Pewter Pilgrim Badge Demo 2018

pilgrim badgeAt the 2017 Kalamazoo we had planned to have Darrell Markowitz from the Wareham Forge give a demonstration of casting of pewter pilgrims’ badges, but due to unforeseen border crossing difficulties, we were unable to have him with us last year. So AVISTA restaged the demonstration this year, showing about 50 people how to cast a pilgrim’s medallion. We use the soapstone mold that Darrell had carved, and Steve Walton set up a small charcoal foundry (really just an iron ladle that sat on hot charcoal inside a cast iron pot) and on a very very cold day down at the Goldsworth Valley Pond gazebo, we made badges.

Fundamentally, making a pilgrims’ badge is as easy as melting pewter over a campfire and pouring it into a soapstone mold. Pewter has a very low melting point (traditional lead pewter melts at about 170–230 °C (338–446 °F), depending on the particular mixture of tin with copper/antimony/bismuth and other metals, typically lead and/or silver. Traditional pewter can have as much as 15% lead, though often stayed below 4% for vessels that would be in contact with food.  For health and safety reasons, we used to modern lead-free plumbing solder as a close approximation, which is a mixture of 94% tin, 1% copper, and 5% antimony (and we had a couple spools that had some silver in them!).  We did find that this has a much higher surface tension than traditional pewter, making it harder to flow into tight corners of a mold.

Some charcoal in a cast iron pot is more than sufficient to melt the metal. Workshop participants were than invited to dust the stone mold with cornstarch so that the metal would not stick, don the heavy leather protective gloves and hold the mold together with just their hand, and then ladle the solder in to cast the badge.  It all worked flawlessly and we made nearly four dozen badges in the two hours we were out there.

Thanks to all who survived the fridge temperatures to have the experience of casting a pewter badge.  And thanks to Darrell for sending the mold to us.

Photos of the workshop

This way to the pewter demonstration!

This way to the pewter demonstration!

A good crowd for the demonstration

A good crowd for the demonstration

Melting solder in the ladle over charcoal in a cast iron pot

The plumbing solder melts in the ladle

The plumbing solder melts in the ladle

Poster with information on medieval pilgrim badges

Pilgrim Badge Casting Demo Poster

Full size PDF of poster

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