Medieval adventures

Pewter Casting

Reasonably authentic looking belt buckles can be made using pewter. Traditionally the mould would be carved from soapstone or the model was pressed into clay. The goal of this project was to make a buckle quickly so I (Penda) turned to the materials I had at hand.

We used Plasticine (modelling clay) for the model and Durabond 90 (plaster) for the mould. The pewter came from old pewter mugs we found at yard sales. This allowed us to make the buckles with a very low-cost factor- 50 cents for the pewter and the rest we had sitting around.

The first thing to do is find an authentic source for the buckle. This is very easy to do as buckles are one of the few artifacts that are commonly found. Do a google image search for an Anglo-Saxon buckle, and you will find lots. Many of them will be way too complicated, but if you browse through the images you will find ones that a common person would wear.

I used modelling clay to create the model based on a picture I grabbed off the internet. You can use jewellers wax, but I didn’t have any of that. Plasticine is easy to work with and forgiving. I chose a buckle that is one-sided, so a two-part mould was not required. Many pewter castings are single-sided, where you just pour the pewter into an open-faced mould.
Once the model is made, place it face up in a small cardboard box or tinfoil frame. Make sure it is secure (stuck to the bottom of the box). Make up some plaster (Durabond 90 worked for me) and make it fairly runny. Pour the plaster over the model. Gently tap the box for a few minutes. This will remove air bubbles from the plaster and is a critical step to success. Now you have to let it dry completely. This takes a while (a few days). I often place my plaster mould near my woodstove so it will try faster. Putting it in a sunny window also works.
In this case, I made wax models and ‘mended’ a damaged original. Instead of plaster, heat-resistant silicone was used. The technique is the same as plaster although silicone makes a flexible and re-usable mould.
Bargain store pewter vessels we meltdown.
The basic setup used to melt the pewter is a metal pot or ladle and a propane torch. You cut up your pewter mug into pieces and put them in the ladle. Light the propane torch and melt the pewter over the flame. The pewter melts better if you gently giggle it. A thin ladle is best for small jobs because it heats up quickly. A heavy ladle is better for large jobs because it stays hot longer. Don’t breathe in the fumes, they are nasty.
Just a standard propane torch will do the job. You can use a hotplate too but it takes longer.
A plaster mould and silicone model.
Here’s the buckle and two ends after they cooled and came out of the mould. Sometimes you are lucky and can reuse the plaster mould several times over.
Buckle attached to a leather belt. I should have used thread rather than synthetic sinew!

Some other pewter castings we have done using RTV silicone: