These are week-long foundry events which are hosted at the end of each academic semester at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. Students, faculty, artists, and foundry professionals work together to melt and pour iron.
The centerpiece of these events is the Pele Cupola. A cupola is a refractory-lined cylinder, fueled with coke (refined coal) and forced air. When the coke is burning, air is introduced, and scrap iron is charged into the cupola. The heat causes the iron to melt and collect at the bottom of the cupola.
The Pele Cupola is named after the Hawaiian volcano goddess. The cupola is a functional work of art in and of itself. The sections of the cylinder are cast in iron and the base is fabricated out of steel.
Imagery used to accentuate the cupola include the use of snakes and eggs which define the windbox. Both images are symbolic of regenerative forces. Snakes shed their skin and are born again. Eggs hold life in its most fragile stage. Likewise, the cupola swallows raw materials, melts the iron into a liquid state, and transforms it into the artistic visions of the workshop participants. Pele serves as a sculptural midwife.
New elements are continually added to the Pele Cupola. Cast bronze flowers turning into flames now connect the upper stack of the cupola to the tapered stack. The same imagery serves as a charging guard above the cupola. The screen of flowers and flames keeps material and fuel in the stack and it visually crowns the volcano goddess.
cast iron, steel, refractory
windbox and taphole
bronze charging guard
PELE MOLD WORKSHOP
The pour is preceeded by a moldmaking workshop. Participants bring a clay or wax pattern of what they wish to cast. Silica sand is mixed with resin and catalyst and is rammed over the pattern. What results is a 3-dimensional negative image of the original. The mold is what recieves and holds the molten iron until it solidifies.
left to right:
Rico Heintz, Howard Amundson, Ron Beyerstedt, Cam Choy, Roch Kendrick (kneeling)
Ron and Rico are the reason why we are able to run such a smooth and efficient operation. They have 50-plus years of foundry experience between the both of them and they have been kind enough to donate their time and effort for our program.
Ron owns and operates a specialty production foundry in Winona, MN called Ferrous Inc. His knowledge of metallurgy and foundry practice is an invaluable resource.
Rico is the sales representative for Ferrous Inc. and numerous other foundries in the upper midwest.
Along with helping out our program, Ron and Rico design systems to increase efficiency in industrial foundries across the country.
DAY OF THE POUR
Participants gather around for instructions.
Molds made during the workshop are placed in a line to receive iron.
Approaching the start off the pour. It takes about 3 hours for the cupola to burn in. The coke is burning red hot and the refractory lining is pre-heated. Forced air and pure oxygen are introduced to accelerate the burn.
Scrap iron is then charged into the top of the cupola. The heat of the coke melts the iron into droplets which pass through the burning coke and collects in the bottom of the cupola.
The molten iron is held back by a temporary clay plug.
Solid fuel used to fill the cupola.
Fragment of auto scrap starts at the top of the cupola in between layers of coke.
Forced air and pure oxygen are introduced via the windbox to accelerate the burn and melt iron.
The glow of burning coke radiates from the tuyeres, where forced air from the windbox enters the cupola.
A temporary clay plug is tapped with a steel rod releasing the flow of molten iron into the ladle. We can estimate the amount of iron by the elapsed time between taps. A normal tap will produce about 125 lbs. The Pele Cupola can produce up to 325 lbs. in a single tap.
Elapsed time between 125 lbs. taps is approximately 5 minutes. During this interval, the ladle is brought down the mold line to fill molds with iron.
Once the ladle is full, a new clay plug, called a bot, is pushed in place. Molten iron begins to collect in the cupola well again.
JUST LIKE WATER
Molten iron is poured into molds
5 MINUTES LATER
Once molds are poured, the ladle is brought back for another tap. A new pour team suits-up and we do it all over again.
We will tap about 20 to 25 times during a pour. That's 2500 to 3000 lbs. of iron. Everybody has a chance to tap, bot, or pour at least once.
Putting your trust in another sculptor makes you family for life.
At the end of the melt campaign, the bottom of the cupola is dropped through a trap door. Coke falls out and is quenched with water.
We end each pour with a Hawaiian Style cheer:
Cam: "RON RICO!"
Everyone: "NO KA OI!"
Everyone: "NO KA OI!"
Everyone is tired. Everyone is hot. Everyone has made friends for life! Time to go to a local establishment to decompress and grind some local pupus!
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