Young People’s Page

Torque Power Live Steam Models Hyattstown, Box 144-D R. F. D.,
Ijamsville, Maryland 21 754

Hi There Young Engineers:

This article will be the first of several technical articles on
subjects related to the steam engine hobby. This one is on foundry
work. I am going to try and gear this article on foundry work so
that any young person interested in the building of model steam
engines can easily make his own castings. I will first give a
little history on foundry work.

Foundry work goes back to the Old Testament times when in the
day of Moses the children of Israel cast the Golden Calf. As to
when the first casting was ever poured, it is not known. The basic
means of foundry work has changed very little in all the time the
art has been known. There has always been two ways of melting

One is a cupola in which the fuel (coke) and metal (iron or
bronze) are mixed together. The cupola is an iron or brick
structure in which the fuel and metal are placed after a starter
fire has begun. Near the bottom of the cupola are vents where air
is forced in by a blower. At the bottom there is a hole to drain
the metal out. This hole is kept plugged up by mud jammed into the
hole along with a rod. When the rod is pulled out the metal will
flow out. To reseal the hole while the metal is flowing, mud,
again, is placed on the end of a rod and quickly jammed into the
hole. The heat of the metal quickly dries out the mud plug. The
metal being mixed with the fuel is melted as the fuel burns and
runs to the bottom of the cupola. The liquid metal at the bottom,
in time, floats any unburnt fuel and ash up to its surface, leaving
a pool of molten metal which is drained into the molds. The level
of the molten metal must not rise above the air vents. A good
foundry man keeps careful account of just how much metal is placed
in the furnace so that it will not overflow. This type of furnace
is probably the oldest type known, first being made of brick and
then iron lined with fireclay.

The second is a clay pot called a crucible in which the metal is
placed. The crucible is then placed in a hole in the ground which
is lined with brick. The fuel (coke or coal) is burned around the
crucible. Air is forced through a pipe to the bottom of the
brick-lined hole in order to burn the fuel. The crucible is picked
up by a pair of tongs and the molten metal is poured into the

This is okay for small amounts of metal, but after the crucible
gets so big, its weight, when full, becomes too great for two men
to lift safely. In the past, large amounts of metal were poured
this way and often men were seriously injured or burned to death
when a crucible was dropped. Today, this type of furnace has been
redesigned to make it safer. For one thing the crucible itself is
no longer made of clay but is made of compressed graphite. This
crucible is soft, not brittle like the clay crucible, and actually
becomes stronger when hot. The furnace has been changed to an above
ground type made of steel and lined with firebrick. It is made so
that the furnace can be tipped over and the metal can be poured
without removing the crucible. This furnace uses a graphite
crucible with an extended lip so that the metal can run out over
the edge of the furnace when pouring. This type of furnace is fired
by fuel oil or natural gas.

I have had many letters from people wanting to know how to make
castings. Some want to make iron castings and others want to make
brass castings. Each person wants to make castings for a particular
size engine.

It is fairly easy for a person to make small castings for
engines no bigger than ?’ bore using aluminum. Aluminum
castings of this size cost very little to make.

If you want to pour brass, then it is going to cost more to make
the casting. One of the problems with brass is that, unless you
have the best equipment and conditions to pour it, you will have a
hard time getting a good casting. One of the most heartbreaking
things is to pour a brass casting and find that it is full of gas
holes or has shrunk due to improper gating.

As for iron, forget about it. Let your local foundry make your
iron castings. It can be melted in a crucible, like brass and
aluminum, but is dangerous to work with. Unless you know something
about setting up molds and keeping the moisture content in the sand
just right, you could have a mold explode in your face while
pouring the iron into it. This is because of the high temperature
of the melted iron being poured into a wet mold. The steam will
blow the metal right out of the mold and often blow the mold apart.
I had a letter from a man who wanted to make iron castings for a
size steam tractor. To make the castings you would have to buy a
cupola which costs $5,000 for a small one, and this does not
include the materials which it takes to operate it.

The best material for a beginner to work with is aluminum which
you can find in your junk yard. For a hard, long wearing aluminum,
melt down old auto pistons. There is very little difference in the
alloys used by the different manufacturers of auto pistons. This
type of aluminum is the hardest known aluminum since it has a high
silicon content. If over-heated, it will become even harder. I have
had some so hard that it took the edge off of a tool bit, the same
as running cast iron too fast in a lathe will take the edge off of
a tool bit. Try not to over-heat it as it is normally very hard.
Over-heating will sometimes cause gas in the metal, especially with
aluminum. To get rid of gas in aluminum, before you pour it
sprinkle some baking soda on the surface of the molten aluminum and
stir it with a rod.

When making cylinders out of this aluminum, you can have the
cylinder with an auto brake cylinder honer just as you would an
iron cylinder. For a casting that should be soft use auto
transmission housings or any kind of scrap aluminum.

It is very easy to melt aluminum if you have a forge. Then all
you need is an iron pot like a plumber’s iron lead pot. Get one
as large as you can. Of course, this depends on how large a casting
you are going to pour. You should make a handle for it. In time the
pot will burn up but you will get a lot of use out of it before
that happens. You should also have a standard lead ladle so you can
dip small amounts of metal out of the big pot to pour little

If you don’t have a forge you can make one out of brick. The
inside diameter should be about 15′ and at least 5′ deep.
You will find that soft coal is the best to use as it turns to coke
in time while burning. Go to your local junk yard and find some
sort of blower you can rig up to use. Be sure to have a way to
control the flow of air. Further information on setting up molds
and making patterns will be in the next issue. In time, I will give
information on what you must have to pour brass. Well, that’s
all for right now.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment