Introduction to Foundries
By Kristin Arzt
A foundry is a facility that creates cast metal objects. The first official foundry was calledCannon Shop and was built in Moscow in 1479. The 14th and 15th century foundry industry in Europe was known for the production of bronze and iron bells, canons, and cannon balls.This guide will cover how foundries operate, what foundry workers do, and how you can get started working in a foundry.
What is a foundry?
A foundry is a metal casting facility that creates metal objects by melting down metal, pouring molten metal into a mold, and letting it cool to solidify. Foundries are equipped with equipment, machines, tools, protective gear, and devices that all make this metal casting process possible. Foundry workers operate this equipment with a vast understanding and knowledge of the tools and materials used.
What do foundries do?
Foundries specialize in metal casting to create both ornamental and functional objects made of metal. The casting process includes patternmaking, creating a mold, melting metal, pouring the metal into a mold, waiting for it to solidify, removing it from the mold, and cleaning and finishing the object. The final cast metal object is a positive of the mold that was poured into. Molds can be made of ceramic shell, silica sand, plaster, or metal. Foundries can make anything from door and cabinet hardware, skillets and waffle irons, and machine parts. They are especially useful for larger cast metal objects such as bronze sculptures and bells.
Ferrous vs. non-ferrous metal foundries
Some foundries work with ferrous materials, while others specialize in non-ferrous materials.
Ferrous metal is any metal that contains iron, while non-ferrous metals do not. Ferrous metallurgy is more common than non-ferrous and represents about 90% of metal production worldwide. Non-ferrous metals include aluminum, copper, lead, nickel, tin, titanium, zinc, and alloys of these materials, like brass (copper and zinc) and bronze (copper and tin). There are different advantages to using ferrous versus non-ferrous metals for a project.
Functionality is the deciding factor when choosing which type of metal you will cast. For example, aluminum is commonly used for automotive castings because it is lightweight, reducing its weight and improving efficiency. On the other hand, cast iron is used for cookware because it has an excellent ability to withstand high heat.
Metal casting in a foundry
Metal casting is a 7,000-year-old process used in both manufacturing and fine art. Molten metal is transferred from a crucible into a mold to create a positive metal cast object during metal casting. The metal and mold are cooled, and the metal object is removed and finished. You can create a sand mold or ceramic shell mold in a foundry. There are many different approaches to casting. Learn more about the different ways to cast metal in this metal casting guide.
What does a foundry worker do?
Foundry workers work in a foundry facility to melt metals and create castings from molds. They create molds, partake in the casting process, monitor correct temperatures, and maintain equipment used in the foundry.
Working in a foundry requires physical strength. Workers may be required to lift heavy objects and walk or stand for long periods. Physical coordination is vital in this position to ensure the safety of the worker and their colleagues. Removing the solidified cast required the worker to have manual dexterity and knowledge of power tools. Foundry workers may also need to operate a forklift, which requires a simple certification.
In the United States, this position pays an average of $15 per hour. The job comes with a few health risks, such as long-term exposure to fumes, dust, and gases. Prolonged exposure can result in respiratory diseases, an increased risk of cancer, and other diseases. Working in a well-ventilated space and wearing a respirator is vital to filter out fine particles.
Considering a career in metal casting?
If you are looking to get started in a career in foundry work but are new to the process, try an introductory class. The Crucible offers a wide variety of introductory and advanced foundry courses. Beginners can learn chemistry and basic steps to make a cast metal piece, while advanced courses explore the intricacies of casting and metal finishing. We offer a fully-equipped wax room where you can shape and detail your patterns for casting metal. You can pour aluminum, bronze, and even iron in our foundry classes. If you would like to take it a step further, the American Foundry Society offers additional advanced classes and training opportunities.
What are the main risks and dangers in foundries?
When working in a foundry, the most common danger is long-term exposure to fumes, dust, and gases. According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic exposure to some of these hazards can result in irreversible respiratory diseases, an increased risk of cancer, and other diseases. It is vital to work in a well ventilated space and wear a respirator to filter out any fine particles.
Is foundry work dangerous?
It is essential always to put safety first when working in a foundry. Eye protection, closed-toe shoes, heavy gloves, and natural fiber clothing are all required when working with molten metals and open flames. Long-term exposure to dust, gases, and fumes is also a concern, so work in a well-ventilated space and wear a respirator when necessary.
How much do foundry workers make?
On average, foundry workers in the United States make about $15 per hour.
What do foundries make?
Foundries are incredibly versatile facilities that make cast metal objects. These objects can vary from parts used in different industries to functional or ornamental objects. A foundry may cast anything from a decorative sculpture to plumbing parts to machine components.
What is a foundry operator?
Foundry operators make metal castings and parts in the foundry. They cast metal objects into a mold and finish the product by sanding and applying a patina. Foundry operators have a very physical job and will often be required to lift heavy objects. They have an in-depth knowledge of all equipment, machines, tools, and devices they operate in a foundry.
What’s the difference between foundries and casting?
A foundry is a facility in which casting metal takes place. Foundries commonly specialize in casting aluminum, bronze, and iron. Foundries typically operate at a larger scale than metal casting that would take place in a jewelry studio, where a metalsmith would cast precious and semi-precious metals.
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