Nicolas Erauw discovered the lost wax casting process after immersing himself in Cup (2016-ongoing), a project in which he explored the effects of high temperatures on disposable materials. The influence of heat on the shape of polystyrene cups intrigued him, and during his research he came across the lost foam casting process: “It caught my eye as this process made it possible to eternalize the manipulated disposable cup in bronze; I was making something disposable last forever.” This attempt into working with metal turned into an exploration of other ways to cast bronze and aluminium, leading him to the lost wax casting process and the development of TONK, a machine based on the old technique of candle dipping.
TONK (coming from the Dutch verb tonken, which means dipping) is a machine that works with a dipping frame with vertical strings that loops into two containers of molten wax to 'draw’ his designs up. Every time the frame dips into the container a layer of wax is added, until Erauw determines that the right shape and width is reached.
Starting from a very simple CAD drawing, he worked hands-on with a 72-year-old welder to build the machine. With a rough idea of the machinery, they constantly adapted, improvised and problem-solved, making custom-made parts like gear wheels for the conveyor chain and heat elements for the two containers that contain the molten wax. Next in the picture was a technical specialist who wired the electrics and set up the programming. This wasn’t just about getting the best results, like any craftsman Erauw needed the tool he was using to express his ideas not dominate them.
Currently two different series are being made with the machine: Wax on/Wax off (2018-ongoing), where the wax pieces are immortalized and cast in bronze or aluminium, and Wax on/ Resin on (2019-ongoing), where he keeps the wax objects by optimizing them with glass fibre, pigment and resin so they become structurally sound enough to be used as a functional, finished product.
In the early phases of the Wax on/Wax off series things were kept simple, because the cast objects tend to have a very particular form and look. He starts with a basic idea like a chair, a lamp or a clock, and then quickly sketches things out to plan how all the different pieces will be dipped. The ‘designing’ itself happens more in the moment – by the material’s very nature it has to be. Erauw takes off the parts piece by piece while the wax is still flexible, then he can shape and guide them into forms before the wax quickly hardens into a permanent state.
Once everything is dipped and formed, all the parts are taken to a bronze foundry near Ghent where they prepare everything and cast all the parts in aluminium or bronze. When they are ready, Erauw polishes the surface of the casted parts in preparation for the assembly phase, which is done by welding.
Wax on/Resin on started as an experiment to find a less expensive way of making objects, and it’s more of a search. Unlike the other series where the metal type determines a large part of the final result, working with resin gives Erauw much more control over the decision-making process and greater creative control. It’s a “cool new way of making things my own”.
The overall concept is a rolling one, constantly evolving as Erauw continues research that has taken age-old processes and translated their tools with today’s knowledge. “The joy of operating TONK is that I have a machine at my disposal where the possibilities are inexhaustible and so the future holds a diversity of shapes and techniques to discover.”
As told by Nicolas Erauw