overnight.

Step 6: Making the Outer Structure

Since the "soft" fire bricks are really brittle, we made a simple metal structure to protect the edges of the foundry.

Using 1" Steel angle iron, we measured the lengths of all the outside corners and welded them together.

To keep it simple, we just lapped the corresponding pieces rather than mitering each connection. If you don't have a welder, you can also use nuts and bolts by drilling a hole at each connection and tightening nuts and bolts.

Step 7: Electronics - the Temperature Controller

Moving on to the electrical portion. We used a PID controller and solid state relay, thermal insulated wire, and a K type thermocouple that reads 0 – 1300 deg C.

To house everything together, we 3d printed an enclosure and mounted a toggle switch and electrical outlet we salvaged from an old computer power supply.

We attached a general wiring diagram for reference, but different PIDs may have different wiring instructions so double check your model.

Once everything was wired and mounted to the enclosure, we bolted onto the metal structure of the foundry using nuts and bolts. We later found out that the structure gets a bit warm and softens the 3D printed enclosure, so having an insulated layer like wood would be helpful.

We made sure to connect the ground wire to the mounting bolt, so that the structure can be electrically grounded for safe operation.

Step 8: Mounting Thermocouple

Then we measured and drilled a hole for the thermocouple to fit into.

The temperature is picked up only 1inch from the tip of the thermocouple, so we wanted to position this area closer to the floor of the foundry to get the most accurate reading.

We made a small arm with a bit of adjustability for the thermocouple to mount to. After that was mounted, we closed up the enclosure

Step 9: Heating Element

Using steel wire coil as the heating element, we calculated a resistance of about 9 ohms to give us enough power, without overloading our 20 amp circuit and giving us a decent margin to run other tools on the circuit if needed.

To calculate using our 120v circuit with 9 ohms measured at the heating element:

Current = Voltage/Resistance

Current = 120 v / 9 ohms

Current = 13.3 amps , < This is well below our 20 amp circuit

Then we can figure out our total power:

Power = Current x Volts

Power = 13.3 amps x 120 v

Power = 1600 Watts

In order to coil around the foundry three times for even heat distribution, we calculated that we need the coil to be stretched out to 78 inches.

After using the bench vise to help pull the coils, we placed it into the grooves. We straightened out leftover steel wire and shaped staples with a plier to help secure the heating coils to the wall

Step 10: Final Wiring

With the heating elements placed into the interior grooves and the ends protruding through the holes we drilled earlier, we screwed the ceramic terminal block into the brick and attached the heating coils to one end of the terminal block and the wires from the PID controller to the other end.

Step 11: Firing It Up!

With all the wiring complete, we can plug it into and wait for the foundry to get to temperature!

This setup took about 20 mins to reach 900C and about 15 mins to melt some small scrap of aluminum.

Step 12: Follow Us!

Thank you for reading our Instructable!

If you liked the project, don't forget to share it. Comments and feedback are always welcome.

You can check out our other projects here on Instructables as well as our Youtube channel IMEE MADE.

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    33 Comments

    0
    andvas
    andvas

    6 weeks ago

    Hi, great project. What modifications would this require to go up to 1500 and do steel?

    0
    KenS74
    KenS74

    Question 1 year ago on Step 6

    This is a great project. I've always wanted to have a furnace for casting and also for ceramics.
    The cost of electricity here is very high so I was wondering if you considered a furnace using natural gas or propane? The physical layout could be the same but the electronic heating would be replaced by gas burners.

    0
    brickbreaker
    brickbreaker

    Answer 1 year ago

    You can get foundry temperatures burning charcoal if you add some forced air and use a similar insulation. Someone called the king of random did it on youtube.

    0
    imee made
    imee made

    Answer 1 year ago

    Yes! We looked into a propane foundry at first and after some deliberation we decided an electric one suits our needs best since its silent, we can use it indoors (i.e. our garage) and the footprint is contained within the foundry and not dependant on an external propane tank. Thank you very much for checking out our project!

    0
    RobertS854
    RobertS854

    1 year ago on Step 1

    The hard bricks are intended for fireplaces and wood-stoves. They actually melt!
    I like your design and idea. Thanks for mentioning the base-ish cost of materials, too. I was really surprised to learn that it costs well over $1,000 for the machine to make it. :(

    0
    Wolfgar77
    Wolfgar77

    Reply 1 year ago

    Check out my two instructables...I did it for about 150....controllers are expensive though so add at least another 80

    0
    skrubol
    skrubol

    1 year ago

    A couple comments.
    First, without an isolation transformer, isn't that that coil live and a safety hazard? You may want to at least add a disclaimer.
    A more minor point, you referred to the heating coil as being steel wire. The link you have is for FeCrAl (aka Kanthal.) I don't think steel would hold up too well at these temperatures.

    And one question. I assume you've been working with wrought aluminum alloys (6000 series.) How well do they cast? Have you been adding anything to them to improve castability?

    0
    Wolfgar77
    Wolfgar77

    Reply 1 year ago

    My little kiln can get up to 2100 F with Kanthal.....check out my instructable

    0
    chip-load
    chip-load

    Reply 1 year ago

    Iron is an element. When you mix alloys into iron it is called steel. Kanthal is 80% iron the rest are alloys.

    0
    skrubol
    skrubol

    Reply 1 year ago

    Kanthal is 65-75% iron, but no carbon. Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, so Kanthal is not steel.
    Using plain steel as the heater, it wire would not last long. Even stainless would corrode quickly at these temperatures.

    0
    imee made
    imee made

    Reply 1 year ago

    To answer your comments.
    1. Yes you're absolutely correct, the heating coil is live while powered on. Updating with a disclaimer is a good call
    2. You are correct again. I suppose using the proper terminology would be helpful.

    To your question:
    Yes we are working with 6061. For the test ignots they seem to work very well. We haven't added anything as we're still learning the craft.

    0
    chip-load
    chip-load

    1 year ago

    Very nice and thank you for linking to all of the materials.

    When I saw you reach in with metal tongs near that live wire I flinched! I suggest an on/off switch within easy reach to cut power before lifting the lid.

    0
    imee made
    imee made

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you! Haha if you notice on the video, the PID controller is off when I reach in to pick up the crucible 😅. Definitely going to upgrade to have a proper door and safety shut off switch!

    0
    novice101
    novice101

    1 year ago

    I'm sorry, but your background music is very distracting. It is hard to hear what is being said.

    0
    AlanH183
    AlanH183

    1 year ago on Step 9

    Your calculations are inaccurate. You need to determine the impedance of the coil, not the resistance. It appears that you are using AC to power the foundry (you don't actually say so) so it is impedance that determines the current flow, not resistance.

    0
    n8hfi
    n8hfi

    Reply 1 year ago

    At 60 Hz, it doesn't impact it much. It looked he stretched that coil out to about an 1/8" pitch, so approximately 600 turns in 78 inches. The imaginary part of the impedance due to the inductor is roughly 0.003 ohms, not enough to throw off the calculation.

    0
    AMbros Custom
    AMbros Custom

    Question 1 year ago on Step 12

    Impressive I was looking to build a crucible 2 in 1 I want the run is both gas/coal or electric. Will it possible to do make 2 in 1 forge. With that heating element remain safe when I use gas/coal.

    0
    n8hfi
    n8hfi

    Answer 1 year ago

    I think those heating elements would oxidize very quickly in an environment where combustion is going on. Even if you were careful to keep the combusting in a reducing environment, water and other combustion byproducts are going to be present.