Field – Option 1 : Synergies Between Materials & Technology

Pewter Casting

Pewter is an alloy which is made by mixing two or more types of metal together. It is a soft metal and can be melted at a low temperature, approximately 230°C. Because of its soft characteristic it can be easily cut with a hacksaw and modified after it comes off from the mould.

Casting moulds can be made from a range of materials such as plaster, MDF or casting / moulding sand such as petrabond. Petrabond is a fine grade of sand combined with oil. In this workshop we were advised to make a plaster moulds or sand mould.

Making a casting plaster mould, I roughly drawn a pattern on a piece of a small block of plaster. Its surface had already been evenly smoothed and flattened, and I then carefully carved away the plaster. It is quite easy to work with as it is not a hard material. It is very important to carve a “feeding hole” for pouring the molten metal into the mould.




Once the mould is ready, pewter ingot can be cut into the right amount for heating in a ladle.

Materials are able to endure heat were arranged around the ladle. A protection glove is necessary for preventing injury from hot melting pewter or flame from the blazing torch.


As the temperature rose the pewter began to melt and quickly formed a molten liquid. The mould was set in sand in case any of the molten pewter ran down the side of the mould. Then the molten pewter was carefully poured into the mould. The mould was simply kept on the surface of the sand while I waited for it cooling down.




When the pewter has cooled the mould can be opened and the casting can be removed. The pewter casting will need some work with hand tools to remove the excess metal. The pewter is so soft, making it easy to shape.






Spot Welding

In this lesson we were taught to use a spot welder to make wire work. Spot welding is used to bind two pieces of metal together by sending an electrical current through two copper alloy electrodes, thereby welding the surfaces together at that spot.

The power of the current can be adjusted depending on the thickness of the metal. If the power is too weak metals will not be adhesive while if it is too strong a hole will be melted through the metal. Aluminium, steel and copper are all suitable for welding. In the lesson we used mild steel wire and copper wire.


P1000542 P1000543




Ceramics Workshop

Duncan Asycough

Pete Castle

There was demonstration from the two tutors of different decoration skills and techniques used in ceramics.

We were shown how to use slip to decorate leather-hard dry clay, print transfer (decal), oil-based print ink to transfer design onto ceramics and onglaze enamels.

I am particularly interested in print transfer as a desired design can be created in advance by using CAD software then printing on decal paper and transferred onto ceramic surfaces. The advantages of print transfer is that a design can be accurately made, rapidly transferred to ceramics and repeatedly reproduce with an attractive market-worthy finished product.

Slip decoration by using stencils and a string



photo (1)



Lithophane was invented around 1820. Back then it was carved by hand on a thin sheet of porcelain or carved on wax which was then used to make a plaster mould for porcelain slip casting to create a porcelain lithophane panel. The translucent panel has various thickness. Where it is thinner, more light will get through and the thicker areas tend to be darker.

Hannah Blackwell hand engraving an image on wax

Hannah Blackwell hand engraving an image on wax

Nowadays, the CNC machine can take care of all the time-consuming work. A black and white higher resolution photo is preferred as it gives better contrast, then converts the image into a CNC machine recognisable file format for milling. The engraved image appears rather crude under normal light but it produces a dramatic change if it is placed in front of a light. The 2D image will instantly transform into a 3D image.

Similar as the CNC wood cutting (video shown below) but the scale of this CNC milling machine is much smaller.

cnc router

The Lithophane reminds me of a similar technique which is used in Chinese traditional porcelain craft called the rice-pattern technique which is thought to have first appear in the Ming Dynasty. The technique is to exquisitely engrave or cut out grain-rice pattern on a porcelain vessel then fill the holes with specially made glaze and then the whole piece is glazed for glaze firing. After the glaze firing the holes become translucent and have a glassy finished effect.




In the workshop we use white polymer called HIPS instead of porcelain

photo (5)

image (2)


CNC Cutting


” CNC” abbreviation of Computerized Numerical Control. CNC operation is a process using computer numeric to control machine tools such as drills, saws, lathes, mills, routers and grinders precisely cut out materials such as metal, wood or plastic instead of conventional machines which work with hand-operation during the cutting process. Workers usually rely on their experience and measuring tools to measure cutting products. The CNC machine does not only repeatedly cut out products in a same size or shape but also accurately cut out complex shapes and patterns. To achieve this computer-aided design (CAD) software is used to assist to create and design products. The CAD allows us to draft a design in either 2D or 3D form and provides a clear perspective to the product which enable the designers to improve and modify their designs quickly and extend design possibilities. The software can interpret the design (file) into the exact file format which can be read by the CNC machine processor before being loaded into the CNC machine for cutting.

Rhino 5, a powerful and advanced CAD software, was introduced by Mr. Jon Pigott. It is a rather advanced modelling software and widely used by architects and engineers.

