This is perhaps a silly question, but serendipitously, as I'm debating another PM purchase, I just came across a box of goblets, plates and other family silver, that not being from my side of the extended family I immediately wondered whether I could melt it down to get it into a more storeable/transactable form. Has anyone found a way to do this, or is there not enough silver in the average heirloom for that to be worthwhile?
Good luck getting it to 1763 degrees. :-)
You would probably not want to do this. A useful or artistic object containing precious metal will always have a higher value than the metal itself. There is the artistic and functional value of the thing, in addition to the inherant value of the metal content. If you melt it down, you destroy all except the metal value, and you even destroy that because you will obliterate the hallmark stamp showing that is is sterling silver. In the case of silver, even a simple cup may have a value at least double that of the metal.
The melted metal will not be more transactable. The advantage of metal bullion in terms of liquidity comes from the fact that commercial bullion from recognized mints is stamped with a mark of guaranteed weight and purity. Any blob of metal which you melt down yourself would have to be assayed for purity before it is sold (because 15% silver looks the same to the naked eye as 90% silver). The cost of assaying a small piece of silver would make it almost not worth your while to sell. Furthermore nobody would want to buy it because they, in turn, would have to prove its weight and purity before they could get rid of it.
well there you go. I figured it was a silly question. Thanks for clarifying it!
MAPP gas would certainly work. I use it sometimes to melt placer gold which needs at least 2000 deg F. The MAPP gas in the small cylinders used in open air will reach a temp of about 3000 deg F if I recall correctly.
So you could melt Sterling Silver but as pointed out by someone else it would not be a good idea.
I do know of someone who collects silverware as an investment, . . . . It makes sense, if you can obtain it at the right price.
I understand the agreement that the silverware might be worth more in it's original form but who really actually uses it or better yet who would use or collect it in a post peak environment. It needs relentless polishing with nasty chemicals and the world has been flooded with so much cheap product of the same utility to last generations. I mean if you're in a world where people are more concerned about feeding and fending for themselves I don't really think people are going to really care about aesthetics as much. They can always use whittled chopsticks and old jars.
My personal opinion is that if you can get acquire this stuff at reasonable costs and have a reliable method to recapture/refine the metals they might still be a good investment as PMs. I wouldn't try doing this yourself unless that's your trade but getting to know your local salvage operator would definitely be an asset.
There is a thread somewhere around here about future career/business options and I think that the salvage and scrap metals business is going to be a winner. (I posted a reply there last night but sadly my Internet connection died) I think that eventually all metals PMs will go way up as Peak Oil makes extraction and refinement a much more difficult task. I think our dumps will eventually become our mines.
cheers (with silver goblets and steins of course)
I wanted to tie on to this thread, with a topic that's relevant, if you'll bear with me:
Several months ago, I read about bio-char in Mother Earth News. Always looking for ways to improve the desert soil, I was extremely interested. The "Two Beers" presentation on Bio-Char finally gave me the motivation to actually try it. (Thanks, Steve!) (Well, that, I and I was waiting for some rain.) I did not make my char in a manner that the guy [the expert guy; forgot his name!] would approve of, probably. I dug a hole in the ground, built a fire, and pumped enough air into it to get it going real good. Then, when I thought the time was right, I covered the hole with a sheet of scrap plywood I had, and some dirt, let it burn out and cool down, and voila! Bio-Char for the garden. Que Bueno!
Now, here's the tie-in. In the meantime, between my interest in Bio-Char and the actual making of the Char, I had been doing some reading on the internet on homemade smelting. [Here are some keywords if you're interested: "Backyard foundry" "flowerpot crucible"] A person can build a set-up to smelt aluminum and lead, for instance, pretty easily. Not the most valuable metals, but a good place to start. So, I took some of my charcoal I made, and constructed a crude (And, I mean: crude) foundry and smelted some scrap aluminum I had. It wasn't wildly successful, but I did it. I melted some aluminum, and poured the liquid metal into a muffin tin, and I have a shiny aluminum biscuit! My soup-can crucible got so hot it melted in two test-runs. So, I had a lot of scrap and trash, along with the melted aluminum. Plus, my ceramic flower pot got so hot, it cracked into pieces.
Anyway, here's my thoughts on this. This might be a valuable skill to learn for the future, We may actually need someone with some blacksmithing abilities. Further, with some practice, and a good set-up, a person could probably get pretty good at smelting other metals. ie, gold, silver, copper, etc. There are, of course, inherent dangers with this type of trade, so it will be wise to invest in safety equipment if one is to pursue this.
