Sand Casting

A sand casting or a sand molded casting is a cast part produced by forming a mold from a sand mixture and pouring molten liquid metal into the cavity in the mold. The mold is then cooled until the metal has solidified. In the last stage the casting is separated from the mold. There are six steps in this process: (see sketch below):

1. Place a pattern in sand to create a mold.
2. Incorporate a gating system.
3. Remove the pattern.
4. Fill the mold cavity with molten metal.
5. Allow the metal to cool.
6. Break away the sand mold and remove the casting.

There are two main types of sand used for molding. "Green sand" is a mixture of silica sand, clay, moisture and other additives. The "air set" method uses dry sand bonded to materials other than clay, using a fast curing adhesive. When these are used, they are collectively called "air set" sand castings to distinguish these from "green sand" castings. Two types of molding sand are natural bonded (bank sand) and synthetic (lake sand), which is generally preferred due to its more consistent composition.

With both methods, the sand mixture is packed around a master "pattern" forming a mold cavity. If necessary, a temporary plug is placed to form a channel for pouring the fluid to be cast. Air-set molds often form a two-part mold having a top and bottom, termed Cope and drag. The sand mixture is tamped down as it is added, and the final mold assembly is sometimes vibrated to compact the sand and fill any unwanted voids in the mold. Then the pattern is removed with the channel plug, leaving the mold cavity. The casting liquid (typically molten metal) is then poured into the mold cavity. After the metal has solidified and cooled, the casting is separated from the sand mold. There is typically no mold release agent, and the mold is generally destroyed in the removal process.[1]

The accuracy of the casting is limited by the type of sand and the molding process. Sand castings made from coarse green sand impart a rough texture on the surface of the casting, and this makes them easy to identify. Air-set molds can produce castings with much smoother surfaces. Surfaces can also be ground and polished, for example when making a large bell. After molding, the casting is covered in a residue of oxides, silicates and other compounds. This residue can be removed by various means, such as grinding, or shot blasting.

During casting, some of the components of the sand mixture are lost in the thermal casting process. Green sand can be reused after adjusting its composition to replenish the lost moisture and additives. The pattern itself can be reused indefinitely to produce new sand molds. The sand molding process has been used for many centuries to produce castings manually. Since 1950, partially-automated casting processes have been developed for production lines.


From the design, provided by an engineer or designer, a skilled pattern maker builds a pattern of the object to be produced, using wood, metal, or a plastic such as expanded polystyrene. Sand can be ground, swept or even strickled into shape. The metal to be cast will contract during solidification, and this may be non-uniform due to uneven cooling. Therefore, the pattern must be slightly larger than the finished product, a difference known as contraction allowance. Pattern-makers are able to produce suitable patterns using 'Contraction rules' (these are sometimes called "shrink allowance rulers" where the ruled markings are deliberately made to a larger spacing according to the percentage of extra length needed). Different scaled rules are used for different metals because each metal and alloy contracts by an amount distinct from all others. Patterns also have core prints that create registers within the molds into which are placed sand 'cores. Such cores, sometimes reinforced by wires, are used to create under cut profiles and cavities which cannot be molded with the cope and drag, such as the interior passages of valves or cooling passages in motor blocks.

Paths for the entrance of metal into the mold cavity constitute the runner system and include the sprue, various feeders which maintain a good metal 'feed', and in-gates which attach the runner system to the casting cavity. Gas and steam generated during casting exit through the permeable sand or via risers, which are added either in the pattern itself, or as separate pieces.

Molding box and materials

A multi-part molding box (known as a casting flask, the top and bottom halves of which are known respectively as the cope and drag) is prepared to receive the pattern. Molding boxes are made in segments that may be latched to each other and to end closures. For a simple object—flat on one side—the lower portion of the box, closed at the bottom, will be filled with prepared casting sand or green sand—a slightly moist mixture of sand and clay. The sand is packed in through a vibratory process called ramming and, in this case, periodically screeded level. The surface of the sand may then be stabilized with a sizing compound. The pattern is placed on the sand and another molding box segment is added. Additional sand is rammed over and around the pattern. Finally a cover is placed on the box and it is turned and unlatched, so that the halves of the mold may be parted and the pattern with its sprue and vent patterns removed. Additional sizing may be added and any defects introduced by the removal of the pattern are corrected. The box is closed again. This forms a "green" mold which must be dried to receive the hot metal. If the mold is not sufficiently dried a steam explosion can occur that can throw molten metal about. In some cases, the sand may be oiled instead of moistened, which makes possible casting without waiting for the sand to dry. Sand may also be bonded by chemical binders, such as furane resins or amine-hardened resins.

