Casting an Aluminum Anthill




Casting molten aluminum into anthills is definitely not an original idea, but I still wanted to try it. When you normally cast aluminum into sand with a foam mold, the most exciting moment is when you first pull it out and see if it worked or not. When doing this with anthills, it is even more exciting. If you use a foam mold, you know generally what the finished piece will look like, but with ants, you have absolutely no idea of what will come out of the ground. When I came across a large opening for an anthill in our driveway, I had to give it a go.

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Step 1: Video

Step 2: Preparing the Anthill

Before you can even begin, you have to locate a large anthill. I have tried to cast the little tiny hills that pop up on sidewalks and roads, but have never had success in casting them. My guess is that the tiny hole fills up with sand before the aluminum can enter, or the surface tension of the metal is too high to allow it to flow. Don't get discouraged if you can find one right away. I just kept my eye out for a while, and eventually found one that was perfect.

After you have located the colony, it is a good idea to build up the sides a little bit. When you fill up the anthill, you need to have head pressure or the metal won't flow down as far as it should go. To achieve this pressure, a reservoir of aluminum needs to sit above and keep force on the molten metal. If the sides aren't built up to make a dam, it just spills out and you get a 1,221°F mess to clean up. To avoid this, I used sand taken from the Mississippi river and formed a bowl shape with the entrance hole in the center. Make sure to not spill any sand down into the hole.

That dam serves another purpose once the aluminum is cooled off. You can flip the entire structure over and you have a solid base to hold it on.

Step 3: Forge Preparation

When your anthill is prepped, you can start on the forge. My "forge" isn't really a forge at all. It consists of a couple fire bricks arranged in a semi-circle with a furnace blower aimed at the opening. I have used normal bricks in the past, and they do work but all end up cracking from the heat.

The forge runs on scrap wood. It would be much better if I used charcoal or coal, but scrap wood is free, and works well enough with enough air supply.

For the aluminum supply, I find reusing old soda cans works very good. You can use scrap aluminum, but it is more difficult to melt, and the pop cans melt within seconds. You will need a decent amount, and they can be easily found at recycling centers or even picked up on the side of the road.

Importantly, don't forget the necessary safety equipment (fire extinguisher, welding gloves and apron, face shield, tongs, etc.)

Make sure to have everything you need to completely finish the process, because once you light the forge, things move along really fast, and you often don't have time to run inside and grab more supplies

Step 4: Melting and Casting

After you light the forge, you can start to blow more air into the fire. The rate of which the air is supplied really determines how hot the fire is. You have to be careful though, you cannot move the fan too close or you could risk blowing coals out of the forge.

After the first couple of cans are melted, things move along faster. The aluminum that is already molten surrounds the new cans and heats them up much quicker. Keep melting more until you are sure you have twice as much as you need. When I pour the aluminum, I find that I always could have a little more, so it is better to be on the safe side. You don't really know how big the anthill is, so it is better to have too much instead of too little.

Be gentle when pouring. It is easy to knock a rock or a bunch of sand into the hole, clogging it up.

Step 5: Digging It Up

After you let the casting cool for a long while, the fun part can begin. I actually let mine sit for only an hour or so, and while digging it up, still felt the intense heat. The dirt surrounding the casting insulates the aluminum, causing it to stay hotter for a longer period of time. Be cautious when pulling it out of the ground, you can break off little chunks (I accidentally did).

After the casting is out, pour water on it to cool it down and clean out the dirt and rocks.

Step 6: Base Construction

After the piece is removed from the ground, you could stop right there. I wanted a nicer base to sit on, so I decided to build a custom one. The casting came out with a longer oval shape, so I drew a suitable shape onto a piece of 1/2 inch red oak. You can easily draw ovals similar to mine by securing two nails a distance from each other, and using a loose loop of string strung in between them. Once the shape was drawn, I used my cheap not-very-good bandsaw to it out.

I knocked off the edges with a chamfering bit in the router. Also, I drilled a small hole and pounded in a little aluminum rod to help support the weight of the casting.

Step 7: Finishing and Gluing

I finished the base with two coats of water-based varnish. After the first coat dries, I sanded it with fine steel wool and brushed on the second coat.

I attached the casting to the base with glue. The bottom of the base wasn't flat, so I needed a glue that would foam to fill the gaps. I really hate using it, but I resorted to Gorilla glue. When it foams, it fill gaps nicely, but also swells and covers everything that you didn't want covered. To prevent this, I applied only a small amount to the center of the base. For the support rod, I used 5 minute epoxy, which is definitely a more reliable friend.

