A case study of a Phra Buddha Dhammacakra image
three main steps in the process of casting a Buddha statue:
a clay mould,
(2) Sculpturing a beeswax mould and
(3) Metal (gold) casting.
1: Sculpturing a clay mould
begins with drawing the figure of the Buddha image on the paper
to calculate the size of the image and to find the position
to put the supporting steel. Then the sculptor sketches the
three-dimensional model using plasticine and expands the model
to the desired size. The size of the image, or in this case
a Phra Buddha Dhammacakra image, is double the size of an ordinary
person, using the ratio of 1:10 from the original model.
technique of making the Buddha image uses natural clay to build
a clay mould. If the sculptors want the mould to be durable
and long lasting, they will mix the clay with straw paper or
bark paper. In Thailand, the best quality clay for sculpturing
the clay mould is the clay from Sarmkok area in Pathumthani
the clay for sculpturing the Buddha image, the sculptors pound
the clay and put it in water. Then the clay is mixed with sifted
sand and water in the appropriate ratio. The typical ratio of
the mixture of sifted sand and clay is 5:1 (5 portions of sifted
sand to 1 portion of clay), 3:2, or 2:1 depending on the quality
of the clay (normal ratio is 5:1). After that the mixture of
clay and sifted sand is ground or stepped on to make the complete
mixture of the ingredients. Then the sculptor builds the supporting
steel structure by putting the cross-shape iron core inside
the clay mould in order to make a rough-hewn model and leaving
it for seven days before moving to the moulding stage [Fig.
In the moulding
stage, the sculptor uses the prepared clay to mould on the rough-hewn
model. This stage requires skilful sculptors, who really understand
and put their soul in the artwork in order to create a beautiful,
elegant, and delicate work. The last stage in the first step
of clay moulding is to refine on all the detail of the mould.
Then the sculptor will spray water on the mould and cover it
with wet cloth and plastic to protect the mould from getting
dry. This step of building a clay mould normally takes at least
one and a half to two months.
2: Sculpturing a beeswax mould
two different techniques of sculpturing a beeswax mould: "Piece
mould" and "Destroying mould". In the creation
of Phra Buddha Dhammacakra image the sculptors applied the latter
method i.e. 'destroying mould' and the following are the detail
of the process of making a 'destroying mould.'
the position to divide the mould into two parts and having the
opening part, where the sculptor can use to remove the clay
from the mould.
the thin zinc sheet, cut in a small rectangular shape, in the
specified position (from Step 2.1) on the mould and coating
with plaster of Paris. Then the sculptor will put another layer
of plaster of Paris to the line of the zinc sheet and put the
steel rod to strengthen the plaster mould. After that the sculptor
will put the cement mixed with coconut fibre at the connection
line of the steel. After the cement congeals, the sculptor will
remove the clay and the supporting steel from the mould and
use wet sponge to clean the plaster of Paris mould [Fig.
down the mould, using bricks to support the mould, and applying
the clay water and liquid soap on the mould. Then the sculptor
will use brush to dry the mould.
by pouring the beeswax into the mould and putting the mould
on the smooth material. Then the sculptor will fill the core
of the mould with the plaster-cement mixed with the sand and
leave it for one day. When the cement congeals, the sculptor
will remove the cement mould block and get the beeswax mould.
the beeswax mould. This stage needs a delicate work to make
the beeswax mould beautiful and resemble the original model.
The more beautiful and delicate work of this stage, the nicer
the final result will be.
the drain for releasing the beeswax and to be the point for
filling in the liquid metal.
3: Metal (gold) Casting
that is commonly used in this step of casting is brass, copper,
or bronze. The sculptor melts the metal and pours it in the
mould. This casting step is normally called in Thai gold pouring.
Generally, the casting is done with a religious ceremony. The
following are the summary of the process of casting the image
or the process of gold pouring.
the beeswax mould to the gold pouring area and making the kiln
by digging a hole around 70 centimetres depth. Then the sculptor
will put the beeswax mould in the hole in an upside-down position,
open two sides of the kiln and close the top part of the kiln
with a zinc sheet to control the fire.
the brass is poured, the mould is baked. The wax layer inside
will melt and flow out of the mould, leaving the shape of the
Buddha's image inside the mould. This stage is called emptying
the beeswax. [Fig. 5 ]. After
the beeswax is removed, the area inside the mould block is empty
and will be replaced by the liquid metal [Fig.
the metal. To melt the metal for casting the image, the sculptors
made four kilns and prepare the fire that can be controlled
in the levels of heat from 100-200 Celsius (to melt the beeswax)
and to 1500-1800 Celsius (for brass pouring). This stage of
baking takes around 3-4 days.
amount of the required metal can be estimated from the amount
of beeswax used in Step 2 because the liquid metal will replace
the beeswax in the mould block. Normally one kilogram of beeswax
is replaced by 100 grams of brass or more than 100 grams for
copper. Moreover, the amount of required beeswax and metal can
be used to estimate the amount of required fuel. The time needed
to melt the metal is around 8-12 hours.
culture, the gold pouring ceremony is typically arranged at
an auspicious time. Nine to ten monks and one Brahmin are invited
to perform the ceremony. While the Brahmin priest performs the
preliminary rite of the gold pouring ceremony the sculptors
also perform a rite of worshipping the teachers. After the monks
chant, the chairperson of the ceremony will start pouring the
liquid metal at the auspicious time. The first part to receive
the melted bronze is the topmost part of the head. The gold
pouring ceremony is very significant to the people who are present
as it is considered a highly meritorious deed. Some patrons
throw their own gold ornaments into the melting pot so that
it becomes part of the resulting image.
the bronze cools down (taking around 2-3 days), the craftsman
knocks the outer cement layers and supporting steel off to reveal
a bronze statue, which looks exactly like the wax replica.
gilding is the last stage in casting a Buddha image:
the image; polish it with sandpaper around 2 to 3 times, leave
it dry, and coat it with lacquer.
colour on the image, leave it dry, refine it with plastic colour
and leave it dry for two days.
the image with fine wet sandpaper and leave it dry. These steps
need repeating to get a fine finish product.
the final stage, the image is painted with oil paint on the
assigned area, leave it to dry (around 5-6 hours), gild it with
100% gold leaf, and wipe it with cotton. This gives a perfect
golden Buddha image ready for placement in temples or religious
places. However, to make it sacred and a religious object of
veneration there will be a consecration ceremony of the Buddha
after the placement of the Buddha at its place.
by Narumol Achsacorn and Yukhonthorn Charoensuk