The New Bronze Age

This past weekend I took time out from dinghy-building to participate in the bronze-casting workshop that has been offered by the Center for Wooden Boats for a couple of decades.  Originally launched by Sam Johnson, it has been ably taught by James McMullen for the past decade and a half.  The two-day workshop at the Camano Island CWB facility takes you though the basics of managing and using a simple low-volume foundry for casting parts of bronze that can be put to work on a boat.  Take your spouse and rent one of the Cama Beach waterfront cabins.

Most of us rarely use anything hotter than our kitchen stoves.  To bring 15 lbs of metal to 2000+ degrees and pour its molten spirit into a sand mold is an uncommon experience, at once primitive and technologically powerful.  Literally, transformative.  An undifferentiated chunk of alloy is transformed, by dint of conceptualizing, patterning, molding, melting, casting, and finishing, into a durable, useful boat part (or perhaps an object d'art) over a period of hours. To proceed over a mere pair of days from complete novice to, well, a novice with the rudimentary skills to effect such changes is nothing short of exhilarating.

There are many patterns made by the instructor that can be used to cast useful or attractive objects... Plaques, oarlocks, cleats, rings, pintels, gudgeons, and many others, including the ever-popular busty-mermaid marling spike (I did two, the second patterned from the first).  Some of us ventured into parts of our own design, as well, as with the tiller comb I patterned onsite and brought home to do final finishing.  A future post will show its installation and use on Ripple.

You'll also learn how to bootstrap yourself into all the tools necessary, including the foundry.  I am hopeful that some of the veterans of the workshop may coalesce into an informal casting cooperative to fire up some molten bronze on occasion.  Cast in stone has nothing on cast in bronze.

Want to play?  Demand for the workshop has occasioned the scheduling of a second workshop this Spring, to be held in late April.  Contact the Center for Wooden Boats for details.  You won't be sorry.

My productivity for the weekend included a rattler (a tool used in the making of the mold), two marling spikes, a bronze towing-eye for the dinghy,  and two pieces which I patterned myself, intended for use as a tiller comb when finished out.  I also had two casting failures, both with the towing eye.  Leaving the pattern in the mold is the most basic of bone-headed failures.  Glad I got THAT out of the way.


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