Step 8: Finished! and Etsy

After the glue was set, the project was completed. It was definitely a fun one, and I might revisit it again in the future. If you are interested in buying this piece I have made it available on Etsy here.

Again if you liked this Instructable, don't forget to vote, comment, and favorite. It really helps me out!

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    48 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructable. I told my father in law I had a guaranteed way of getting rid of the fire ants in his yard. When he saw this, he laughed.

    These are ants folks. They are certainly NOT in danger of becoming extinct. They rapidly breed and become a major nuisance in many, many homes. If we want to get politically (IN) correct over this - let's put our efforst into gettign behind the families who list their sons when our government official murderd our men in Benghazi...rather than a colony of ants.

    Unfortunatley the ground is so full of rocks where I live that I cannot do this. So anyone concerned can take solace in the fact my ants will be OK... and I continue to have to spend money for a spray around the base of my house so they won't keep coming inside. :^)

    19 replies

    I wouldn't say it's guaranteed. Those fire ants are crafty little critters. They have the most uncanny ability to survive just about anything.

    Ants are an extremely important part of our ecosystem and they should not just be slaughtered wholesale, regardless of how prolific they are. The people who are concerned about exterminating them are correct. Extermination of any insect should never be done unless it is necessary.

    Fire ants are of course an entirely different matter, as they are an invasive species that is actually doing harm in the areas of the USA they have invaded.

    But this instructable is not about slaughtering them wholesale. Maybe if the government wasted more of our money to illogically develop a kill-all ant chemical and spread it around, then there might (?) be s light possibility it would be a wholesale slaughter and exterminate all ants But tell that to the mindset behind DDT - the flies are still with us in abundance - and not just because it became illegal to use. Some flies were already resistant and so now we have those that bred and have DDT resistant flies.

    There is no way someone making a life-ling hobby out of this ant casting is even going to make an infinitesimal impact on the ecosystem b/c the system is so huge and there are so very many ants. The typical mindset pushed by our media nowadays is to keep people worrying and frustrated over the minutiae so they miss the real problems - and again I refer to the Benghazi murders and the slaughter and slavery of fellow humans worldwide. Where are these same people worrying about something impossible concerning ants when real issues arise? I would hope making just the same amount of noise.

    The worst part is most of the advice about the "facts" of nature come from people who are foreign to nature. If they dare venture out, they have to take their conveniences with them just to survive (tent, stove, backpack, sleeping bag, etc. etc.). Its like an African bushman trying to dictate what stocks to invest in. He could only after years of training and education by exposure.

    Relax friends - the ants will be here long after you and I are gone. But our personal freedoms likely won't be passed on to our grandchildren b/c we were having our passions redirected to issues which deserve just a common sense approach while the real issues, and those behind them, got away with murder.


    Reply 12 months ago

    Besides all that, I'm on my 100th generation of regular ants in my kitchen and have tried everything. You cannot get rid of ants no matter what you do, ants will always be with us


    Jacques Cartier was the first European explorer to report on passenger
    pigeons, finding them in abundance on Prince Edward Island during his
    first voyage in 1534. His famous quote: “Relax friends- the pigeons will be here long after you and I are gone.“.

    The species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world
    during the 19th century to extinction early in the 20th century.
    Martha, thought to be the world's last passenger pigeon, died on
    September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo.



    If you want to start hunting down ants and eating them then go ahead. The fact the Passenger Pigeon was large, slow, largely unafraid of man, and people liked to eat them was why they were hunted to extinction (although there has been some talk of genetically reviving the species.

    Another factor to consider is that the world population of ants is a lot more than what the state-covering passenger Pigeons ever were... and there are a lot less people wanting a free meal by killing ants.

    It is all about true perspective in nature and not some media causing hype over something very much NOT understood by those making the claims.

    We need conservation - agreed - but the day we start trusting people who cannot even tell you which gender a deer is by looking at the tracks alone, or that has never built a fire in the woods with no gasoline (modern tools or other chemicals) to say what the FACTS are about a world they have insulated themselves from is the day our man-made, synthetic bubble of reality has gone to ridiculous levels.

    Comparing the plight of the Passenger Pigeons to ants is rather an (trying my best to NOT sound critical - neither of us want that) ... interesting.


