Since nearly all metals excepting tin and lead have high melting points, it is hard to melt them unless you have a regular furnace.
But casting metals is a fascinating process and you can do it by melting 25 parts of lead and 75 parts of tin together which forms an alloy called pewter.
This alloy is as old as the hills and for ten or eleven centuries before the golden age of invention - that is to say the beginning of the 19th century - pewter utensils were used in nearly every home in every civilized country.
Then came the invention of cheap processes for making pottery and glass and those good old hard alloys known as britannia metal, which is formed of tin, copper and antimony, and German silver, which is German all right, for it was first made at Hildburg-hausen, Germany, but it is not silver at all for it is formed of nickel, zinc and copper, went entirely out of use.
But there is a dignity and a beauty about pewter that none of the other common metals have and it may be revived one of these days for efforts are now being made to produce it again in all its former glory.
I do not know of any place where you can buy pewter but you can easily make the alloy yourself.
You can get the lead in your home town wherever you live at any plumbing shop but you may not be able to get the tin so easily. You can, however, get it by sending to the Conley Tin Foil Company, 521 West 25th Street, New York, and at the present time they are quoting pig tin in blocks at 75 cents a pound.
When you have the lead and the tin melt the lead in an iron ladle, see Fig. 39, over the kitchen fire and skim off the dross, that is, the impurities in it that come to the surface, and then put in the tin. After both are melted stir them well and then pour the alloy thus formed, which is pewter, in a pan that is oiled with sweet oil, to keep it from sticking and so make sheets of it of whatever thickness you want.
Fig. 39. Iron Ladle For Melting Pewter
Pewter can be worked like any other malleable metal, only easier because it is softer and more ductile, hence it can be hammered into any shape.
It can be cast as you will presently see and it can be soldered by using a flux of tallow, Gallipoli oil or Venice turpentine and pewterer's solder, which is made of 1 part of lead, 1 part of tin and 2 parts of bismuth.31 This solder melts at 203 degrees Fahrenheit, that is at a temperature of 9 degrees less than that at which water boils.
The way in which pewter is usually cast is by making molds of iron and brass and pouring the metal into them. But you can do a very good job of casting pewter by making and using plaster of Paris molds.
31 Bismuth is a reddish white metal.
In making any kind of castings you need a flask, that is a wooden frame made in halves, as shown in Fig. 40; the top half of the flask is called the cope and this must be fitted with pins that set in holes in the bottom of the frame or drag, as it is called.
When these pins set in the holes they keep the top and bottom parts of the flask together so that after the mold is made they can be taken apart and the pattern removed and then when they are put together again ready for the metal to be poured they will be exactly even. Make the top and bottom halves of the flask a couple of inches larger all round and a couple of inches deeper than the size of the pattern you are going to cast.
Fig. 40. How A Pewter Casting Is Made
You can saw or turn or carve out of wood anything you want to cast in pewter, provided it is not too intricate, and after sandpapering it nice and smooth all over give it a couple of coats of shellac varnish.32
32 This can be bought already made at paint stores or you can make it by dissolving some yellow shellac in alcohol.
If it is your idea to make table-ware of pewter you can use ordinary china dishes for your patterns, provided they are without handles, but before making a mold with any kind of a pattern in plaster oil it well all over with sweet oil, using a brush for the purpose, so that it will not stick and then you can draw it easily.