Also, this: Looking on e-bay, a person can buy a jeweler's furnace for about $500-$1000 bucks. They're electric, and run off 110V electricity. That model looks pretty simple. Plug it in, turn it on, put in the metal, and wait. (SAFETY CAVEAT GOES HERE!) When I was a kid, I had an uncle with a lead furnace. We cast our own fishing sinkers and jigs for a fun winter's day garage project. What if a person with some cash ran an ad like we're seeing more of now, "I buy your gold. Cash today." or something like that? Pay cash for gold at a small percentage of spot, melt it down into ingots, and there's gold. Of course, there's the problem with 14k-24k varieties of gold alloys. I haven't read up enough (yet) to know how this might impact the melting process. Melted jewelry gold will not be as pure as American Eagle gold. Will the alloy metals separate out? What about silver? I know in Mexico, they sell .999 sterling silver. Is sterling the same as 'regular' silver? Not sure if the economics of any of these ideas would make this a viable source of income.
In the past, my company has performed demo jobs on industrial buildings. I made a small fortune (well, to me, anyway. Paid off the student loan!) gleaning the metal/wire scraps that the demo didn't want to mess with. I've got a pretty large pile of copper wire still in my backyard that I need to do something with. Waiting for that hyper-inflation to make it more valuable.
I'm going to continue to research and develop this skill-set, at least as a hobby, because it's interesting to me. Has anyone else out there considering smelting/blacksmithing/metal-working as a skill-set for the future? It's probably too obscure for a "definitive" thread, but I'd love to hear your comments/thoughts.
When I was a kid, I had an uncle with a lead furnace. We cast our own fishing sinkers and jigs for a fun winter's day garage project. What if a person with some cash ran an ad like we're seeing more of now, "I buy your gold. Cash today." or something like that? Pay cash for gold at a small percentage of spot, melt it down into ingots, and there's gold. Of course, there's the problem with 14k-24k varieties of gold alloys. I haven't read up enough (yet) to know how this might impact the melting process. Melted jewelry gold will not be as pure as American Eagle gold. Will the alloy metals separate out?
Indeed, melting gold is not the same as refining gold. If you melt 14K gold jewellry you will still have only 58% gold (14K/24K). In order to increase the purity you would have to refine the gold - a much more difficult task than just melting it. This is one of the reasons that when buying gold or silver you should stick with smaller units that have a refiners hallmark and weight stamp. This will minimize (not eliminate) the chance that you get a counterfit coin or bar.
What about silver? I know in Mexico, they sell .999 sterling silver. Is sterling the same as 'regular' silver? Not sure if the economics of any of these ideas would make this a viable source of income.
Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals.
Has anyone else out there considering smelting/blacksmithing/metal-working as a skill-set for the future? It's probably too obscure for a "definitive" thread, but I'd love to hear your comments/thoughts.
I have done some melting of gold. It is not really very difficult. A simple charcoal fire with a bellows and enough time will get you the approx. 2000 degrees F that you need. MAPP gas works a lot better. A jeweller's crucible works best to contain the gold. I acquired some from a jewellry supply house but I also got some at Harbor Freight (much cheaper). It is amazing all of the different stuff that Harbor Freight has. Almost all of it is Chinese but today everything is made in China.
Yeah gold purification and extraction traditionally uses either Cyanide, or Mercury. Both of these are seriously bad for living a long and full life.
Gold will dissolve in a Sodium or Potassium Cyanide solution, allowing it to be precipitated out, while leaving behind the base contaminents. Or Alternatively you can drop the low quality gold into Mercury, which gold dissolves in, then take the Mercury gold solution, and evaporate the mercury, leaving Gold in the evaporation cup.
For further reading on Gold purification using Cyanide.
Small snippet of info on removal of Mercury from Gold Amalgam.
So due to the dangerous substances, this is not recommended for either the faint of heart, or non-professionals.
Currently, almost no artisal miners in the USA use mercury to capture/refine gold. Not only is it highly regulated to the point of being illegal there are better/safer ways. However, it is still a problem in some third world countries. For this reason, there are several groups that have offered alternative chemical and gravity methods to separate gold from the impurities that are acquired in the process of mining it.
Here are a couple of examples:
1. (gravity method)
The Popandson Fine Gold Sluice,
Design and Operating Guidelines
Many places in the world only have fine gold, or a significant component of the value is fine gold, which we figure is 100 mesh (150 micron)
and smaller. There is a lot of existing technology capable of getting the +100 mesh, so we thought it worthwhile to go after the -100 mesh
fine gold. Building on the successes of others to advance fine gold recovery technology, we experimented and tested and took the prototypes
to the field and generally have had a very good time. I guess you could say we’re actually more innovators than miners, although someday we may get serious about actually recovering significant quantities of fine gold.
