Making the plaster production mold

In the last post, I described the making of a rubber master mold. This time I’ll show how that master mold is used to make a working plaster mold. That is the purpose of the master mold; it becomes the mold for making a mold. One by one the rubber mold pieces are removed and replaced with plaster ones until the whole thing is replaced with a plaster version. So that’s what we’ll be doing here.

When I made the master mold, you might remember that I poured one of the large flat sides first. Once I begin making a plaster mold, that process goes backward. I will actually start with the smallest, innermost pieces and work my way outward. In the case of this mold, there is only one inner piece so I’ll start there.

Here I’ve removed the inner piece and banded the mold back together. I don’t need to box the mold at this point, because the rubber will contain the plaster. You can also see that the plaster backing on each side of the mold allows me to band the mold firmly without risking distortion of the inner image.

Here I have started pouring the plaster into the cavity.

As soon as the plaster begins to firm, I scrape it flush with the outer edges using a straight edge. Flush edges make it much easier to box the mold when the larger pieces are poured.

I only have to wait until the plaster has set and is solid. It won’t be dry for another few days, but solid is all I need for now. Here I’ve taken off one side of the master mold (the one with the negative of the design) to reveal the inner piece. This piece will get a few coats of mold soap to keep it from sticking to the next piece, and then it’s time to box it all up again.

(Oh, and it’s better not to remove the plaster pieces after they have been poured if you can avoid it, since the seal helps prevent later pours from leaking inside.)

Here I am pouring plaster into the mold box containing the bottom half half of the mold and the inner plaster piece.

Here’s everything so far, just released from the mold box. The thicker piece of plaster at the bottom is the plaster mold. The amber area in the middle is the rubber piece with the design (the piece we just poured plaster on to) and the thinner piece of plaster at the top is the backing. I’ll be taking that backing off for the moment so the rubber has a little more give to it when I pull it from the production mold.

You can see from this picture that while the rubber does have some give, it’s still pretty rigid. (You can also see that I missed my curing window for using the marbles on the back of this piece, and had to cut keys in by hand. Hate it when that happens!)

So here are the first two pieces of the production mold. All that’s left now is the “lid”. That’s the piece that will fit over the top and will have a holes drilled for pouring the slip. Tile molds are typically open-faced so that moist clay can be pressed into the design cavity. Slipcasting molds need lids so the cavity can be filled and then drained. (That’s why medallions and plaques are hollow, and tiles are solid.)

To make my lid, I’ll need to fill the design cavity. Normally when I make my rubber master I pour an insert – a rubber version of the design – that I use for this. Unfortunately for this project, I ran out of rubber with the last piece of the master mold. So until the box arrives with more, I’m stuck filling it with moist clay.

I don’t have to worry about getting a good casting – just with filling the cavity so I don’t get plaster inside the design area.

Here I’m scraping the clay level with mold.

Now I’m ready to soap the mold and box it up so I can pour the lid. You’ll also notice in these last few pictures that I cleaned up and rounded the edges of the mold a bit. That helps the mold fit in the mold box a little better.

These are the finished lid and the bottom half of the mold. The moist clay insert has been removed, but it has left a bit of a stain on the mold. Of course, the mold is going to look used soon enough, so it doesn’t really matter.

The finished mold has had pour holes drilled into the lid (facing away from the camera) and then been reassembled, banded and left to dry for a week or so. I usually place the drying molds near the kiln, though not quite as close as in this picture. (The kiln was not running when this picture was taken, so I moved the molds closer to it so I didn’t keep tripping over them.)

Now comes the hard part – resisting the temptation to pour slip into the mold until it is well and truly dry!

2 Responses to Making the plaster production mold

  1. Mel Miller January 12, 2008 at 7:40 am #

    I’m loving these photo filled tutorials Lesli. Thank you so much! I can’t wait to give it a try, and I definitely feel better equipped to experiment now. 😀

  2. Lesli Kathman January 18, 2008 at 3:43 am #

    I can’t wait to see what you do, Mel!

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