Making of a Figurine Tooling Stage 1 - Rubber Mold Part 1

With the design and sculpting process complete the toolmakers will prepare for production. To preserve the original sculpture they need to make a master sculpture which will be used for the production of multiple figurines. This process is known as tooling and has two stages.

In the first stage, the toolmaker must create a mold from the original sculpt. He uses clay to create a case that covers half of the sculpture. He then presses holes into the clay around the outside of the figurine, which will create locking points for the mold. Liquid silicone is then mixed and quickly poured over the sculpture and case before the silicone cures. Before the silicone is dry, the toolmaker uses a small brush to push the mixture into every crevice making sure there are no air bubbles. The layer is then left to dry for an hour before repeating the process two more times.

Making of a Figurine Tooling Stage 1 - Rubber Mold Part 2

Once the last layer of silicone is dry the toolmaker builds a frame around the case and pours a thick layer of Plaster of Paris over the top. This layer works as a support for the silicone mold. Once the plaster is dry, the walls are removed leaving a plaster block.

Making of a Figurine Tooling Stage 1 - Rubber Mold Part 3

The case is then turned over, and the clay base is broken away to reveal the first half of the rubber mold. The sculpture is cleaned up with a soft brush to remove any remnants of clay left, before repeating the process on the other side to create the complete mold.

Making of a Figurine Tooling Stage 1 - Rubber Mold Part 4 Making of a Figurine Tooling Stage 2 - Creating The Master Part 1

With the rubber mold complete the toolmaker moves to stage two and pours in a hard resin material to produce the “master” sculpture for production. The "master" resin model is then cut into several pieces to ensure each figurine is reproduced precisely. It is placed back into the mold to check that it fits together correctly.

Making of a Figurine Tooling Stage 2 - Creating The Master Part 2

The toolmaker will begin to make individual tooling for each part of the figure. They first build a clay frame around each section and again each is half submerged in clay. Then Plaster of Paris is poured over the top left to dry. This process is repeated for the other side and each individual part.

Making of a Figurine Tooling Stage 2 - The Individual Tooling Pieces

All of the mold parts are cleaned and smoothed and numbered. The tooling process is repeated many times because more than one set of molds will be required in production. The production molds are regularly replaced after being used approximately 20 times, to help ensure each piece has the same level of detail as the original model.

Making of a Figurine Casting

Casting begins with a liquid clay slip poured into the molds. After a short time a thin layer of clay forms on the inside of the mold, the excess clay is then poured out. The plaster mold is very absorbent and will draw the water out of the wet clay until the clay is a solid form and able to be handled. The mold can then be pulled apart and the solid clay figure removed. Each piece is left to dry out in the air before it can be moved to the next stage.

Making of a Figurine Assembly

Once all the parts have been cast and dried it is time to assemble the figure. Using a small amount of liquid clay the parts are then joined together. Care is taken to smooth away any seam lines. At this stage, it is important that air can flow freely through the figure. Small hidden air holes are added to prevent it from exploding during the firing process.

Making of a Figurine Assembly - The Details

Often figures have added details such as handmade flowers. The flowers are built up petal-by-petal, by experienced flower makers. The small, detailed pieces are fired separately and then carefully attached to the figure using liquid clay.

Making of a Figurine Assembly - Supports & Firing

"Once fully assembled, the entire figurine is fired for the first time at 2192 degrees Fahrenheit. Figurines can be very delicate, and supports are needed to ensure they do not bend or collapse during the firing process. The supports are made from the same material used during casting. During the firing process, water evaporates from the clay, reducing the size of the figurine and supports by 14%. After firing, the kiln is opened and left to cool down slowly. If the door is opened too soon, the delicate bone china body will likely crack.

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◄ Part 1 - Design & Sculpting | Part 3 - Glazing COMING SOON