August 12, 2021 4 min read
The Silver Anvil Pendant is a special product here at Anvil Customs. It represents a journey we've been on intently for 8 months now. Although we might say that we've really been pursuing it for many years at this point. But why? Why is this modest piece so important? These pendants are the first products we've produced completely in house thanks to some new skills and some new equipment.
A point of pride at the Anvil Customs shop is the percentage of our goods that are made right here in America. We've been committed to buying American since day one. What's more is a desire to keep as much of the process in house as possible. Historically when a company wanted to offer a product like a custom pendant for instance, the process went like this: A wax prototype, usually hand carved was made. Then the business would send that prototype off to a casting house. Casting houses are third party casting professionals that make high quality molds of the object needing to be cast. Once that cast is made a limited run of those objects are cast in a precious metal. Those objects are then sent back to the business that can then begin selling them. As you can imagine casting houses are not cheap. And the good ones capable of doing a consistent quality run of goods are especially not cheap. They're also time consuming, and the back and forth of communicating particulars of your project with an outside company is no small matter either.
So we thought, "Wouldn't it just be awesome if we could just do this?" We live in a marvelous time to be a maker and craftsperson. There are logical, cost effective processes and equipment that could allow us to do just that. So we got to work.
Hand carved wax models are not forgiving. They are time consuming beasts and definitely not to be treated lightly. Computerized 3D modeling however is much, much more forgiving. Never underestimate the ability to perform the "Undo" command. So we started 3D Modeling. Or rather with Ryan's specifications, I (Nathen) started modeling. We use a free modeling program called Blender that is particularly powerful especially for an open source software. After a few months of practice and plenty of YouTube tutorials (which are great for anyone btw) we were able to come up with some solid models of potential products we could cast.
3D Printing is absolutely wild. We got a Formlabs3 Resin based SLA 3D Printer. This 3D printing process is unique in that the objects are created by curing very thin layers of resin on top of each other from within a submerged pool of resin. Effectively a build platform drops down into a vat of resin, and slowly a laser cures the resin layer by layer from beneath the resin pool. The build platform slowly lifts out of the resin and you're left with an inverted model printed solid from liquid. Formlabs offers a type of resin that is wax based. So instead of hand carving pesky wax models, we sculpt them on the computer and print our models instead.
Casting is a skill set that Ryan loves but it is not easy. Once the wax molds are handed off to Ryan he begins the arguably more difficult task of casting them. We use the lost wax casting method currently. This requires Ryan to construct a wax tree with the objects, let's say a handful of Anvil pendants, and encase it in a type of material called "investment." -similar to plaster. This combination of investment and wax is sealed in a container called a flask and then placed in a furnace. This furnace gets very hot and melts out the wax. What is left in the flask is a chunk of investment with a void in the shape of the melted out wax. Precious metal is also melted down separately. This molten metal is then poured (or in our case sucked with a vacuum) down into the void left in the investment. Once it cools, and the metal hardens the investment is dissolved with a simple chemical process, leaving a replica of the wax tree made from the precious metal. After that the objects (pendants in this case) are cut from the cast tree, cleaned up and polished.
We attach those shiny little Anvil pendants to a chainmaille necklace, similar to the classic wallet chains albeit with a smaller gauge of jump ring. And then it's ready to go!
So, it's a lot of work but its totally awesome. We're exceptionally proud of the process and the product and hopefully you'll appreciate it as well. The fact that we can now do this with any number of products or ideas means that in the coming year you're going to see a lot more of this type of thing come out of the Anvil Shop.