Purpose: In order to obtain reliable sand casting products, it is essential that the temperature distribution within the alloy during cooling is accurately known at each point by FEM simulation. This requires a great precision in setting the Heat Transfer Coefficients (HTC) at the boundaries. In particular for castings of big size, chills are frequently at different heights, so that remarkable differences arise from the metal head effect.Design/methodology/approach: An A356 alloy was cast and cooled. The castings were mono-directionally solidified in a experimental equipment modified to accept a controlled variable metal-head. HTC were evaluated in a side arm, where a chill end ensured a dominant unidirectional heat flow during cooling. At the end of a square horizontal channel, an aluminium chill of the same section and 60 mm in depth determined nearly one-dimensional cooling conditions.Findings: The evolution of heat transfer coefficient (HTC) in the sand casting of A357 aluminum alloy against aluminum chills is evaluated with different metal heads in order to study the effect of pressure on the HTC. Inverse modeling techniques based on Beck’s analysis were used to determine the experimental evolution of HTC as a function of time, casting temperature and chill temperature. The HTC evolution at the casting-chill boundary is then described as a function of local parameters such as casting-chill interface pressure (as long as they are in contact) and interface gap (when solidification shrinkage occurs and the casting detaches from the chill).Practical implications: Finally, the experiments are reconstructed by means of coupled thermal-stress numerical analyses and the predicted cooling curves are fitted to the experimental ones by adjusting model parameters. As a result, the best parameters for describing the HTC evolution are found, thus allowing to extrapolate any possible HTC behavior on chills at different heights for the same casting.Originality/value: Some transient interface pressure can develop between casting and chill, the effect being negligible in HTC evaluation with the aim to precisely predict the cooling evolution inside the casting.