In Tudor times especially (And in the medieval period too), people used cast bronze/ brass buttons. The question is, how were they made? My earlier post Here, suggested that that these bronze/ brass, or rather copper alloy, buttons were actually far more common than pewter ones, yet pewter ones are more commonly used in re-enactments because of their ease of manufacture and cheapness.
Now we can tell easily how pewter buttons are made, because of the bits left on them from the mould. This stuff is called flashing, and has to be removed, usually by abrasion with a file, as seen on this modern reproduction button:
Yet a lot of the copper alloy ones don’t have such evidence:
(pictures from: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/574077 and http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/552832)
So the question is, why were traces left on pewter ones, given that pewter is softer and easier to tidy up, whereas the copper ones are very smooth on the outside?
The obvious answer is that the buttons are made by lost wax casting or in very very good moulds which don’t leave a line of flashing on the finished product.
The first step then is making the wax models. This turns out to be quite simple, you just carve a stone mould and pour wax into it:
This is the first button mould I tried to make, I dind’t do a good job so won’t be making buttons with it, but you can see how easily the beeswax has filled it, and the detail it picks up. Whether that detail will be transferred to the finished product is another matter. But there’s a lot of work left for me to do, in carving good soapstone moulds for pewter and making wax moulds. And once I’ve got lots of wax buttons I can put them into the usual kind of clay, melt the wax out, fire it, then pour the bronze in.
There’s at least one other way of making buttons with no flashing, by using fine casting powders in boxes, but that is the subject of another post.