How to pour metal into sand

Traditional craftsmanship in Greece – the metal casting workshop of Nikos Tsakas in Volos

When a big iron-casting factory went bankrupt in the mid-sixties in Volos, Nikos Tsakas’ father established his foundry. The Tsakas workshop makes semi-finished goods and spare parts for industrial and agricultural machinery and is also working on art casting for the church and artists.

Flanked by yucca palm trees Nikos Tsakas casually leans against the big iron gate of his foundry. The workshop smells of coal and wet sand. The carbon black walls create a mysterious gloomy atmosphere. The dust-covered castings of field pumps, railings, parts of park benches, dumbbells and flywheels are stacked on the floor. Moulds are hanging on the walls. Nikos prepares his next order. Down on his knees he fills a casting pan with sand and explains us the procedure of casting. The wet sand is used to make an imprint of the casting model. When the model made of wood, metal, or fired clay is removed, the liquid metal is poured into the negative mould. This casting procedure works according to the principle of the lost mould. The sand-casting technique is especially suited for making spare parts, but also for machinery parts in large numbers because the original model doesn’t wear out.

The collapse of a big player favours the upswing of a small one
When a big iron-casting factory went bankrupt in the mid-sixties in Volos and Nikos Tsakas’ father lost his job as a consequence, he established his own foundry in 1965. He obtained moulds and machines from the company’s estate. His foundry was now supplying the clients of his former employer. He made semi-finished goods and spare parts for industrial and agricultural machinery. The small foundry was now executing the orders from industry and agriculture. “I could always earn some pocket money in my father’s business during the summer months and holidays” Nikos tells us “his business was flourishing.” For him there was no doubt: after his military service in 1980 he would start an apprenticeship in his father’s company. “My father wasn’t an easy boss, especially to his son he wanted to show that casting was a difficult craft.” Nikos looks up and pushes his chin forward to underline the conflict between father and son, master and apprentice.

The skills of working for industry and art
Between the main centres Athens and Thessaloniki, Volos is the most important industrial location in Greece. Having the third largest port of the country, Volos is a strategic hub and builds a bridge to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Nikos shows us a postcard with a sculpture of the Argo, the ship of the Argonauts, in the port of Volos. “This complicated bronze casting was made in our workshop.”

The business was flourishing up to the years 2000. Many manufactures, the large-scale industry and the agricultural sector were his clients. But the economic crisis also reached Volos. He leads us to the backyard and points to two tall chimneys. “The furnaces were in use on a daily basis”, he tells us. At the moment, demand for iron casting isn’t very high. His orders concern mainly aluminium and bronze in small numbers. The small furnace in the workshop is enough to heat these metals and he is able to complete the orders without the help of an employee. Like many others he faces the situation with serenity and thinks about applying for a support programme that modernises small and medium-sized companies. This could help him to overcome the dry spell and also advance some of the renewals that have been on hold over the last few years.