Make Metal Parts With a 3D Printer (lost Polymer Casting Tutorial)

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About: Lyratron was founded in August of 2011 after four years of research into the development of gesture-based electronic musical instruments. Originally called Light Harp Industries (founded 2007), we continue ...

Are you in love with 3D printing, but tired of flimsy plastic parts? Are you ready to take your work to the next level?! So was I.

While studying Electrical and Explosives Engineering at New Mexico Tech, I learned a technique called lost wax casting, which I used to make a nice bronze necklace pendant for my wife. But carving machinable wax with a CNC milling machine was too much work, so I began experimenting with lost polymer casting. It's basically the same thing as lost wax casting, except that it allows you to make metal parts directly with your 3D printer!

I was absolutely amazed at how easy it was to do, and how well it works. I can't believe that this process isn't common knowledge within the maker community! It opens up all sorts of possibilities for home manufacture of durable, mechanical objects. The weaponeer community will be especially interested in this. Virtually everyone agrees that plastic guns were a horrible idea. With lost polymer casting, they don't have to be plastic anymore.

This 12-step process I've developed is by no means an exhaustive treatise on the subject, but it should provide a great jumping off point for your own experimentation. In my assessment, lost polymer casting is literally the greatest thing since 3D printing itself. I can't wait to see what you do with it!

Step 1: Design Object

This isn't a CAD tutorial (there are plenty of those), but I recommend Trimble SketchUp for its price tag (free) and ease of use. OpenSCAD is also free, but is perhaps a bit harder to use (unless you're a programmer like me, in which case, you'll love it!)

Step 2: Add Sprue

This is basically just a conical piece that attaches to your part somewhere. Length, width, and flare dimensions don't have to be precise, but it should be large enough in diameter to accommodate pouring liquid metal through.

Sometimes, with larger objects, it can be beneficial to add more than one sprue, or air vents through which air can escape from the mold as the metal is poured. If a pocket of air is allowed to form during the casting process, the result will be a hole in your part!

Step 3: Enlarge by 2%

Scaling the part by 2% along all axes will create a volume increase of about 6% (1.02 ^3 = ~1.06). This compensates for the shrinkage the metal part will undergo as the metal cools from ~230C to room temperature.

Step 4: Print Object W/ Sprue

If you're experienced with 3D printing, this step should be fairly straightforward. In most cases, your sprue will probably be facing upward, but I've had success in the past with laying it horizontally atop the build platform. If you need to print your sprue horizontally, you may want to design it as a rectangular prismatic frustum rather than a cone.

Step 5: Embed in Plaster With Sprue Sticking Out

Make sure the object is fully submerged, but not touching the bottom or sides of the vessel. Also make sure that at least a small piece of the sprue is sticking out of the plaster. You may want to rig something to hold it in place while it dries.

Step 6: Let Plaster Harden and Dry

Ideally, you would wait at least 24 hours prior to doing the burn out. This can be sped up somewhat by using techniques such as the above: sun drying (Fig. 1), and accelerated heat drying (Fig. 2). If you decide to accelerate the drying process by applying heat, take care not to apply too much heat. Doing so can flash trapped moisture to steam, causing the plaster to swell and crack.

Only proceed to the next step once the plaster has fully dried!

Step 7: Burn Out Polymer

While wearing flame-resistant gloves (oven gloves are great), carefully place the mold upside-down in a fire. I usually cook it for an hour or more to get all the polymer out.

If your part was printed in PLA, the resulting fumes shouldn't be too toxic.

If your part was printed in ABS, it will smell horrible, and if you breathe in too much of the smoke, you will die.

Step 8: Pour Metal Into Sprue Hole

Experience has taught me that you only get one shot at this. Do not attempt to pour the metal back out of the mold! Once the metal is poured, you're done.

For this example, I used pewter (an alloy of tin), heated with a Hot Pot 2 electric melting pot. I would recommend them. Last I checked, they were something like $40 on Amazon.

Safety goggles, long pants, closed-toe shoes, and thermal gloves (e.g. oven gloves) are strongly recommended for this step.

Any metal that spills will harden into a coin-like object, and can be easily recycled.

Step 9: Wait for Metal to Cool

I recommend waiting 2 or 3 hours, or until the metal is cold to the touch. Remember that plaster is an excellent thermal insulator, so it will keep the metal hot for much longer than you might expect. Smash it out too early, and your part will look like somebody stomped on a gummy bear.

Step 10: Smash Plaster; Remove Metal Part

This is the fun part. It shouldn't require much explanation. If your part is fragile, you might consider whacking it many times softly (from different angles), as opposed to one big smash.

Step 11: Cut Off Sprue With Hacksaw

Saw the sprue off as close to the model as you can without accidentally cutting into the model itself. Soft metals like pewter shouldn't take more than a couple minutes with a sharp hacksaw blade.