    I'm just wanting to make the point that as stewards of planet earth, we don't get to make decisions about which species are important and worthy of protection, and which ones are not. All are here for a reason and purpose, even if we can't figure out why.


    Reply 3 years ago

    I've always enjoyed pouring hot cooking oil into ant hives and using a magnifying glass to sizzle spiders and other hideous bugs. Hilarious fun for the whole family. As a bonus, it pisses off useless hippies and the vegan Nazis.


    Aboslutely - and I appreciate the change in public attitude over the decades from one of just destroying nature without thought to actually taking the time to appreciate it. Its just that now it seems we are going the other way by going overboard. As my son texted to me the other day after being at a zoo, the only thing he does not like is you they make it sound like every single animal in the world is suddenly going to become extinct!

    As with all things, we need be responsible, and with all things there will be the middle of the road that is the right balance.


    All are here for a reason and purpose, even if we can't figure out why.


    Very true. But thankfully nature is a LOT more hardy than our modern media gives it credit for. And I may be wrong, but unfortunate happenings like the Passenger Pigeon may also have been aided by the fact communication was not instant in those days. Tyere was no way to tune into a national news service to get the latest update and for people to get notices about them disappearing. I don't honestly think with the Pigeons it was necessarily even lack of responsibility since they just dd not have communications networks and life was more about survival back then.

    There have been wasteful happenings though for sure - white rhinos, elephants, etc.

    No, every single animal on the planet will not suddenly go extinct. If history is any indication, some will evolve to survive, just as they did in all the past extinction events.

    But you have to remember that many of the animals in zoos are endangered. That's why they are there, for conservation.

    Elephants are still being killed for ivory, trophy hunters are still killing animals just to have a head to hang on their wall, sharks are killed just to make shark fin soup, and hundreds of bear cubs are orphaned and left to starve every year in the spring bear hunt. Many species are at risk due to loss of habitat. We continue to expand our living space, taking over theirs, and then declare them to be a problem and go out and kill them. Here in Canada, thousands of Canadian Geese have been culled simply because they were living in parks and people were upset that they were leaving droppings on the ground. A few years ago where I live they mowed down a huge forested area to build a new subdivision and then, when the people who moved in started seeing the coyotes who used to live there, it was declared that there was an overpopulation of coyotes and the government put a bounty on them.

    We have come a long way, but not nearly far enough. And since we don't fully understand the impact our actions may have, exercising some caution makes sense, before we end up making a fatal mistake.

    Now it's time for me to put my soap box away and shut up.


    But you have to remember that many of the animals in zoos are endangered. That's why they are there, for conservation.


    Some are. The zoos have had the same CORE of animals since I was a kid 40+ years ago, and even since my grandfather was a kid . The facts of the matter are that the zoos go overboard in preaching conservation while hoping some of it sticks with the general, swallow-whatever-they-are-told populace. Then there are those who take the time to check the facts. And there are also those who take it even further. As with most issues nowadays, if the almighty dollar can be made from it somehow, then the way to get the money becomes the new "facts."


    and hundreds of bear cubs are orphaned and left to starve every year in the spring bear hunt.


    Uumm... I am not a bear hunter. But I know for a fact in the state of Pennsylvania, the seasons are designed around the times where species will not leave orphaned young. Despite what the media wants people to think, hunters and most Game Commissions are the largest contributors to responsible handling of wildlife and wildlife habitat. There are the rare exceptions the media loves to "make news" out of, but the facts are the facts. Please do some homework on this.

    As to the geese and coyotes - and this is no insult to you - but it seems you are someone not too accustomed to the wild. There is no shortage of either of these species. They are a nuisance in their ability to quickly reproduce and make a mess of places. These are not elephants, snow leopards, or white rhinos we are talking about. Equating these two vastly different situations and categories is like comparing apples to tomatoes. They are both actually fruits, both are red, both have seeds, and both have a peel, but only playing up on the superficial characteristics could make people think they are the same.

    In fact, just to back this up a little more. In PA it is an EXPENSIVE thing to get a license to hunt geese. Plus you have to very buy expensive, special shot. This has resulted in overpopulation to the point it was impossible when visiting the reservoir in the town I used to live to walk in the dam area or any open space without literally putting your foot into a pile left behind by a Canada goose. This was in no way healthy for the water supply either. If you are familiar with these animals (yes, I am - I nursed one back to health over a summer), you will know the unbelievable amount of fecal matter just ONE goose is capable of in a 24 hour period. Again - these are not whooping cranes, nor are they in danger of becoming such. Common sense to evaluate the facts will make for the best conditions. The problem is that politically driven over-conservation has gotten in the way of reality. We won't even go into details concerning the unbelievable overprotecting rules that resulted in overpopulation of Beaver - resulting in an outbreak of "Beaver Fever" from the same water supply.

