The summer after high school, a number of friends and I made a bucket foundry out of hardware store supplies and went to the local machine shop to get some aluminum chips and off-cuts to melt down in a graphite crucible and cast. The following spring I upgraded the blower tube and added a high-temperature thermocouple.
The following summer, one of the friends and I purchased some additional components, and machined a venturi propane burner. The burner worked even better than expected, allowing us to experiment with different casting media and reach higher temperatures.
Having had the pleasure of taking ME2340: Intro to Materials Science in the fall of 2016, I have a much deeper understanding of the iron-carbide phase diagram and metals in general.