To carry out a complex design I believe I have to spend quite a long time learning about the software, so I opted for a simple design. Even though my design is only straight lines, it took me hours to finish even with help from one of the Field’s group members.

I drew up a draft of a storage unit which I wanted to make, then made a model with cardboard.




Working on Rhino – based on limitation of time and experience I managed to learn how to use Point, Line and Solid Creation tools to create my design.


This video shows the CNC machine router running across a piece of MDF’s surface. The CNC machine is set to drill the MDF for 3mm depth at a time and it will be repeated 4 times until it reaches 12mm, which is the thickness of the MDF.

Neat and sharp angles are efficiency and delicately cut by the machine. The whole process from start to finish took about 20 minutes.




Put finishing touches to my storage unit.








3D Printing

I have been looking forward to this 3D printing demonstration for a long time. 3D printing has been used by manufacturers for decades to create rapid prototypes or concept models. But the situation has changed and 3D technology is now commonly used by small scale factories, businesses and is personally owned. Designs can be modified on a computer combined with appropriate CAD software then the 3D printer can rapidly turn a 2D image into a 3D object.

The first time I heard about 3D printing was from a piece of news which regarding bio-printing development in China. Having learned more about the technology, I searched through information on internet extensively and I was amazed by the versatility of this technology. 3D printing is widely used in different industries such as the manufacture of cars and medicines, in film making, food production, jewellery making and education purposes. 3D printer can also be privately owned for creating uniquely designed toys, tools or household goods in any sizes or colours to suit your personal tastes.

In the demonstration the Sense handheld 3D scanner was used. The scanning process is quite simple. First, started the software and chose the size of the object we wanted to scan. The software has options for bust and full body / large scale scanning. As long as the right distance has been adjusted the scanning can be started.

The scanning subject (person) was sitting still on a chair and another person who was holding the scanner and a computer walked slowly around the subject. We should have used a rotating chair to spin the subject slowly to avoid too much movement to the scanner as it caused lost tracking.

During the scanning white patches can be seen on the subject’s image on the computer which means it is still waiting for a signal from the sensor. In this case, slow down or stop for a while to wait for the sensor to capture the subject image and until the white patches are covered with colours.



Once the scanning is complete, stop the software from the computer and solidify and save the image for further use, the file format at this stage is .ply. Then it will be converted into .obj file format for printing in Makerbot 3D printer.

We were asked to download a 3D object from a site called Sketchfab then used a CAD software, Meshmixer,  to combine our own scanning with the download object.

Compare with the Rhino the Meshmixer is easier to use and rather straight forward.

To my own scanning, I discard the body from under the neck, and then cut off the head of my downloaded object, Lady Liobhan. Then I scale down or enlarge both objects into a right scale for joining.

my head_1

my head_2

lady siobhan

Both objects joined together but there was a big gap behind the neck, so I gave it a hair extension by using the Transform

my head_4

my head_6

Most of the big gaps were covered but small holes around the neck needed to be filled in. Auto Fill did a very good job of fixing this issue, it automatically found and filled in all the holes and gaps of the objects.

After reviewing the whole object without any problem, the file can be converted into .obj file format for printing in Makerbot.

my head_5

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Augment Reality

Augment Reality (AR) is a cutting-edge technology. It brings a digital world into a real life environment in which it constitutes a virtual space and real world interaction. Basically, AR takes an existing picture and blends new information into it. It is a combination of using camera, Wi-Fi in the smart phone, tablet, or laptop and appropriate app to achieve the result.



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Reflection to the option 1 project

In general, ceramics are mainly decorated with glazes, slips and transfer print. The reason I chose this option is I would like to expand vocabulary in ceramics design.

Although it is only an introduction of materials used in different disciplines, I am very pleased with the overall experience.

In the pewter casting workshop I was taught how to use a plaster mould and sand mould for pewter casting. The pewter reminded me of some ceramics work which was made around the 17th century in England and China, decorated with silver.  As the pewter is characteristically soft and can be melted at a lower temperature than silver, it is easier to manipulate. It can probably be used in my design.

Lithophane is also something I felt familiar with as it was first invented by the Chinese in the Ming Dynasty and a similar technique is still being used nowadays.

Over time, machines have replaced all the hard work. The most impressive experience of all was the CNC wood cutting. The storage unit is the biggest and fastest finished product I have ever made. Although wood cutting is not much related to my subject, I am very keen on learning the CAD software, Rhino, as it is not only for CNC cutting’s design but also for 3D objects creation, which is what I am interested in.

I have been looking forward to learning about 3D printing for a long time. I am amazed by the outcome that can be achieved through use of this technology. It may be a great help in ceramics’ designs. In ceramics creation, the process from idea generation to final firing is time consuming. Sometimes, the outcome may not meet our expectation. With the assistance of the CAD software and 3D printing a concept model can be easily modified before making and physical objects can quickly be made and viewed. It prevents wasting of time and material.

After this module, I think pewter and CAD software are areas that I would like to investigate further.


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