    Moderation - responsibility - homework - and not taking the media as gospel will be the best things we can do for animals and our environment.

    I live in Ontario, Canada. Hunting bears in spring is legal here. The hundreds of orphaned Cubs I referred to are just in Ontario alone.


    Again- these are not whooping cranes, nor are they in danger of becoming such.


    Again, I point you to the example of passenger pigeon, as well as the whooping crane, and all the other species that were once so plentiful that people thought they always would be. Your philosphy of conservation seems to be keep on killing them until they are endangered, then maybe, if you think they are worth saving, and if you believe the people who say they are endangered aren't just making things up, you can stop.

    I live in Canada, so yeah, I am familiar with the Canada goose and its fecal matter. I wonder what a goose would have to say about how healthy human activities are for their water supply?

    I did not say there was a shortage of coyotes. I said there was a shortage of coyote habitat. If they encroach on human populations, who is to blame? After all, they aren't going around knocking down human houses and building forests, are they?

    And I again, nicely, point to my post about someone trying to compare ants to whooping cranes. The media etc. has a goal anymore of saying how terrible mankind is, how evil we are to the earth etc. This is the going "trend."

    There is some legitimacy to the issue, and I am glad people are so much more aware of it now than they used to be. But again, moderation is where the facts lay.

    I Know nothing of Ontario bear hunting. i respect Canadians and their intelligence enough though to say I will need to do more homework on the issue before saying I can intelligently discuss the matter. I know for a fact, all to often , our media down here makes it look as if the hunters are the bad guys, when in actuality, the majority of US hunters are responsible and the money they pay for licenses goes towards improving wildlife conservation (although there is corruption and greed in the PA Game Commission also). This is not propaganda - it is fact. Homework - legitimately - will show this to be true.


    I wonder what a goose would have to say about how healthy human activities are for their water supply?


    Which is why the last 30 or so years of cleaning things up has been a good movement. Its not perfect - but this will not happen. However, as is NOT related in most modern media is the fact most animals are much more resilient to problems than we as humans are. A goose can, and will iive in the same pond as beaver. Whereas a human drinking the water can easily contract giardia. I was asked to trap some Beaver from a small town water supply for this reason. There were still beaver left in the reservoir, but enough had to be removed to make a safe water supply. And, BTW, even though it was legal to trap the beaver, the laws still protect these animals to a great degree - such as its a 10,000 fine for disturbing their huts. Despite, again , what the general idea of media-"educated" people is, the facts of what are in the wild are much removed from the propaganda.


    I did not say there was a shortage of coyotes. I said there was a shortage of coyote habitat.


    You never have been out riding the range much have you? There is absolutely NO shortage whatsoever of coyote habitat except in the minds of those who have never been out where the seemingly endless (when you are out there) miles of the unpopulated west exist. Even here in PA, the Alleghany National forest is a huge chunk of wilderness which, thankfully, will not be developed. The mountain ranges extending down through the rest of the middle of the State are also mostly uninhabited and make for coyote habitat (yes - they Do live there - firsthand experience). Where the people move them out is when they start to encroach in publicly populated lands and make s a nuisance of themselves by killing livestock, etc. But this is something else the media does not like to reveal.

    And one more thing... we did not have coyotes - except a very few - in NW PA all the time I was growing up until I hit about 35 years old. Then THEY started migrating INTO the human-populated areas. Their numbers started to grow. I had not seen one in the wild - only their tracks - as much time as I spent in the woods - until my 30s. And then they started to pop up all over the place.

    Well... I was about to point out that the coyotes who lived in the forest that was mowed down for a huge development here in Ontario didn't very likely move to the States, but perhaps I am wrong. Maybe that's why you have more coyotes than you used to.

    My example was a specific one, very specific, to one specific area where the forest was destroyed, the coyotes were driven into a populated area as a result, and people started freaking about the sudden increase in coyotes. Their logic was somewhat flawed, as is often the case in human/wildlife encounters.

    No, I have not spent much time "riding the ranges". Not exactly a common activity in Ontario. But despite that, I am very well aware that coyotes destroy livestock, and that they sometimes have to be killed to prevent that. I think that knowledge is pretty much universal.