So through trail and error, we have developed the Popandson Sluice for fine gold recovery, comprised of a series of different sizes of
raised expanded metal over Nomad miner’s moss in a simple and inexpensive gravity sluice. Testing 1,2 shows recoveries of +95% of gold
from 100 to 200 mesh, and +85% of gold from 200-325 mesh at small scale “production rates”.
note the +95% recovery rate 100 to 200 mesh gold
2. Chemical Method
The iGoli Mercury-free gold extraction process;
Artisanal miners typically use unsophisticated and inefficient methods to concentrate gold. This includes the use of mercury for the final extraction. Mercury is highly toxic and a health hazard to humans and animals, either through direct exposure, or if it enters the food chain. The mercury-free iGoli process has been developed by Mintek to make gold extraction more efficient and environmentally responsible.
iGoli is a simple, safe, and highly effective method of gold extraction that produces an extremely pure product. It consists of leaching the gold concentrate with dilute hydrochloric acid and bleach. After the solids are filtered, the gold is precipitated out with sodium metabisulphate.
It is also interesting to note that there are at least 75 ways to recover gold.
Time for a jaw-dropper - it sure was for me when I totted up how many different methods are known for recovering gold. I thought maybe 20, and was astounded to end up with 75! That's with the help of a lot of Forum members and from people from around the world - its an attempt at a
Of course having a World List is fun. It is also very worthwhile in an effort to find alternatives to mercury and cyanide problems among
artisanal miners, and for all of us to catch MORE gold. It also seems to me that many neglected methods merit revisiting by inventors, experimenters and equipment makers in the light of new manufacturing materials and our better know-how these days of the many properties of gold.
This World List is not a final list at all, just a progress report!
I'd best explain how a method gets on the World List:
1 - the method must have a clear description
2 - the method must be plausible within the realm of science, and
3 - the method must have at least some data on its ability to recover gold of different sizes.
By the way, over 400 methods failed to meet these rather simple criteria and are omitted - maybe 10% merit fresh attention.
Also omitted are hand-held manually-driven gold recovery devices – pans, bowls, bateas, dulongs, lotoks etc. as they merit a list of their own! Maybe someone would like to try and make one?
The World List is arranged more-or-less chronologically to indicate the waxing and waning of different methods through time. Doing so was difficult, bearing in mind the time lag between a) the invention, b) the patent and c) the commercialisation.
So, here we go, just ask for any number between 1 and 75
Prior to 1970
1: mercury – amalgamation of gold
2: cyanide – chemical leaching of gold
3: chlorine – chemical leaching of gold
4: iodine – chemical leaching of gold
5: bromine – chemical leaching of gold
6: thiocyanate – chemical leaching of gold
7: thiourea – chemical leaching of gold
8: nitric acid – chemical cleaning of gold
9: aqua regia – chemical leaching of gold
10: borax – smelting of gold
2000 - 2007
71: Loewen electrostatic sluice – 2000s research in Alberta
72: Popandson sluice – 2000s research in USA
73: reflux classifier – 2000s research in Australia
74: Ecologic E-tower – 2000s research in New Zealand
75: helix belt – 2000s research in Canada and USA
I think the Harbor Freight models were the ones I was seeing. They look easy enough to work with. Are these models worth paying the money for, just to start this as an experiment? Or, is it more worthwhile to construct a homemade furnace?
Regarding the charcoal fire, what do you use to actually contain the molten metal. (That's the crucible, right?) how do you get a material that won't itself melt in such a hot fire? Again, my set-up was just an experiment, but my soup-can crucible melted through. Hard for me to imagine what can withstand that kind of heat?
What about the overall merits of the idea? Melting PM's into ingots at home? Is this a strategy I might implement in a SHTF scenario? Or should I give up the idea, and go back to my garden?
Thanks, Ken: Sounds like you've got some good experience in this topic. I've got lots of questions on this.
The Harbor Freight model I was talking about are just the crucibles which is what you put the metal (gold) in to melt. You would still need some type of furnace. These crucibles are fairly small and would not be suitable for something as large as table ware.
I have some experience at it only because I had an interest in trying it out. To expect to make money at this type of activity is probably unrealistic.
After you melt and pour your PM -What do you really have? As far as anyone else knows it is a chunk of yellow or silver looking metal. Without an assay you would have a difficult time selling/bartrering it to anyone. The placer gold that I melted is now a blob of yellow metal. I had no intention of trying to sell it or I would not have melted it. It is actually easier to sell placer gold than a blob of unknown yellow stuff.
It is certainly feasible to melt gold/silver and make jewellry to sell and some people do that. You have to have more equipment than we are talking about here but more importantly you have to have some artisitic ability to fashion jewellery.
