6.19.2012

Behind the Scenes: How to Choose a Metal Casting Company

sterling silver charms cast hint jewelry beth hemmila
sterling silver charms, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry)

This is a follow up post to one I did almost two years ago called "Finding a Metal Casting Company." I realized the other day that I never shared the details of my selection process, and how I made my final decision. Though I'm not going to include the name of the casting company I currently use because it always has the potential to change, you are welcome to contact me at beth@bethhemmila.com and ask me who I am using and why I chose them.

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So these days I only design models for Hint Jewelry charms in metal clay, fire them a kiln, and then ship these off to a metal casting company for a mold to be made and multiple versions of my charms to be fabricated. If you've never understood the casting process here is a post I wrote giving you some insight: "Thinking Big with Sterling Charms"

The way I ended up selecting my metal casting company was kind of like going on a bunch of blind dates. I wrote each of them an e-mail with my questions and spoke to several of them on the phone. Then I tried out two of the companies and requested a couple of samples of my charms cast. You can ask for samples in beginning because they know you want to see their end product and evaluate before diving in to spend more money. My test runs were usually two castings of two different designs. This was a period of building trust in the business relationship.

One surprise when I was first starting out is that I thought I would have to get 50 to 100 castings of one design, and I knew I didn't have the capital for this kind of venture. What I found is that all the casting companies I spoke to are willing to do short runs, so don't worry about only asking for 5 castings of a design.

How I decided was based on my own preferences and experience. Just like dating you kind of start to figure out what you want once you start test driving the relationship. Some of it was based on my needs for good personal relations -- customer service skills, shipping options, fast e-mail responses, clear communication, and consistency with quality castings and turn around times. Other things were more practical and had to do with pricing on molds, finishing options, materials used, and what the end product looked like.

Here's a list of sample questions you might ask a metal casting company:

Model Materials

Do they have any special requirements for models, like certain thickness, size on bails, etc. ?
What kinds of model materials do they accept?
How do you calculate shrinkage for rings?

Casting Material

What kinds of metals do they cast in? Do they supply the metal or do you?
How do they price precious metals like silver or gold?

Molds

What kinds of molds so they make for metal clay and how much do they cost?
How long do these molds last?
Do they store the molds or can you store them?
Do you need different molds for casting in different metals?
How do they handle molds for different rings? Do they make one mold or multiples?

Labor Costs

What are the labor costs for casting per piece? Will this change over time or is it consistent?
Do they offer price breaks on larger runs?
What is their minimum order?

Finishing

What type of finishing they do and what is the cost?

Production Time

What are their estimated turnaround times?

Shipping

What shipping options they offer?
(I always use UPS insured, and shipping can be a factor in the cost of your final product if you intend to sell retail. So if you can find a local casting company this might help you save on money if you can pick up your product.)


It's kind of a daunting process in the beginning, but people who do lost wax casting seem to know that what they do is a mystery to others so they will help educate you in the process. I recommend asking lots of questions and doing this with a variety of casting companies so you learn what it is that you are wanting. Then don't be afraid to just dive in a do a short test run to see how it all works.

8 comments:

  1. Great information! Your list is very thorough and easy to understand. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Cheers!
    Lori D.
    Atlanta

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    1. Thanks, Lori! I'm so glad my questions are helpful for sorting out this process.

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  2. Hi Beth,

    Yes, this is great information. Did you ever find the right caster? I am now looking for a silver caster in the Bay Area.

    Thanks,
    Summer Powell

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    1. Yes! Good luck with the search for one in the Bay area :)

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  3. Hi Summer,

    I too am looking for one in the Bay Area. Have you found one. Beth, did you say 'good luck' because you think it will be hard and that we should look outside the Bay Area?

    Maija

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    Replies
    1. Hi Maiji, so far I haven't found one in the Bay area that I want to use, but artists keep telling me they are continuing to look. No one has sent me information so I'm guessing the success has been limited. Most people I know have been using companies on the East Coast with success. Best of luck! Beth

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  4. Hi Beth,

    This has so far been very helpful information. I'm curious to know why it's so hard to find a caster in the Bay Area. Does it have to do with cost or quality or customer service? I am looking for one in the Bay Area, so just wanted to get your insight on this. Also, do you find any challenges with using a casting company on the East Coast since you're not physically there?

    Thank you!

    Kimberly

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    Replies
    1. Hi Kimberly,

      Thanks for letting me know this has been helpful information! I don't have an answer for you concerning casting in the Bay Area. It's kind of frustrating, but from what I can tell the jewelry industry has a stronger hold on the East Coast. Maybe it has to do with New York City and the fashion industry centered there. I haven't experienced any challenges using casting companies that are not nearby. The shipping costs are higher (not anything significant), but I've just factored that into my business expenses. Best of luck!!

      Warmly,
      Beth

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