Editor’s Note: A set of personal circumstances took me away from reporting last month, so this story is rather late in coming. It should be noted, however, that the following iron pour described is offered biannually, UW-Whitewater sculpture department instructor Teresa Lind said, once each semester, and the regional nonprofit Wisconsin Makers, Inc. facility, which co-hosted this event, sponsors numerous other opportunities through which area residents might participate. Please excuse the time lapse. The next iron pour will likely take place in the UW-Whitewater sculpture studios in October, Lind said. For further information, contact Lind by email: Lindt@uww.edu, or Wisconsin Makers through Facebook, here.
By Kim McDarison
Edgerton residents Connie and Bill Macek watched eagerly as a crew of 14, many of them metal and sculpture students from within the UW-Whitewater art department and under the direction of art department instructor Teresa Lind, conducted an iron pour as a fundraising and community outreach event in support of both the UW-Whitewater sculpture studio and the regional nonprofit Wisconsin Makers, Inc. facility, 200 E. Clay Street, Whitewater. The event took place in April.
The iron pour offered participants an opportunity to purchase a sand scratch mold at a cost of $25 into which a design could be formed, using such improvised tools as a coat hanger, drill bits, screw drivers or even recycled dentist tools, Milton resident Kent Taylor said. He, too, was at the pour, watching his design, one resembling a human face, undergo the process taking it from idea to metal tile, also called a casting.
The Maceks worked on their mold, a six-inch-square sand and resin block, as a team, they said, creating an image which combined a symbol of religious importance to Connie with figures representing a hopefulness of boat ownership for Bill. The finished piece was called “Sunken Dreams.”
Another Milton resident, and Wisconsin Makers, Inc. member, Al Jewer, created a medicine wheel. While some of his time was devoted to sharing information about Wisconsin Maker’s computer equipment and its 3D printer, he, too, arrived outside, along with a crowd of about 30, all of whom watched intently as several three-man pour teams carried molten iron in a special ladle and charge crews kept the cupola — a customized furnace made from a discarded steel water heater with a refractory lining by Lind’s UW-Oshkosh students in 2010 — burning.
As the cupola reached 2,600 degrees, the temperature necessary to melt iron, flames leaped from its top and molten metal and impurities oozed from outlets at its base.
Lind explained the process, noting that the cupola takes several hours to set up and an hour to “burn in” before it is hot enough to melt iron. A fuel called coke, which she described as a refined coal made to burn very hot, is introduced into the cupola in layers. The size of the cupola determines the weight of the coke charges used, she said, adding that in the case of her cupola, four pounds of coke are layered between 30 pounds of iron. Materials are measured by the students and then brought to the pour site.
Iron is collected year-round, Lind said, in the form of old bathtubs and radiators, with many items coming from Kienbaum Iron and Metal, Inc. in Whitewater. “They are wonderfully generous to the sculpture area and students,” she said. Once collected, using a sledgehammer, students break the iron into three-by-three inch pieces that will fit within the cupola, Lind said.
In Whitewater, setup for the pour began at 9 a.m. with the actual pouring, or filling of the molds, beginning at noon. Pouring the 30 or so molds on hand took nearly two hours, Lind said, after which students used grinding equipment and wire brushes to remove sharp edges from castings, which were returned to each artist while still warm.
Once the pour is completed, Lind said, a door at the bottom of the cupola is opened, allowing the hot materials to drop out. Water is then applied to cool the discarded materials. The cupola itself must be left to cool on its own, she said, otherwise it could crack. Cooling the cupola might take a full day, she said.
Developing pour floor and charge team skills
Specialized skills are required to work on the various pour teams, Lind said, noting that of the 14-member team she assembled for the Whitewater pour, 12 were UW-Whitewater students, one was a doctoral candidate from Racine, and one was a fabricator from Milwaukee.
“Not everyone knows how to operate the cupola,” she said, adding that her goal is to train more students with each pour. Novice students are introduced to the work on the pour floor, she said, meaning they will learn, with supervision, how to operate the ladle with other team members. “I always have a couple of experienced people with me who can jump in and help,” she said. Included within a three-man pour team are two operators, one on each end, of the ladle’s long handles called “horns.” An operator, called a “driver,” uses the horn that controls the aim and flow of the metal, Lind said, and the opposite horn, is operated by the “shotgun,” who works to keep the ladle level. A third team member, a “skimmer,” uses a tool to hold back impurities that may have surfaced within the hot metal. Two other pour floor workers accompany the pour team with shovels, Lind said. Their job is to put sand on burning materials that fall to the floor, and block heat from members of the pour team as they work.