All in all if you want to try out melting PM then go for it. However, it should be looked at as an academic exercise and not an ecomomic one.
Best of Luck
Also, I needed to make up some 15 lb diving weights so I bought a mold and about 100 lbs of lead. I needed a large "crucible" so what I did was got a cast iron skillet (Harbor Freight) and used it for the crucible. It should also work for silver table ware- although I have not tried it. Because the iron skillet with lead was too heavy to manipulate with only the handle I welded some eyes onto the side of the skillet. When I got ready to remove the skillet from the charcoal fire I took a bucket handle and hooked it into the eyes. That way I could use both hands to handle the skillet. It worked pretty well. It should work for silver ware also.
Thanks, Ken. That all makes good sense. I'm probable going to continue to try to learn more, albeit more for the academic excercise than a money-making opportunity. You made a good point.
thanks for the input.
The amount of collective knowledge on this site is absolutely stunning -- thanks for the replies, KenC and all. The silverware's back in the closet for now, but maybe I can talk DH into selling it as it... goodness knows I'm never going to use it with all the polishing involved.
Bummer. I went to the local Harbor Freight store today. They didn't have crucibles. Thinking of other stores that may have them. Hobby stores, maybe?
Try Harbor Freight on-line. They have lots more stuff on-line than in the local store
Good tip, Ken. Thanks.
I have refined some sterling silver and honestly just like jrf29 keep it as is.only make sure to subtract 8% from the weight when comparing it to the pure silver spot price.
In a nutshell to refine 92% sterling silver to 99% silver you disolve the silver in 50% nitric acid. do this outside as it generates poisonous fumes. Once all the silver disolves take this now Silver Nitrate solution and drop in a good chunk of pure copper, new clean copper water pipe works well, again do this outside, instantly you will see a fine grey powder start to form on the bottom it looks just like portland cement. Once you can no longer disolve any more copper into the solution filter out this powder with a funnel lined with a coffee filter. rinse it a few times with distilled water and let the powder dry for a few days. This powder can be melted into a buillion using a welders torch you can get the small 2 tank mapp/oxygen one at home depot for 50 dollars or so. To refine this 99% silver into 99.99+ you take at least a couple of ounces of 99.999+ PURE silver from some silver eagles etc and in a glass breadloaf baking pan disolve them in 50 % nitric acid, this pure silver nitrate becomes your electrolyte and need to be made with PURE ingredients.Now take a dc voltage source of 2 to 3 volts using stainless steel alligator clips(copper or other steel ones will contaminate your electrolyte) connect the positive side to your "dirty silver" connect the negative to a 2"x2"piece of stainless steel. in about an hour you will see pure 99.99% silver crystals begin to collect on the negative side. Once your "dirty" silver has disolved your clean silver crystals will be on the other end. filter out the crystals rinse them and now melt this again to make buillion. take this to a licensed assayer to confirm the purity and give you a certificate and a stamp without this, even after all this work, all you have is a shiny chunk of metal that is no more valuable to the average joe than polished aluminium.
If you can find an antiques or coin dealer that you trust, sell it to them or trade it for a more recognized form of bullion such as eagles, maple leafs, or generic trade rounds. That's what I have been able to do with numismatic coins that have come my way over time.
And tx, I don't know why you consider blacksmithing such an exotic activity. There are a lot of places where you can learn that and used and new equipment is available all over the place. Check out https://www.folkschool.org/
I've been trying to figure out some way to get up there for a couple of years...
Only "exotic" in the sense that I don't know of many people, in this day and age, that smith. I've seen some guys at arts & crafts shows that sell decorative items, dinner bells, metal cut-outs of cowboys, etc. but how many people find that activity crucial to their daily lives? I just think that in a world post peak oil, it may be a valuable skill to have.
I'll check out that link. Who knows? Maybe we can attend class together :-)
My first step has been to learn to make charcoal. I've been working on a batch over the last two days. I don't quite have it down, and my set-up is not perfect, but I've made about two or three 5 gallon buckets full. My next step is to melt down some scrap aluminum I've got laying around, and try to pour some ingots. (A muffin tin, actually - Aluminum muffins!) After Aluminum, I've got some copper wire to try and melt. I've read though that, aside from the much higher temperatures required, that melted copper turns all bubbly and frothy. Interesting. Not sure what that means or how to prevent it.
If I can have some basic sucess with this round of experiments, I may decide to pursue this skill a little further. I'm still a long way off from building a home foundry or forge, but who knows what the future may bring?
Also, Hex1, the silver explanation was very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Sounds a little scary, though, working with acid solutions. I'm sure that if one takes the proper safety precautions, it's perfectly safe. Still, it's probably a little more advanced than I want to be at this time.
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