Testing their metal

Leslie Arntz

Art, science combine in casting lab


Justin Yablonski pulled on silver gloves to match his silver shin guards and jacket.

“I feel like a Hot Pocket,” the sophomore sculpture major said, dressed in a thermo-protective and fire-resistant suit. “Can I at least be a pepperoni Hot Pocket?”

Donning his helmet, he joined two classmates on the pouring stage. Using large metal tongs, they carefully poured molten aluminum into a sand mold in the metal casting lab in Room 102 of Van Deusen Hall.

Brian Gray, senior fine arts major, prepared the mold. But instead of designing a casting of a pan, plate or mechanical parts and pieces, he made a work of art.

With a Dremel, a high-speed precision rotary tool, Gray carved a free-form design into a hard, biodegradable sand mixture called “no-bake.”

“I wanted to make something you can’t find in stores,” Gray said. “This is a rare opportunity; you can’t do this kind of stuff at home.”

Assistant professor Mike Dragomier said that is what he enjoys about the fall section of his class when he teaches art students the science of metal casting.

“Obviously, they are more creative,” he said. “What they lack in maybe some mathematical or scientific skills and knowledge, they make up for in hard work and paying attention – they more than make up for in ambition and enthusiasm.”

As the mold filled, aluminum pooled on the top of the mold and onto the brick floor. The third member of the pouring crew poured sand onto the flames that appeared around the molten metal.

“If you used water, there would be an explosion,” senior crafts major Carolanne Tkach said. “Because of the rapid cooling, gases would expand too quickly. You don’t want to drip sweat into the crucible.”

Aluminum’s melting point is about 1,220 degrees Fahrenheit. Yablonski said the foundry was heated to 1,485 degrees.

“It’s extremely hot,” he said “It’s kind of a rush. It’s something that can sear your skin. It would probably burn you straight to the bone.”

Dragomier said Kent State’s foundry is able to melt any metal the students would need, but the capacity is limited. It can only accommodate pieces up to about 80 pounds, but that does not limit future prospects for students.

“The types of things we’re learning here are applicable to any size,” Tkach said. “We can take our patterns and ideas to make a huge sculpture.”

Dragomier said someone can screw up a 10-pound casting as easily as a 100- pound casting. Calculations for gating systems, the path the metal travels to get to the mold, the composition of metals and the forming of casts retain the same principles.

After the second class, Dragomier said he had students in the lab making their first castings.

“You understand the principles when you apply them,” he said.

He added that he wants to teach them more than the science behind making a good casting.

“The (College of Technology) is thinking in lines of a business making money on castings, not wasting time or materials,” Tkach said. “For a lot of artists, it’s difficult to price work and hours – what each step cost and what supplies cost.”

She said the students log the hours spent on a project, add the cost of materials and calculate how to price a piece.

“Students gain an appreciation for this as a manual process,” Dragomier said. “They understand not only the creative side, but the business side, too.”

Contact College of Technology reporter Leslie Arntz at [email protected].