A Brief History of the Garnet Block Products

About twelve years ago the seeds were planted in Mr. J.B. Bown's imagination for what is now among the most versatile of soldering and casting products available to metalsmiths and hobbyists. Long before the name of Garnet Block hit the public, J.B. was working in a shop with several Native Americans who were expert craftspeople in the art of sandcasting. Their method involved placing a model of what they wanted to cast on a piece of glass and then surrounding the model with a handmade A-frame. Into the A-frame they would press a unique mixture that was pliable enough to take the shape of the model and solid enough when set to retain its molded shape during casting. It was a complicated process and they taught J.B. everything they knew about it-everything, that is, except the secret ingredients that went into their traditional mixture. Not one to let his curiosity rest, J.B. kept in the back of his mind the idea not only to develop a mixture that would work as well as that of his American Indian co-workers, but also to invent a much simpler process.


J.B. Bown shows off a cast piece of silver
that he has produced using his unique and
innovative casting process.

Keeping the thought of finding an effective material for "surface casting" in mind, J.B. found his own special ingredient almost by accident. On a typical drive one afternoon, while examining the rock and terrain as he always did, J.B. took special interest in the surrounding white cliffs. A closer examination proved the material to be uncommonly clean. J.B. took some home in a bag for further experimentation.
He first tried combining the new substance with cement hoping to attain the perfect combination that would be both moldable when wet and solid when set. The material he had mixed did not hold together as well as he had hoped. Even mixed with moisture, the substance was not what J.B. was looking for. Finally, he picked up the entire batch and threw it out.
By morning, curiosity had overcome disappointment and J.B. retrieved his project from the garbage can. This time he tried taking a torch to his new mixture just to see what would happen. When it did not explode he realized he really might have something - a cement based product that could really take the heat. It was not the surface casting material he was looking for, but it was the beginning of J.B. Bown's Garnet Soldering and Casting Blocks.
He worked hard for the next six months to attain the best combination of Garnet Sand, special clays, and cement. The result: an innovative new soldering block with such unique qualities that it actually works as an extra tool in metalsmithing projects and saves both time and fabricating costs.
The Garnet Soldering and Casting Blocks are precast from a natural asbestos-free, porous material. Microscopic beads of the Garnet sand are arranged in the Garnet Block much like marbles in a jar. This special arrangement allows gases to escape and moisture to be absorbed into the airspaces surrounding those microscopic beads.
J.B. also discovered that his Garnet block reflected heat directly into the metal he was working with creating a miniature furnace. He found that he had greater control by applying his torch to the block and allowing the reflected heat to melt the solder or metal. J.B. was also amazed to discover that the heat from his torch was retained only where it was applied. While the center of his block was red hot, the outside edges were cool and could be handled or rotated as necessary. These blocks are not insulators, however, and must be used on a protective surface such as a charcoal or solderite pad.
When J.B.'s first Garnet block became uneven, dirty, and full of holes, as all soldering blocks do with extensive use, he discovered that his block could be groomed back into a smooth clean surface with an abrasive object and a little water. J.B. uses a slice of an old brick, but a flexible sanding sponge available at most hardware stores will work as well. During resurfacing, the top layer of the block is worked into a paste that fills the holes, creating a smooth surface.
J.B. had made quite a discovery with his new Garnet Soldering Blocks but he still had in his mind to develop a surface casting process. He experimented first with the blocks themselves. He found that he could carve into the casting block with a sharp tool or leather stamp then cast his scrap silver into this mold. The stone could then be resurfaced and used for numerous projects.
A real breakthrough came for J.B. when he discovered what he now calls Garnet Jewelers Cast. The Jewelers Cast is a dry powder that J.B. mixes with water to make a soft paste for quick and easy surface casting molds. The material hardens enough to retain its shape during casting. He had finally found the secret. His new material also works well for fusing and for sizing down rings without damaging their stones. More amazing is the fact that the substance is reusable. Work out the lumps with a little water and elbow grease. Now it is ready to be used and reused for countless projects.
J.B. has made some beautiful jewelry with his Garnet Soldering Block and Jewelers Cast. Much of his jewelry has been made with scrap metals. Really, the possibilities are endless. As J.B. says, "You're only limited by your imagination."
If you get a chance to catch one of J.B.'s demonstrations at a rock and gem show, squeeze your way up to the front of the crowd that usually surrounds his table and watch the man at his craft. He puts on quite a show and he is always happy to answer questions and hear of any new uses his customers have found for the Garnet Blocks and Jewelers Cast.
At home or in your own shop, this booklet will get you started with your own Garnet Block projects. Read the basic instructions carefully; they will cover everything from making plate to finishing a cast piece, to resurfacing your blocks. Then practice. You will see how easy it is to develop the skill. The last section of the book will take you step by step through three projects of increasing difficulty. After that, let your talent and innovation take over. You're only limited by your imagination.

| Getting Started | Contents | Introduction | Title |

© BownCo 1994