Step 12: File Sprue Attachment Point

Optionally, you can also file off all the ugly gold oxidation, revealing the smooth, shiny metal beneath. Just don't get carried away, or you'll find there's nothing left of the part you just made!

Use your newfound metal manufacturing skills only for good. If you manufacture weapons, use them only to defend the innocent from harm. Also, stay on the right side of the law. The ability to manufacture metal parts at home puts you on the same playing field as companies like Glock, Smith & Wesson, and Ruger. But remember that these companies have entire armies of lawyers to keep them out of trouble. It is much easier for an individual hobbyist to trip up and do something verboten without even knowing it, so be careful.

If you enjoy my work, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, and I promise to keep it coming!

Cheers,
~ Peter

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    33 Discussions

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    NunoS46

    Question 5 months ago

    Hi,


    Nice work!

    I am about to start my tries in lost ABS, I would like to
    ask if it possible to burn out the ABS using a heat air gun instead of gas/coal
    furnace. I think the air gun can easily deliver 600c. Have being searching on
    google to see if anyone did used a air gun to get rid of the abs inside de
    plaster mold, but found nothing…


    Regards,


    Nuno

    3 answers
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    lyratronNunoS46

    Reply 5 months ago

    Hey Nuno,

    Thanks for reaching out! I haven't tried using the heat gun for the burnout yet, but I suspect it would probably work. My only concern is to ensure that you achieve uniform heating of the investment and ABS. If one part gets hot while another part remains cold, it will exert non-uniform forces on the material and could damage your mold or model. If you place it in a coffee can, or wrap in aluminum foil, that might help to distribute the heat more evenly.

    Good luck, and please let me know how it goes!

    Cheers,
    ~ Pete

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    NunoS46lyratron

    Reply 5 months ago

    Hi,
    First of all, thank you for your reply.
    It did not make the job. could not achieve an even heat on all the plaster mold. End up trashing everything as the heat gun heat up fast and bad on the front-face of the mold.
    As you advice I did put the mold on a metal can. My mold is about 8cm X 8cm X 10cm.
    I know now that I should point the hot air gun to the metal can and not directly to the mold. But I don't believe that would also work, It will not get enough heat on the all piece for sure. Also I can not run the air gun for hours, it probably blow up as this tools are meant for short periods of working time.

    Don't know where to go next... I think I am in a dead end.
    I don't have a kiln, I have a gas bbq grill but it does not make sense leaving it on for 3 hours at maximum power. I was checking for moldlay filament which seams very nice and I could burnout on a kitchen oven, but it is too expensive for my proposes. I am trying to make some parts of aluminium (220grams) but I can not waste more then 10Eur in doing it

    IMG_20190203_170418.jpg
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    lyratronNunoS46

    Reply 5 months ago

    P.S.: I have experimented with lost ABS casting, and it certainly does work. You may find with ABS that the material is harder to fully remove from the mold, and so your cast metal parts may at times have a patina of ABS. And of course it must get hotter in order to liquify (certainly in excess of 230 C). Otherwise, it is basically the same as PLA. :-)

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    Brysonh

    3 years ago

    Do you get bubles in the plaster mold when you pour the molten metal or when using different types of metals?

    3 replies
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    lyratron Brysonh

    Reply 3 years ago

    Bubbles usually form during the mixing phase. You should try to get them out before the plaster dries, or it will be too late. You can use an electric (vibrating) toothbrush, a back massager; whatever is handy. :-)

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    Brysonhlyratron

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks but i meant bubles in the metal peice that you cast after pouring

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    Questor1 Brysonh

    Reply 10 months ago

    Air Bubbles occur when mixing/stirring the Mortar with Water and can be difficult to remove from the Mortar/Water mix.

    The article author does not mention which Manufacturer/Brand/Product Name he chose to use for the Mortar material. I suggest using use Distilled Water (not Tap Water) for more consistent results.

    Vibration or agitation can be applied to the Mortar/Water mix to help move the air bubbles to the top of the container and release the Air.

    The amount and duration of vibration/agitation that is needed may depend upon many factors that could be hard to consistently measure.

    I do not know of any easy nor cheap way to consistently measure the percentage of air within a Mortar/Water mix. Air bubble pockets could be randomly found and suspended anywhere within a Mortar/Water mix.

    However to make a consistent and more effective Mortar/Water mix, you can try to:

    1.) experiment with the Mortar/Water percentage mix,

    + do not make the Mortar/Water mix too thick or else it may dry too quickly or while vibrating

    2.) *slowly* stir the Mortar/Water mix to reduce the amount of Air Bubbles that may gather within the mix

    3.) gently and completely insert the 3D printing Polymer object with its Sprue into the agitated Mortar/Water mix.

    4.) suspend the Sprue above the Mortar/Water mix and agitate or vibrate the Mortar/Water mix for a short period of time to remove any remaining air bubbles around the Polymer object.

