We tried pewter casting on a bonfire this week. 

The first of our children turned 18 and became an adult and we thought that a birthday as important as that needed marking with something a little bit special.

Arwen has been wanting to do some work with metal for the past few months and we’ve been looking into doing some blacksmithing, but we haven’t got the resources to do that yet. So when I saw some images of pewter casting online, I knew that it would be just the thing.

I asked our kids to make some tiny moulds with clay a few days before Arwen’s birthday, but didn’t tell them what they were for – we wanted to keep it a surprise. After all, the covid-19 lockdown made it difficult to plan anything special for her big day.

We got a bit worried as her birthday drew nearer because the weather in Orkney has not been great lately, with high winds and plenty of rain. Not exactly ideal bonfire weather! But we kept a stash of wood from our trees in the workshop to keep it dry and kept our fingers crossed.

The morning of her birthday was warm and sunny, if a little windy and we had a lovely day playing some favourite board games and enjoying each others company. We went down to the beach for an evening picnic, planning to have the bonfire when we got back. While we were there the dark clouds started to gather, so we quickly finished up with the picnic and dashed back home.

Matt got the bonfire started straight away, but although the sky looked rather threatening the rain held off so we got out the moulds and explained to the kids what we were going to do.

Pewter has a low melting point, so it is perfect for working with at home and it only took a few minutes for it to get hot enough, even on our tiny fire.

Matt had bent the handle on a ladle and given it a little lip, before strapping it to a longer handle and we used that as our crucible.

I hadn’t been able to find out if the clay should be thoroughly dried out before using or whether it was better to use it while it was still flexible, so I had kept them wrapped loosely in foil for a few days. They were still pretty soft, but seemed to do the job and as we only wanted to use them once it didn’t matter if they got damaged popping out the casts.

All of our kids really enjoyed having a go at melting and pouring the pewter except poor Wren of course, being much too small. Although she was a bit frustrated at not being able to have a go, she enjoyed seeing the bonfire and being given a special piece of shiny pewter to add to her treasures.

She was also pleased to see all of the lambs playing in the field next to our garden, who have just moved down from further up the hill. 

I could tell by looking at Arwen’s face that we had picked just the right thing to round off her day. She said that she would love to do more and we learnt a lot about what worked well for the moulds, so I think that we will order more pewter and be a little bit more adventurous next time. It has also got her fired up about trying out more metal work and it was lovely to see her looking so enthused. She has always been very creative and is blossoming into a really talented artist. Covid-19 permitting, she will be leaving homeschool to do art and design at college in a couple of months before heading off to do a degree. A big change for us all.

Everybody was delighted with the results of our little pewter casting bonfire. We have a few rough edges to smooth off from the pouring process (a very steady hand is needed for it not to overflow!). It was surprisingly simple and I would thoroughly recommend having a go. There is something magical about making something with molten metal and I could see it in our children’s eyes as they removed there creations from the moulds.

A lovely day for a wonderful girl.