This section is from the "Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes" encyclopedia, by Norman W. Henley and others.
The method adopted in preparing molds and cores for aluminum work is necessarily somewhat the same as for brass, but there are particular points which need attention to insure successful work. Both in the sand and the making of the molds there are some small differences which make considerable variation in the results, and the temperature at which the metal is poured is a consideration of some importance.
In selecting the sand, which should not have been previously used, that of a fine grain should be chosen, but it should not have any excess of aluminous matter, or it will not permit of the free escape of gases and air, this being an important matter. Besides this, the sand must be used as dry as possible consistent with its holding against the flow of the metal, and having only moderate compression in ramming.
In making the molds it is necessary to remember that aluminum has a large contraction in cooling, and also that at certain temperatures it is very weak and tears readily, while all metals shrink away from the mold when this is wholly outside the casting, but they shrink on to cores or portions of the mold partly inclosed by metal. Thus, if casting a plate or bar of metal, it will shrink away from the mold in all directions; but if casting a square frame, it shrinks away from the outside only, while it shrinks on to the central part or core. With brass, or iron, or such metals, this is not of much importance, but with some others, including aluminum, it is of great importance, because if the core or inclosed sand will not give somewhat with the contraction of the metal, torn or fractured castings will be the result. Both for outside and inside molds, and with cores used with aluminum, the sand should be compressed as little as possible, and hard ramming must in every case be avoided, particularly where the metal surrounds the sand. The molds must be very freely vented, and not only at the joint of the mold, but by using the vent wire freely through the body of the mold itself; in fact, for brass the venting would be considered excessive. With aluminum it is, however, necessary to get the air off as rapidly as possible, because the metal soon gets sluggish in the mold, and unless it runs up quickly it runs faint at the edges. The ingates should be wide and of fair area, but need careful making to prevent their drawing where they enter the casting, the method of doing this being known to most molders.
If it is considered desirable to use a specially made-up facing sand for the molds where the metal is of some thickness, the use of a little pea or bean meal will be all that is necessary. To use this, first dry as much sand as may be required and pass through a 20-mesh sieve, and to each bushel of the fine sand rub in about 4 quarts of meal, afterwards again passing through the sieve to insure regular mixing. This sand should then be damped as required, being careful that all parts are equally moist, rubbing on a board being a good way to get it tough, and in good condition, with the minimum of moisture.
The molds should not be sleeked with tools, but they may be dusted over with plumbago or steatite, smoothing with a camel's-hair brush, in cases in which a very smooth face is required on the castings. Preferably, however, the use of the brush even should be avoided. Patterns for aluminum should be kept smooth and well varnished.
In melting the metal it is necessary to use a plumbago crucible which is clean and which has not been used for other metals. Clay or silica crucibles are not good for this metal, especially silica, on account of the metal absorbing silicon and becoming hard under some conditions of melting. A steady fire is necessary, and the fuel should reach only about halfway up the crucible, as it is not desirable to overheat the crucible or metal. The metal absorbs heat for some time and then fuses with some raidity, hence the desirability of a steady eat; and as the metal should be poured when of a claret color under the film of oxide which forms on the surface, too rapid a heating is not advisable. The molding should always be well in advance of the pouring, because the metal should be used as soon as it is ready; for not only is waste caused, but the metal loses condition if kept in a molten state for long periods. The metal should be poured rapidly, but steadily, and when cast up there should not be a large head of metal left on top of the runner. In fact, it is rather a disadvantage to leave a large head, as this tends to draw rather than to feed the casting.
With properly prepared molds, and careful melting, fluxes are not required, but ground cryolite—a fluoride of sodium and aluminum—is sometimes used to increase the fluidity of the metal. In using this, a few ounces according to the bulk of metal to be treated is put into the molten metal before it is taken from the furnace, and well stirred in, and as soon as the reaction apparently ceases the pot is lifted and the metal at once skimmed and poured. The use of sodium in any form with aluminum is very undesirable, however, and should be avoided, and the same remark applies to tin, but there is no objection to alloying with zinc, when the metal thus produced is sold as an alloy.
Aluminum also casts very well in molds of plaster of Paris and crushed bath brick when such molds are perfectly dry and well vented, smoothness being secured by brushing over with dry steatite or plumbago. When casting in metal molds, these should be well brushed out with steatite or plumbago, and made fairly hot before pouring, as in cold molds the metal curdles and becomes sluggish, with the result that the castings run up faint.