Introduction: Casting a Custom Belt Buckle

About: Flemming changed the the world with a saucer and a bit of mold. Florence Nightingale changed the world with a tiny lamp, walking silent rounds among the wounded and dying. Einstein: chalk. Pasteur: chickens. A…

There is a mythical creature roaming the urban landscapes of the world. This creature hopes that people will notice him everywhere he goes. In some cultures he's referred to as "The Guy Who Thinks It's Not Silly To Wear Jewelry," and he is a sorry sight to behold.

Don't get me wrong. Jewelry is beautiful and there's nothing wrong with wearing one ring (not on your thumb, dude!) or a nice watch. But a guy should leave the jangly bracelets for Pharaohs, the chunky necklaces for Mr. T and the diamonds for his beautiful girl, shouldn't he? Ladies, am I wrong here?

YES! I was wrong. Completely. I was wrong and you are all right. Man adornment is good.
Of course, it has to be done right. Like Liberace did, you have to own it, but don't expect to be as cool as he was right away. The time is right for some awesome belt buckles. And I really like making belt buckles.

Step 1: Remedial Metalcasting

To make your own buckles you have to study a little about metal casting. I use the green sand casting method.
My greensand is made of 1 part by volume cat litter (bentonite clay) that has been powdered (use a food processor, not your dryer, like I did) to 10 parts fine sand. Mix these thoroughly and then wet it until it can clump really firmly but isn't wet. 5 gallons should cost you about 4 dollars and 1 hour to make. It also makes very fun indoor play sand for kids. I will post this process in depth as a toy i'ble in the future.

The next step is to make a flask which is the lidless box (really just two frames) that holds the mold. The sand will be rammed against your pattern inside the flask.  You can use anything that can accommodate your pattern. Try whatever you have around, even cheap picture frames or rigid food containers. Cheap is the key, right? Being cheap is how I have enough money to buy my girl pretty things.

If you don't have a foundry you can melt pewter scrap on your stove top. My sources of inexpensive scrap have included chess pieces, cabinet knobs, sundry tchotchkes, and cups. But the best and cheapest source I have found yet are heavy lamps from thrift stores. Gold mine! (Pewter mine?)

Melt whatever pewter you can find in a small lidded pot or measuring cup and skim off the top slag (impurities).

Now make a pattern for your buckle.

Step 2: In Lieu of a 3D Printer...

You can see how many patterns I had to make to get this project right. I have made lots of models for lots of projects and each material has its advantages and disadvantages. Linoleum is good to carve but not rigid. Wood is rigid but hard to work. MDF is easy to carve but swells if it gets a little damp. Pink foam is free but I lose detail when it compresses and it isn't durable for very many copies. To make a pattern that really lasts I use low temp pewter scrap. But that's pretty heavy and can be hard to remove from my mold...

Suffice it to say that none are quite right. But I press on. It sure would be easy to print out patterns on an UP 3D printer. Then I could cast anything with a parting line that I could think up: Chainsaw accessories for a portable mill; complex Christmas toys; my mom's piano sustain pedal; the crank housing for my great grandmother's phonograph; the battery cover for my 1958 K10 motor bike. It's endless!

You should make your pattern out of whatever works for you, even another object like a Christmas ornament or a deer vertebra or a stone.

Before I get to the casting process do you want to see a few of the belt buckle ideas I have coming next?

Step 3: Please Comment on Your Favorite

People often seem to recognize that Yeti/Sasquatch image before they really understand that they recognize it, like when you see a grade school friend but can't quite remember her name. The Yeti is easily the most commented on item I have ever owned. And that's great because it gives me an opening to tell them about the Yeti Tour, the March of Dimes fundraiser that I made these buckles for.

Above are a few other ideas that I would like to produce in the same way you will see on the following page. Be sure to comment on which one is your favorite so I know where to start. I am also planning a Tetris line, a scarab and an abacus.

Step 4: Priapism

1. Lay the model on a cutting board, front side up.

2. Put the bottom of the flask around it and dust the surface with baby powder.

3. Sprinkle loose greensand over the surface and press it onto the model with your fingers.

4. Use a pestle-like object to ram more sand into the mold right up to the top.

5. Scree the top flat.

6. Flip the whole thing upside down, including the cutting board, so the model stays in place

7. Put the ring hinge in place. You can skip this and just carve the shape into the sand later.

8. Put the top of the flask in place and dust again.

9. Pack in more sand, ramming it hard. Don't go crazy. You want to be able to get it apart.

10. Open it up and remove the model. Now there's a perfect cavity!

11. Cut the vents and the sprue on opposite sides of the cavity. Metal in, air out. The sprue should not run directly down into the cavity but sideways through a gate. Trust me on this.

12. Put it back together and pour the clarified metal in. I get palpitations just thinking about pouring metal.

That's it.

Step 5: 5 Minutes With the Belt Sander Later...

Cut off the sprue and the vents but leave vent #1 about an inch long-- it serves as the hook.

I like the sanded finish. I tried a dozen or so buckles with a mirror polish but they weren't as good. Too shiny.

And that's the key: Guys need to bling in moderation. Please bling responsibly.

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