What is the difference between Sandcast & Tufa Cast?

Sandcast or Tufa Cast

You hear the terms sandcast and tufa cast used very often when referring to a technique Navajo silversmiths’ use to make jewelry. The terminology makes it very confusing to understand exactly what technique was used to make your piece of jewelry. You will find the landscape of the Four Corners filled with rock formations. Those first Navajo silversmiths figured out they could use this special rock to carve designs into and make jewelry. I don’t imagine they realized it was different, except for the white color, then the sandstone formations they would find it in. It would make sense that it would be thought of as sandstone and earn the name sandcast when turned into jewelry. It has always been tufa stone that was used by Navajo silversmiths. An actual sandstone would be much harder and most likely crack from the heat needed to make a piece of silver jewelry.

Today, we see the term sandcast used frequently when we are referring to a different technique used to make silver pieces. Award-winning artists like Aaron Anderson and Darryl Dean Begay are very well known for making their jewelry using tufa carving and casting techniques. They pride themselves on original designs and in most cases only cast one piece from their carved tufa stone design. Other silversmiths make similar styles of jewelry but use a very different technique that allows them to cast one design numerous times. We often refer to this style of casting, where the same design is used over and over as sandcasting. Artists like Wilson & Carole Begay make this style of sandcast jewelry.

Sandcast - Cement Casting

Remember, even if a design is used over and over that the original comes from a tufa carving. After the original is made the artist will create a lead template of the design that can be used again in a future casting. Some families have passed down these designs from generation to generation. The technique used to make these pieces over and over again is called cement casting. A tufa stone can allow for more than one casting but it will eventually become useless and the carved design will break apart. Cement casting can allow the design to be casted multiple times.

Resourceful silversmiths originally learned how to take the dust from their tufa carvings and turn it into a cement. Today, a silversmith can head down to the hardware store and purchase cement that can be used to make a cement casting mold. One of the most difficult things about being in the Native American jewelry business is finding that design that becomes popular and seems to sell again and again. That is why businesses like Fred Harvey would become so successful because they created a type of catalog for their creations. They introduced a manufacturing process to their jewelry making that could easily replicate popular designs. The same idea is used for cement casting because the Navajo silversmith learns which patterns sell the best and they can create a successful selling business with that knowledge.

Basically, the process is very similar to how a cement sidewalk is made. The silversmith will create his cement and pour it into a form. Then he takes his lead template and presses it against the packed wet cement to imprint his design. After that the process becomes very similar to that of making a tufa cast piece of silver. The silver is heated into a liquid form and then poured into the cement mold. Because the cement is much smoother than a tufa carving the piece of silver that comes out doesn’t require as much cleaning. Then, it is repeated until you have the number of pieces you needed, or you run out of silver.  So, if you ever wondered why a number of sandcast pieces looked so familiar you now know why. These designs have captured the style and rustic look of Navajo silver for over a century, and some of the most beautiful pieces of Navajo silver have been made this way. Of course, the silversmith can add stamping, other silver work like drops and cutouts plus a turquoise stone to give each piece a unique look.

Tufa Carving - Casting

We mentioned artists like Aaron Anderson and Darryl Dean Begay previously in this article. They are a part of a number of Navajo silversmiths who are driving new designs and styles using tufa carving and casting techniques. You will definitely see a price difference between the work of an artist who is only making one casting compared to one that is making several casts of the same design. You will find that these artists covet certain tufa from different areas. Not all tufa is created equal and these top artists find those special tufa sources. A number of them will only use tufa from a certain area. Some of them talk about a special tufa only found on Hopi land that was used by world renowned Hopi artist Charles Loloma. Aaron Anderson talks about a secret source that is in a top-secret location south of Gallup. Good tufa stone will be a certain hardness that allows for a detailed carving that will not break apart and hold up during the heating process and hot pour of the silver.

