The art and community of the DIY iron pour. By Joe Sandor
Cracking iron is one of the most difficult, labor-intensive processes in art making. Busting up old cast-iron bathtubs and
radiators into little pieces with a sledgehammer
can be very taxing on an artist’s delicate hands.
When I first went to art school, the counselors
told me to take a life drawing class or a pottery
class because they’re so calming. But I’m pretty
sadistic, and I like to smash things and set things
on fire, so by the end of my first year I found myself
down in the dark dungeon known as the foundry,
pulverizing iron so that we could melt it down and
make some sculpture.
In the past 30 years or so, cast-iron art has
grown into a vast, nationwide network of artists
building their own iron-melting furnaces. These
furnaces, known as cupolas, are taken to get-togethers called iron pours that are held anywhere
38 Make: Volume
and everywhere — alleys in Brooklyn, farm fields
in Wisconsin, even in the lonely deserts of Arizona.
Most of the gear is homemade, a lot of the materials
for melting are either scrap metal or donated,
and almost all the labor comes free with the iron-pouring community.
Some cupolas are custom fabricated, while
others are repurposed objects such as water
heaters or garbage cans. Basically anything that’s
tube-shaped will work, as long as you can line it
with 3 inches of high-temperature refractory material. Add a few tuyeres (holes for blasting air), one
spout for slag and another for the metal to tap out
of, and a trap door on the bottom, and you’ve got
an iron furnace. I’ve even seen a soda can used as
Once you have the cupola, you fill it up with bits
of iron and enough charges of black, chunky coke
Photograph by Jeffrey Kalstrom