    Of course, our water supply has to be protected. So do the beavers. They are actually much more important than most people realize. (please save the lecture)

    How does knowing how to start a fire without gasoline make one an expert on entomology, or ecosystems, or conservation? I completely agree that most people are out of touch with nature and don't know how to survive without their modern conveniences. But there is more to understanding nature than knowing how to start a fire the old fashioned way, or tell the gender of a deer.

    The ant does not compare to the passenger pigeon, but not for the reason you think. The impact from the extinction of ants would be far greater.

    And, if things keep going the way they are, we will be hunting ants for food.

    True, the ants will most likely outlive us. But we can't survive without them. Literally, we can't. Without insects the entire food chain would collapse, for one thing. So do not underestimate the impact to the ecosystem.

    I totally agree at the media distracts people deliberately. I don't agree that stories about environmental issues are a distraction. Quite the opposite. The very serious environmental issues we are facing is one of the things they want to distract us from, by feeding us a bunch of useless information about fashion and celebrities and car accidents that no one really needs to know about unless someone they know was involved.

    My position is that the less harm we do, the better. There is no need to use pesticides like DDT, or the more recent Neo Nics, or any other chemical that is harmful not only to insects but to all living things, including humans. And there is no need to just go about killing other living things just because we feel like it either.

    I trust those who know when it comes to the "facts" about nature- the scientists who devkte their lives to the study of the natural world.

    Anyway, no one is saying we shouldn't care about any of the other issues you mentioned. But if you really want to look at the big picture, you can't get any bigger than the preservation of the Earth and all of Mankind. When you look at it that way, environmental issues are not "minutiae". Far from it.

    Former biology teacher - thank you for the reminder - but I am very well acquainted with the food chain. But moreso, I also have been a survival camper. I have sent much of my life in the woods becoming a part of it. My only tool for camping was I allowed myself the luxury of taking a hatchet with me.

    The media is interested in selling news (attracting listeners and numbers). Sensationalism is what they are all about (along with political pressure from those who stand to make money off of swaying public opinion).

    If you will reread my statement, the comment I made about DDT was that it did not kill off what it was meant to. There are things too resilient - like ants, flies, mosquitos, etc.


    I trust those who know when it comes to the "facts" about nature- the
    scientists who devkte their lives to the study of the natural world.


    Sometimes. But its just like for years the "experts" and scientists were saying gray and black squirrels in PA would not mate with each other. People who know the woods b/c they spend more time there than just a few passing months of government grant money knew this was a bunch of rubbish. And... it is now a known fact (no kidding!). The problem is that "science" nowadays is often too politically influenced by someone trying to make money. It is important to research before blindly taking an "experts" opinion.

    I am not saying some people are not making valuable contributions to ACTUAL science, but remember we live in a day when Relativity and Quantum Physics are known to be fact. The "greatest minds" of our day say so. Yet the greatest minds of the day also say both ideas cannot be fact since they are not able to coexist and both be right!

    Some environmental issues are minutiae - some are not, and some are manmade. Gooogle "Game over, the IPCC quietly admits defeat" and read the report from the global warming experts who, after their data was compiled, have now caused scientists to say there has been no AGW for the past 15 years - their own data proved it. So after all these years of saying it is undeniable, now they are saying it was ll a mistake. So where do we go to get our money back from all of the (money making) emissions tests?

    My apologies. I was unaware of your teaching background. So you are very aware of how all life is interconnected and the grave consequences that the disruption of the natural balance may have.

    I have spent zero time camping, survival or otherwise, and I could have told you grey and black squirrels will mate. However, at one time, they actually did not mate, or had not been observed doing so. Saying that experts can not be believed because they say something based on their knowledge at the time and then more information is later obtained which shows they were mistaken, is putting the cart before the horse. You can't know something before you know it. After all, at one time all the experts would have agreed that the Earth is flat. And why should they have doubted it, when they had no evidence to the contrary? If you watch a ship sailing out to sea, it will appear to fall off the edge. It happens every time. If you had been a well educated, European citizen in 1491, you would have laughed at Columbus right along with your peers.

    I formulate my own opinions, based on all of the available data, my own observations, and something called thinking, which I know is not the cool thing to do these days but I'm old fashioned. And I choose to err on the side of caution, because we only have one planet to live on, and that is not going to change any time soon.

    But speaking of political pressures and profits, you should be mindful of them yourself. (And that is all I will say on the subject of climate change.)