ELLINWOOD —Melting and then pouring searingly hot molten iron into molds of his own, Ellinwood native, Aaron McCaffery, is an artist of a different kind, and he will demonstrate an iron art pour at the American Legion Craft Beer Festival Oct. 13.
After years spent in his father’s machine shop, Sentinel Machines and a machinist himself with the soul of an artist, McCaffery combines all of those skills for his rare cast iron art.
Students from Fort Hays and McCaffery’s buddy from Detroit will all be present during the festival for the one ton pour to help out, a process that takes several hours.
“Most of the work is in the pre-planning,” said McCaffery. He builds a pattern out of high density Styrofoam, and then makes a mold out of resin and bonded sand.
Scrap iron is collected from old cast iron radiators and bath tubs and melted down.
Coke is used to heat the furnace. “Tons and tons of it,” said McCaffery. The kind of coke McCaffery refers to is coal clinkers after the gases are burned off.
The iron is then melted at 2,500 degrees and poured into the molds, which requires several people and is not without danger. Aaron got a couple of second and third degree burns last year.
“Iron is harder to melt,” than metals like bronze or aluminum, said McCaffery. “But, it’s more fun, too” because the fire has to be hotter and larger.
Aaron does a couple of pours per year, but spends much of the remaining year making patterns and molds. Most of his personal completed artwork weighs between 25 and 550 pounds.
McCaffery took the long road to find his passion and to create his unique work.
While a history student at K-State, McCaffery took a class in sculpture. One thing led to another, and after integrating his background in oilfield machining, McCaffery found his path.
He works in his father’s machining shop, but has found a community of iron artists who help each other with pours. McCaffery estimates there are about 500-1,000 iron artists in the U.S.
“I have a foundry and can do big art,” he said. “Few have that capacity. It’s pretty rare.”
It is so rare, in fact, that McCaffery was tapped to make a five stack furnace for an art movie by Matthew Barney. McCaffery went to the opening for the sculpture in New York.
“It was the largest single pour art casting in history,” said the artist. It took 25 tons of iron. McCaffery didn’t bring his work back to Ellinwood.
Outside of the shop, McCaffery likes to cook and garden heirloom tomatoes, but experienced heart break this year when someone stole his tomato plants. “We spent $150 and had the tomatoes sitting under a tree,” he said. “Someone stole my garden, who does that? It heart breaking.” So this year, there was no tomatoes for salsa.
McCaffery wants to build a greenhouse and tomatoes and peppers from seed. He has one son, Tavian.