This good tufa stoned is actually mined and not just sitting there on the top of the ground for easy picking. It is a very labor-intensive job and those who find good sources definitely want to keep their locations a secret. The good stone can be expensive, and it can provide a good stream of income by selling it to local supply houses and artists. Tufa stone comes in blocks and requires the artist to saw out the desired size they need for their project. A normal size bracelet would require a cut of say 10” long by 2” thick. That piece will again be cut down the center so when it comes time to pour the silver into the carved design one-half will be used as a cover. Many tufa artists will carve their name into this top piece, which will be the hallmark when it is complete. It takes a skilled artist to create a tufa design with lots of detail because it is the bottom of the carving that is the top of the bracelet, think of having to figure out the look from underneath.

Artists create necklaces, concho belts, rings, pendants, bracelets and whatever else they can dream up using a tufa stone. It usually begins with a drawing on the stone along with lots of measuring. It is important for the piece to be centered which will translate to a centered fit. Then the artist will begin to carve into the tufa stone to make the design. This is where the tufa stone can be etched to create texture and carved at different levels for dimension. Once the design is complete and the artist wants to cast the design, they will begin to heat the tufa stone and start melting the silver. Once they get the stone at the right temperature, they will tie it to the other half  of the stone, groves have been carved into the top so silver can flow in. Last, silver will be poured into the stone and immediately the silver will harden. The two stones are separated, and the silver cast piece is put into water. After that the artist will clean the piece and begin turning it into a piece of wearable art.