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    John T MacF Mood

    3 years ago

    EXCELLENT!

    Question: Is there any estimable percentage difference due to plastic shrink or plaster shrink or expansion? Do the part(s) end up the exact dimensions you drew them in CAD?

    1 reply
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    Questor1John T MacF Mood

    Reply 10 months ago

    The final product shrinkage percentage seems dependent upon:

    1.) the casting metal elements composition,

    2.) the "lost wax" polymer burnout material physical properties under high heat

    3.) melting temp of the casting metal materials, and

    4.) how long in duration has the casting metal mix has been heated.

    + extended or repeated heating may affect the casting metal % composition and physical properties.

    The article author Lyratron uses Pewter (Lead/Tin mix percentages are not discussed) for the casting metal and recommends increasing the Polymer mold size by 2%.

    He does not discuss what is the melting temp of the Pewter casting metal materials.

    However, articles I have read about casting 260 Grade Brass (1850 deg F) parts recommend increasing the Polymer mold size by 4%

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    العاب طبخج

    2 years ago

    This is perfect and good information brother i love it! Great and fantastic job my friend. My Best games is cooking flash on jeux4banat.

    العاب طبخ جديدة وحصرية فقط على موقع جو فور بنات الجديد

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    amineea

    2 years ago

    رائع صديقي صراحة معلومات رهيبة وموضوع لم اجد متله من قبل شكرا لك

    العبوا الان مجانا في مجموعة هائلة ورائعة من العاب تلبيس على الانترنت يمكنكم لعبها على الحاسوب والهواتف مرحبا بالجميع

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    geekster88

    3 years ago

    I'm sorry, but no.

    "The weaponeer community will be especially interested in this. Virtually everyone agrees that plastic guns were a horrible idea. With lost polymer casting, they don't have to be plastic anymore."

    Plastic guns were a bad idea, but not because they were flimsy. You should not encourage 3D printing metal guns, that could be used to harm people. Shame on you.

    Otherwise, wonderful idea and instrucatble.

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    lyratrongeekster88

    Reply 3 years ago

    Shame on me for what? For being an amateur gunsmith?? It's fun - you should try it! I'm not encouraging anyone to harm anyone here. I'm encouraging experimentation. I don't know where you're located, but here in America, everyone owns guns. It's considered normal. Like the 99.999% of Muslims who aren't terrorists, 99.999% of gun owners aren't psycho killers. It's really unfair to say that I've done anything wrong by encouraging my fellow weaponeering hobbyists. I'm glad you liked the instructable otherwise. Cheers.

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    John T MacF Moodlyratron

    Reply 3 years ago

    It is still legal for an amateur gunsmith to make a complete weapon, barrel and all, so long as it is NOT for fullly automatic operation, as stated above. (With some exceptions)

    Until they repeal the Second Amendment, If you;re anti gun, then don;t buy or own one. Don't try and infringe on my right to own my own. The author, lyratron, kept it legal.

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    John T MacF Moodlyratron

    Reply 3 years ago

    Amen and kudos for showing a good method for repairing or replacing parts that may not be available any longer. Try finding a sliding block for the trigger assembly for an old (pre-1900) revolver. They ain't out there...

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    John T MacF Moodgeekster88

    Reply 3 years ago

    I am a retired police officer, and there is nothing illegal about making
    a replacement part for a weapon, so long as said part does not vary
    from the original design AND that it is not for a full auto weapon, or
    for modifying a weapon to fully automatic operation. These restrictions
    are not applicable to those who have a Class 3 FFL, or a legal document
    from ATF called a Stamp, allowing manufacture of a replacement seer
    for full auto.

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    GregF35

    3 years ago

    Encouraging video! Thanks. It looks like you are using the Hot Pot 2 to melt aluminum. I thought that only got hot enough to melt lead (big temperature difference). Can you confirm I saw what I thought I saw? Other thing's i've heard. Don't use plaster directly but add 50% sand. Glad to see this work. I've been researching sand casting but this is a heck of a lot less hassle.

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    TheOriginalNerd

    3 years ago

    Very useful instructable and excuse me if someone else has suggested this already, but I did not read all the comments. Instead of burning out the plastic, couldn't you use the water soluble material (PVA, I think) when creating the 3D print and then just wash out the original? Or is the heating process also intended to bake the plaster?

    1 reply
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    lyratronTheOriginalNerd

    Reply 3 years ago

    that's an excellent suggestion! no, i don't recall anyone suggesting that before. what a great idea! i don't have any PVA on hand, but if i ever get some, i'll be sure to try it. melting out the plastic usually isn't the problem. PLA melts out easy. ABS is trickier but still works. what you suggest may or may not work, because the plaster might not like being rehydrated. you still need to use molten metal, though, which will result in part shrinkage as the object cools. thanks for the idea! cheers, ~P