Those tending the cupola are part of a “charge team.” They load the cupola and keep it burning throughout the process, Lind said.
Of her students, Lind said: “They are amazing. We practice with dry runs at the beginning of each pour so everyone knows where they need to be. They are told not to panic even if they start on fire; if they do start on fire, somebody else will put them out. Everybody is looking out for everyone else.”
Charge team members participating in a recent iron pour held at Wisconsin Makers, Inc. in Whitewater load the cupola, a custom-made furnace, with layers of coke, a refined coal developed to burn very hot, and scrap iron broken into three-by-three inch pieces. The process created molten iron that was used to fill sand scratch blocks with designs created by community and student participants. Proceeds are used to support the UW-Whitewater sculpture studio and the Wisconsin Makers, Inc., a regional nonprofit organization which provides various tools and education to help its members achieve manufacturing and prototype goals. Wisconsin Makers attracts and serves members from Jefferson, Walworth, Rock and Waukesha counties.
Members of a pour team guide an iron-filled ladle to a row of sand scratch molds waiting to be filled. Special clothing protects team members, many of whom are UW-Whitewater students. Before beginning the process, students practice working with the equipment, and in an environment of intense heat, are instructed not to panic if they catch on fire. Instead, they learn to depend on other pour floor team members to put them out.
Teams work in shifts as some molds cool while others wait to be poured. Broken bits of molds gather under the racks as each casting is removed and set aside to cool. After 45 minutes, they become cool enough to touch.
Larger molds positioned alongside of block mold racks encase pieces created by UW-Whitewater students.
Whitewater High School sophomores and members of the robotics club Gabe Schemmel and Cassi Hoxie (top left) display the mold they made, the casting from which will serve as a logo for the club, which entered into a competition last month. The club’s team is called Ferra Dermis, which is Latin for “iron skin,” Schemmel said. A graphite coating (top right) is placed within each mold to help reduce sand texture, leaving a smooth interior surface. The finished Whitewater High School robotics club logo casting (bottom) is placed to cool.
Edgerton residents Connie and Bill Macek (top left) wait to receive their iron casting produced from a sand scratch mold purchased through the Whitewater-based regional nonprofit Wisconsin Makers, Inc. The iron pour was held jointly as a community outreach and fundraising event for both the Wisconsin Makers, Inc. and the UW-Whitewater sculpture studio. A UW-Whitewater student grinds sharp edges from the Maceks’ casting (top right) called “Sunken Dreams.” The couple’s finished product (bottom), along with those made by several others, awaits a final wire brushing before being returned to the artists.
Milton resident, Al Jewer (top left) waits for his casting, a medicine wheel (top right) to cool. Jewer (middle left, at left) and his longtime friend and fellow Milton resident, Kent Taylor (at right) display their molds moments before they are assembled onto racks for pouring. Finished castings (middle right), including Taylor’s work (placed at far right) wait to receive a final wire brushing before they are presented to artists. Still warm to the touch, Taylor (bottom) receives his finished tile.
Engaged in cleanup, several pour team members collect and extinguish mold remnants after the castings have been removed. The biodegradable materials are discarded in an area landfill, Lind said.
Iron pour team members prepare cooling tiles for filing.
Several team members examine, file and brush pieces, some of which are work done by community participants in the form of tiles, while other, larger pieces are works made by team members themselves.
Tile artists as well as community members with interest assemble outside of the Whitewater-based Wisconsin Makers, Inc., building to watch the iron pour demonstration.
UW-Whitewater sculpture studio instructor and pour team leader Teresa Lind, right, examines iron after it has been poured into a sand scratch mold. A team member, left, removes discarded material from an already opened mold. Charge team members (back) tend to the cupola in which the iron is melted.
Castings (top left) cool; Lind (top right) carried a hot casting; Lind (bottom left) supervises activity on the pour floor; a pour team member (bottom middle) dons protective clothing; the empty and quiet cupola (bottom right) is left to cool.
Several photographs depict activities throughout the course of the event. Other similar events are planned, the next of which will take place at UW-Whitewater likely in October, Lind said. Those interested in participating can learn more by contacted Lind through email: Lindt@uww.edu, or visiting the Wisconsin Maker’s Facebook page, here.
Kim McDarison photos.
A video depicting the day’s events follows.