Art from this Artist

Aaron Anderson, Bracelet Design, Eagle, Kingman Turquoise, Navajo Made, 6 3/4
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet Design, Eagle, Kingman Turquoise, Navajo Made, 6 3/4"
Regular price
$765.00
Sale price
$765.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Apache Blue Turquoise, 14k, Silver, Navajo Made, 6.25
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Apache Blue Turquoise, 14k, Silver, Navajo Made, 6.25
Regular price
$1,280.00
Sale price
$1,280.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Carved Lines, Big, Heavy, Silver, Navajo Made, 7
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Carved Lines, Big, Heavy, Silver, Navajo Made, 7
Regular price
$500.00
Sale price
$500.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Centipede, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 6 ½
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Centipede, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 6 ½
Regular price
$445.00
Sale price
$445.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Mediterranean Coral, Tufa, Star, Navajo Handmade, 6.25
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Mediterranean Coral, Tufa, Star, Navajo Handmade, 6.25
Regular price
$650.00
Sale price
$650.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Morenci Turquoise, Silver, 14k Gold, Navajo Made, 6.5
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Morenci Turquoise, Silver, 14k Gold, Navajo Made, 6.5
Regular price
$1,820.00
Sale price
$1,820.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Persian Turquoise, Silver, Navajo Handmade, 7
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Persian Turquoise, Silver, Navajo Handmade, 7
Regular price
$920.00
Sale price
$920.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Royal Web Turquoise, Traditional, Navajo Handmade, 6.5
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Royal Web Turquoise, Traditional, Navajo Handmade, 6.5
Regular price
$335.00
Sale price
$335.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, San Juan River Design, Tufa, Navajo Handmade, 6 1/2
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, San Juan River Design, Tufa, Navajo Handmade, 6 1/2"
Regular price
$655.00
Sale price
$655.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Solid 14k Gold, Star Design, Navajo Handmade, 6.25
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Solid 14k Gold, Star Design, Navajo Handmade, 6.25
Regular price
$5,960.00
Sale price
$5,960.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Spider Web Turquoise, Traditional, Navajo Made 6.5
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Spider Web Turquoise, Traditional, Navajo Made 6.5
Regular price
$920.00
Sale price
$920.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Star Design, 14k Gold, Silver, Navajo Handmade, 6 78
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Star Design, 14k Gold, Silver, Navajo Handmade, 6 78"
Regular price
$805.00
Sale price
$805.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Star Design, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 6.25 in
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Star Design, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 6.25 in
Regular price
$650.00
Sale price
$650.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Carved Design, Lapis Lazuli, Navajo Handmade, 6.25
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Carved Design, Lapis Lazuli, Navajo Handmade, 6.25
Regular price
$760.00
Sale price
$760.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Carving, Heavy, Filed Lines, Navajo, 6 5/8
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Carving, Heavy, Filed Lines, Navajo, 6 5/8
Regular price
$565.00
Sale price
$565.00
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per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Carving, Silver, 14k Gold, Navajo, 6 ½
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Carving, Silver, 14k Gold, Navajo, 6 ½
Regular price
$785.00
Sale price
$785.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Spider Web Turquoise, Navajo Made, 6.25 in
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Spider Web Turquoise, Navajo Made, 6.25 in
Regular price
$760.00
Sale price
$760.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Turtle, Multi Stone, Navajo Handmade, 6.5
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Turtle, Multi Stone, Navajo Handmade, 6.5
Regular price
$760.00
Sale price
$760.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Wide, Stamping, Silver, Navajo Made, 6 3/4
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa Cast, Wide, Stamping, Silver, Navajo Made, 6 3/4
Regular price
$655.00
Sale price
$655.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa, Naja, Arrow Design, Silver, Navajo Handmade, 6.75
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa, Naja, Arrow Design, Silver, Navajo Handmade, 6.75
Regular price
$650.00
Sale price
$650.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa, Turquoise Heishe, Arrow, Navajo Handmade, 6.5
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Tufa, Turquoise Heishe, Arrow, Navajo Handmade, 6.5
Regular price
$760.00
Sale price
$760.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Turquoise, Eye Dazzle, Navajo Handmade, 6 5/8
Aaron Anderson, Bracelet, Turquoise, Eye Dazzle, Navajo Handmade, 6 5/8"
Regular price
$380.00
Sale price
$380.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Buckle, Classic Design, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 2.5
Aaron Anderson, Buckle, Classic Design, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 2.5"
Regular price
$445.00
Sale price
$445.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Cast Cuff, 14k, Sterling Silver, Lone Mountain Turquoise,6 1/4''
Aaron Anderson, Cast Cuff, 14k, Sterling Silver, Lone Mountain Turquoise,6 1/4''
Regular price
$2,200.00
Sale price
$2,200.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Cast Silver, Persian Turquoise
Aaron Anderson, Cast Silver, Persian Turquoise "Three in One" Bracelet