Design requirements

The part to be made and its pattern must be designed to accommodate each stage of the process, as it must be possible to remove the pattern without disturbing the molding sand and to have proper locations to receive and position the cores. A slight taper, known as draft, must be used on surfaces perpendicular to the parting line, in order to be able to remove the pattern from the mold. This requirement also applies to cores, as they must be removed from the core box in which they are formed. The sprue and risers must be arranged to allow a proper flow of metal and gasses within the mold in order to avoid an incomplete casting. Should a piece of core or mold become dislodged it may be embedded in the final casting, forming a sand pit, which may render the casting unusable. Gas pockets can cause internal voids. These may be immediately visible or may only be revealed after extensive machining has been performed. For critical applications, or where the cost of wasted effort is a factor, non-destructive testing methods may be applied before further work is performed.

Types of sand casting molds

Green Sand
These molds are made of wet sands that are used to make the molds shape. The name comes from the fact that wet sands are used in the molding process.

Cold Box
Uses organic and inorganic binders that strengthen the mold by chemically adhering to the sand. This type of mold gets its name from not being baked in an oven like other sand mold types. This type of mold is more accurate dimensionally than green-sand molds but are more expensive.

No Bake Molds
No bake molding is a type of molding used for the casting of molten metals. Like sand casting it is an expendable mold that is made up of sand. The primary difference is that it keeps its form from having a liquid resin mixed with the sand at room temperature to help keep its form. Because no heat is involved it called a cold-setting processes. This type of molding also produces a better surface finish than other types of sand molds, and due to the binder does not need to be baked in an oven. Common flask materials that are used are wood, metal, or plastic. Common metals cast into no bake molds are brass, ferric, and aluminum alloys.

Sprues and Runners
The molten material is poured in the pouring cup, which is part of the gating system that supplies the molten material to the mold cavity. The vertical part of the gating system connected to the pouring cup is the sprue, and the horizontal portion is called the runners and finally to the multiple points where it is introduced to the mold cavity called the gates. Additionally there are extensions to the gating system called vents that provide the path for the built up gases and the displaced air to vent to the atmosphere.

The cavity is usually made oversize to allow for the metal contraction as it cools down to room temperature. This is achieved by making the pattern oversize. To account for shrinking, the pattern must be made oversize by these factors, on the average. These are linear factors and apply in each direction. These shrinkage allowance are only approximate, because the exact allowance is determined the shape and size of the casting. In addition, different parts of the casting might require a different shrinkage allowance. See the casting allowance table for the approximate shrinkage allowance expressed as the Pattern Oversize Factor.

Sand castings generally have a rough surface sometimes with surface impurities, and surface variations. A machining (finish) allowance is made for this type of defect. See casting allowance table for the finish allowance.

The cavity in the sand is formed by using a pattern (an approximate duplicate of the real part), which are typically made out of wood, sometimes metal. The cavity is contained in an aggregate housed in a box called the flask. Core is a sand shape inserted into the mold to produce the internal features of the part such as holes or internal passages. Cores are placed in the cavity to form holes of the desired shapes. Core print is the region added to the pattern, core, or mold that is used to locate and support the core within the mold. A riser is an extra void created in the mold to contain excessive molten material. The purpose of this is feed the molten metal to the mold cavity as the molten metal solidifies and shrinks, and thereby prevents voids in the main casting.
In a two-part mold, which is typical of sand castings, the upper half, including the top half of the pattern, flask, and core is called cope and the lower half is called drag. The parting line or the parting surface is line or surface that separates the cope and drag. The drag is first filled partially with sand, and the core print, the cores, and the gating system are placed near the parting line. The cope is then assembled to the drag, and the sand is poured on the cope half, covering the pattern, core and the gating system. The sand is compacted by vibration and mechanical means. Next, the cope is removed from the drag, and the pattern is carefully removed. The object is to remove the pattern without breaking the mold cavity. This is facilitated by designing a draft, a slight angular offset from the vertical to the vertical surfaces of the pattern. This is usually a minimum of 1° or 1.5 mm (0.060 in), whichever is greater. The rougher the surface of the pattern, the more the draft to be provided.