The tedious craft of brass casting

BRASS CASTING is one of three major crafts of the Tbolis in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. The others are weaving and beadworks.

Brass casting, like beadworks and weaving, is a craft that has been handed down from generation to generation, although how they came to learn the craft remains vague and how the first Tbolis got hold of brass, a mystery.

Bundos Fara, one of the brass casters of this town was just as vague when asked since when the family had been casting brass. “I learned it from my father, who learned it from his father,” he said in Visayan.

Prodded on where his father learned it from, he adds, “He learned it from his father, my ‘lolo sa tuhod’.”

Watching how the brass is cast, you see the time and patience it takes to come up with just even one tiny replica of a klintang piece. The process starts with mixing bee’s wax, “esperma” (processed wax), and a little asphalt, creating a black mass that can be shaped like, albeit a tiny bit firmer than, play dough. The design is first made.

During our visit last week, the design was for the medals of the Ironman 70.3 Davao Triathlon. On a round black wax, the design is placed using wax rolled into thin strands for the wavy and curlicue patterns.

A metal cylinder with grooves is used for a different texture. Tiny balls are flattened to make round forms. A circle is cut off from the center of the round flat wax and a hollow half ball is placed on it for the klintang nipple. The side is then attached from a strip of flattened wax. For every medal, there is one mold. Thus, for 1,800 medals, there are 1,800 molds being made. A stub of wax is attached to the wax prototype, this will later serve as the nozzle through which the brass will be poured. But that is going ahead of the story.

After the wax prototype is done (with the stub), this is covered with a loamy clay soil excavated from the mountains, where only that kind of soil will work. A stub of These are left to dry.

Once dry, a hole is pierced into the stub until the wax is exposed. Two holes on the ground are surrounded with rocks, where fire is made and fanned to its hottest. On one of the hole, an earthen pot is filled with scrap brass made up of padlocks and keys and the rejected brass handicrafts and placed inside.

The fire is fanned through an electric blower and a traditional blower to blazing hot temperatures to melt the brass. On the other hole, several pieces of the dried clay mold with the wax prototypes inside are placed with the nozzles down and are made to burn until the clay turns red with heat all over, the nozzles allowing the wax to drip away and turned to dust from the sheer heat.

These molds are then picked out with a long pair of thongs and placed standing nozzles up beside the hole where the brass is still being smelted. The now burning red claypot holding the molten brass is then lifted with another pair of thongs and its content is poured into the nozzle until it is filled up. These molded clay are left to cool and the brass to set for hours, even days.

After this, the molded clay is broken to reveal the cast brass. These are polished and the ones that do not form well are rejected, the brass to be melted again in fire to make yet another piece.

Seeing how these pieces are made gives you a greater appreciation of that single brass bell you have been given as a souvenir.

Each piece is hand crafted, each piece deemed perfect as those that do not form well are rejected.

In Lake Sebu, the brass casters are relatives, giving us an idea of how the craft is passed on from generation to generation through hands-on experience.

Fara’s son and wife are helping out in the business. Farther away from the highway, the Blunto clan has a dozen members who is into brass casting, as well. The Fara and the Bluntos are relatives.

Joel Blunto, who heads the Blunto casters is much younger than Fara, and he has several young kin who are into the craft. In a visit to one of the Blunto homes, there was a group of young men, maybe in their teen, gathered in a circle outside one home. They’re apprentices, we were told, learning the craft. Tedious as it is, the tradition continues and a heritage is kept alive.
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