Regular price
$925.00
Sale price
$925.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Earring, Tufa Cast, Four Directions, Navajo Handmade, 1.5
Aaron Anderson, Earring, Tufa Cast, Four Directions, Navajo Handmade, 1.5
Regular price
$255.00
Sale price
$255.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Morenci Turquoise, Tufa Cast Sterling Shell Cuff, Navajo
Aaron Anderson, Morenci Turquoise, Tufa Cast Sterling Shell Cuff, Navajo
Regular price
$650.00
Sale price
$650.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Number Eight Turquoise, Tufa Cast Belt, 20 Pieces
Aaron Anderson, Number Eight Turquoise, Tufa Cast Belt, 20 Pieces
Regular price
$6,370.00
Sale price
$6,370.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Cross, Red Mountain Turquoise, Navajo Handmade, 2
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Cross, Red Mountain Turquoise, Navajo Handmade, 2"
Regular price
$235.00
Sale price
$235.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Cross, Tufa Carving, Casting, Navajo Made, 1 3/4
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Cross, Tufa Carving, Casting, Navajo Made, 1 3/4"
Regular price
$290.00
Sale price
$290.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Eagle Feather, Ithaca Peak Turquoise, Navajo, 1 7/8
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Eagle Feather, Ithaca Peak Turquoise, Navajo, 1 7/8"
Regular price
$180.00
Sale price
$180.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Naja, Black Web Kingman Turquoise, Navajo Handmade, 2.75
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Naja, Black Web Kingman Turquoise, Navajo Handmade, 2.75
Regular price
$380.00
Sale price
$380.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Pueblo Dragonfly, Naja, Turquoise, Navajo, 2 1/2
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Pueblo Dragonfly, Naja, Turquoise, Navajo, 2 1/2"
Regular price
$235.00
Sale price
$235.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Star, Naja, Spider Web Turquoise, Navajo Made, 2
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Star, Naja, Spider Web Turquoise, Navajo Made, 2"
Regular price
$290.00
Sale price
$290.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tomahawk, Chinese Turquoise, Navajo Handmade, 2 1/2
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tomahawk, Chinese Turquoise, Navajo Handmade, 2 1/2"
Regular price
$370.00
Sale price
$370.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa Cast, Mediterranean Coral, Naja, Navajo, 2 3/8
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa Cast, Mediterranean Coral, Naja, Navajo, 2 3/8"
Regular price
$380.00
Sale price
$380.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa Cast, Morenci Turquoise, Naja, Navajo, 2 1/2
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa Cast, Morenci Turquoise, Naja, Navajo, 2 1/2"
Regular price
$315.00
Sale price
$315.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa Cast, Star, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 2.1
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa Cast, Star, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 2.1
Regular price
$290.00
Sale price
$290.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa Cast, Stars, Hands, Naja, Navajo Handmade, 2
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa Cast, Stars, Hands, Naja, Navajo Handmade, 2"
Regular price
$235.00
Sale price
$235.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa, Roadrunner, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 1
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Tufa, Roadrunner, Sterling Silver, Navajo Handmade, 1
Regular price
$185.00
Sale price
$185.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Turquoise, Pueblo Dragonfly, Navajo Handmade, 2.5
Aaron Anderson, Pendant, Turquoise, Pueblo Dragonfly, Navajo Handmade, 2.5
Regular price
$240.00
Sale price
$240.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Pin, Tufa Cast Butterfly, Broken Arrow Variscite, Navajo
Aaron Anderson, Pin, Tufa Cast Butterfly, Broken Arrow Variscite, Navajo
Regular price
$445.00
Sale price
$445.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Ring, 14k Gold, Sterling Silver, Lightning, Navajo Made, 9
Aaron Anderson, Ring, 14k Gold, Sterling Silver, Lightning, Navajo Made, 9
Regular price
$620.00
Sale price
$620.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Ring, 14k Gold, Sterling Silver, Zig Zag, Navajo Made, 9
Aaron Anderson, Ring, 14k Gold, Sterling Silver, Zig Zag, Navajo Made, 9
Regular price
$620.00
Sale price
$620.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Kingman Turquoise, Classic Ketoh Design, Navajo, 6 _
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Kingman Turquoise, Classic Ketoh Design, Navajo, 6 _
Regular price
$255.00
Sale price
$255.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Silver Band, Tufa Casting, Carving, Navajo Handmade, 12
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Silver Band, Tufa Casting, Carving, Navajo Handmade, 12
Regular price
$210.00
Sale price
$210.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Spider Design, Tufa Carving, Casting, Navajo Made, 11 _
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Spider Design, Tufa Carving, Casting, Navajo Made, 11 _
Regular price
$235.00
Sale price
$235.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Spider Web Turquoise, 14k, Silver, Navajo Handmade, 8
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Spider Web Turquoise, 14k, Silver, Navajo Handmade, 8
Regular price
$745.00
Sale price
$745.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Ring, The Journey, Tufa Cast, Carved, Navajo Handmade, 9 ½
Aaron Anderson, Ring, The Journey, Tufa Cast, Carved, Navajo Handmade, 9 ½
Regular price
$235.00
Sale price
$235.00
Unit price
per 
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Tufa Cast, Carving, Repeating Lines, Navajo Handmade, 10
Aaron Anderson, Ring, Tufa Cast, Carving, Repeating Lines, Navajo Handmade, 10
Regular price
Sold out
Sale price
$105.00
Unit price
per 

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