Alistair Lee of British Columbia (center) winner of the 2007 Nicol-Brown Chalice for Piobaireachd. I was honored to be asked to present the award after bringing the project closer to completion. On the left is a surprise visitor to the competition, Brian Yates. Brian is the craftsman who originally began the chalice in 1982. He now lives in Scotland, but was able to join the audience for the Nicol-Brown competition in Albany NY as part of a quick trip home to the US. The plan is to continue to embellish the chalice with panels of Celtic design and polished stones from various places in Scotland and the US.


The Nicol-Brown Amateur Invitational Piping Contest


In the space below is a step-by-step series of photographs about how the MacLeod Memorial Buckle was molded using the medieval reverse "chip-carving method.




The Donald MacLeod Memorial Silver Buckle for 6/8 Marches

The Nicol-Brown Amateur Invitational Piping Contest

This buckle replaces the original design for the MacLeod Silver Buckle designed by Brian Yates. I was asked to finish the buckles cast by Brian for the past several years, but when his castings were all done, I did not have very good luck with his mold, so was granted permission to create a new design for the 25th Nicol-Brown Competition.  Other buckles designs by Stephen Walker

The buckle was made by carving a negative mold in a gypsum cement (Ceramical) The design was laid out using the dot-grid method, most commonly associated with Aidan Meehan and Mark VanStone.

I am convinced that this way of working in the negative version of the design is how early medieval cast chip-carving was made. This technique is also referred to as "kerbschnitt" Not all medieval interlace was made this way. The technique appears to have been lost before the 11th century. At that time there was a revival of interlaced designs that were cast using a different method.

The design is gouged out of the mold material. In this case a double pointed tool is used that results in a double line, raised ridge in the positive casting.

The way this is done, the design is carved deeper and deeper until all the original surface is removed in the area of the design. Then the high spots in the mold are points and sharp ridges, but they are low enough that a flat back on the mold will have some clearance, leaving enough space to fill with the cast material and make a complete background. The overs and unders of the design are done last by scooping  a little deeper the grooves that will become the overs in the positive cast version.

Arcs for the boarders are carved using a compass with a cutting tool fashioned onto the moving leg.

Experience using this method in both plaster and clay molds has shown that the thin ridges of the design are prone to damage if multiple impressions are made. In the case of the MacLeod Buckle I made several wax impressions of the carving and cast the final piece using the lost wax method from these models and modern casting equipment and materials. The crispness of the medieval castings , especially in the deep negative areas leads me to believe that typically the metal was cast directly into the carved material.

You can see the lost wax casting process as we do it at Walker Metalsmiths by following this link.

My research into this method of mold making was presented to the Irish Medievalists Conference at Saint Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, June 2007. An earlier paper on the method was  can be accessed at