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Any good plan starts with an idea
By Bob "thefoxesden3" Fox
A few months back, I had an antique license plate topper that I put up on eBay to sell. I was surprised to see it go for over $200.
That got me to thinking about the topper that Rick made. I did not want to rip off his design so I made a design that pleased me. It also gave me a chance to turn an old Stovebolt's aluminum, into a piece that lives on. After all, we are in the recycling hobby!
From there, I made a prototype (that's the blue one in the picture above).
These license plate Toppers are about 5" x 7" on the part that shows. The tang (mounting plate) adds another three inches in length. The head is 3/8 of an inch thick, which means that these are heavy. (It amounts to almost half a pound of solid cast aluminum.) The finished product has a dimple for accurate positioning for the hole you are going to drill for normal installation. It will take a pretty substantial licence plate bracket to hold it.
These are offered in unpainted aluminum so you can match your truck's colors. I like the baby blue one the most (see Stovebolt HQ plaque).
I thought about cutting the tang off one to see how this would work as a side mount or bumper mount. With the tang removed, it would be lighter. See the red license plate topper at the top of the page, above left.
With an added inscription plate (see the one made for Stovebolt HQ --> ), this makes a great award plaque. It could even be used similar to the old car club plaques in the back window.
People around here who have seen it love it.
And then gets going
The idea is transferred to a drawing. The pattern is then made of wood to match the drawing. This is then clear coated, sanded and polished.
A negative of the pattern is made by pouring silicate rubber over the wood pattern. A more curable positive pattern is made by pouring polyurethane plastic into the silicone mold. That gives us a "product" check - both the polyurethane positive and the silicone negative. There is a dimple in the pattern to indicate where to drill for your mounting hardware.
Next attach a wooden runner to the pattern. This leads the molten metal from the pour spout to the pattern impression. Both pattern and gate bolt to mould board.
Working at my mixing bench, the pattern is dusted with talc so it will not stick to the sand. Once the pattern is in place, riddle fine sand to top of pattern for the fine detail. The pattern gets rammed up into the sand in the bottom portion of the wooden box (the bottom portion is called the drag). Pack the drag and fill it to the brim with packed sand. Level the sand off and turn over. Unbolt board. Remove the pattern and gate from sand and set aside. When you put the top half (called the cope) on top of the drag, this creates a cavity which is an exact match of the part you wish to make. You create a pour spout leading to this cavity, and you have it.
This is the the inside of the mold without the pattern before covering it with the cope.
When you put the cope and the drag together, you are ready to pour.
Insert pour spout pattern in the cope. Ram up sand and level. Tap in vent holes.
I keep a nice supply of already cleaned aluminum. I suppose you can purchase these at your local foundry , but in this stack here ... well, these were mostly aluminum single pane windows. I gather up the good aluminum that I can find and melt it down to make these ingots. Most of the gunk (technical term) is cleared off with that melting. When melting a bar, what little gunk remains is removed.
So, those nice shiny smooth aluminum bars, go into my home-built furnace. Don't let the size surprise you! What you see in that picture is actually the furnace with the lid. Want to see what's inside? Look here! And then here it is in action ! H O T !! That crucible full of hot aluminum is ready to pour!
I have many tools to use for all this specialty work. Here are some of them.
After scraping the dross off the top of the melt, we are ready for the first pour. I need to re-heat the aluminum in order to make the second pour. The metal is still incredibly hot. Notice in that picture that the oil in the sand is on fire.
Now we can see how it turned out when we open the mold halves. In this picture, the molded piece is on the right and sand mold is on the left. The black that you see is the oil that burned. The oil bonds the sand together, and I prefer the oil-bonded sand because it gives greater detail. I'll cut off any excess metal to re-melt.
Opening the cast during another round, shows a little more detail. You see the sand pours out nice and clumpy (which is good for getting the detail on the topper). The blacked is the burned oil. Here she plops out of the box! You can see there is work to be done, removing the excess aluminum from the bottom and edges of the Topper.
The next process was preparing it for it's unique colors!
Using one of the trial pieces, I used masking tape to block off the areas NOT to be painted red. Then I did the reverse. I taped off the area already painted in red, in order to paint the black. Here is what I ended up with. Next, I sanded the raised areas to expose the aluminum and then polished it. Looks like this will work just fine!
Any kind of paint will work: lacquer, enamel, powder-coating, plating (chrome, gold, copper).
If you have any questions about finishing the Topper, feel free to contact Bob. And ... send him some pictures of your truck with its Topper. We'd love to see them. We'll stack a few here on the page as he gets them!
License Plate Topper - Frequently Asked Questions
How do I pay for my topper?
How is the topper shipped?
How long until I receive my topper?
How long between my order and shipment of my topper?
Is there a warranty on my topper?
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