Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Bubbles in Casting Mould Firings

There seems to be an increasing popularity for re-useable ceramic casting moulds.  One of the common problems with these moulds is bubbles.  

Frit size 
It rather depends on the sizes of the frit and cullet used as to how many and what kind of bubbles are created. The converse of expectations is what happens.  You get more small bubbles with powders and fine frits than with coarser frits.  The small bubbles rise and coalesce to form larger bubbles which rise more slowly as they have to push through a greater mass of material (just as in a liquid). Since glass is viscous, these little bubbles usually do not have time to push their way through the glass at fusing temperatures.  But at casting temperatures, there is less resistance from the glass, as it is less viscous, and so the bubbles can clump together and form the larger bubbles that burst through the surface.

Temperature range and rate of advance
The amount and kind of bubble also depends on the speed of the ramp and the bubble squeeze you give it. If you proceed rapidly to top temperature, you will have to go to a higher temperature, allowing the surface to become more plastic and be pushed out of the way by the expanding air that almost certainly is in the mix. A slow rise will allow all the glass to become the same temperature throughout without using a high top temperature, so reducing the risk of the bubbles pushing through the more viscous glass to the surface.

All these problems would be reduced by having a vent or sprue to allow the air out from the bottom. Almost all purpose made casting moulds have these things. Sometimes they are as thin as a few hairs (from somebody with long hair) to as thick as a toothpick. As you have to do some cold work on the results from these moulds anyway, a few little strands of glass should be no problem to clean up. If the manufacturers won't do it, it is possible to take your Dremel or similar drilling tool and with a fine drill bit and make these tiny holes in appropriate places.  

I do not understand why these casting moulds do not have tiny air vents at the bottom of the depressions. Yes, there would be a tiny pimple on the surface of the final piece, but this can be cleaned away easily. The holes could be really small diameter ones. They just need to be opened after each coating of separator with a fine wire. I'd be sending the ones without vents back to the manufacturer as not fit for purpose. If these moulds had vent holes, they would be a lot less bubble prone. 

Master moulds
If the mould continues to give trouble with bubbles, it might be best to take a negative of the mould that you can keep as a master.  Then make one-use investment moulds from this master positive as you need. Investment moulds usually allow air to move through the material pretty well, but you can add sprues if you want.

A further possibility is to drip the glass into the mould.  To do this you need to place a ceramic pot, supported by kiln furniture, above the mould with the glass for the casting in it.  Take to a temperature between 850°C and 900°C, depending on how long you wish to wait for the glass to flow out of the pot and into the casting mould.  The action of the glass forming in the pot eliminates many of the bubbles caused by frits and powders.  A further advantage is that this forming in the pot eliminates the possibility of the edges of the original glass pieces being seen. It would also allow you to add a different colour causing swirls or wisps of colour to move through the main colour.

The main effort is to eliminate the bubble formation.  This can be done with vents, adjusting the schedule, modifying the method by melting the glass into the mould, or making a master and individual investment moulds.  You can also combine several of these methods in one firing if you wish.