Refining Scrap Metal in the Studio
Posted by Alison Morse on
Jewelry making is a messy process, and the materials I work with are finite and precious. Making sure I recover all of my scrap is an important part of the process. This means collecting little bits of wire and sheet, filings from sawing, dust from sanding and polishing, and the sludge at the bottom of my tumbler. A little over a year ago I started using a small desktop vacuum to clean my bench at the end of the day. This makes my space a much nicer place to work, and I’ve accumulated a mix of dust and metal shavings that can be sent to a refiner to recover the precious metal.
One of the first things I did at the beginning of the year was deep clean the studio, gathering dust from the top to the bottom of every surface. All of the towels I cleaned with have traces of metal on them that can be reclaimed. I'm still a ways from having the minimum requirement of 5 pounds of material to send in, but it feels good knowing that I'm doing my best to reclaim my dust and scrap. I recognize that these materials come out of the earth and I don’t want to let a speck go to waste!
In addition to sending these dirty scraps and sweeps to a refiner, I do some of my own refining in house. This way I get a 100% return, whereas a refiner would take a cut of the final value as compensation. To do this, I melt down the metal and pour it into an ingot mold that creates either a rod or rectangular shape that can be milled into wire or sheet. I use a rolling mill to compress and stretch the metal into the desired shape. Every few passes through the mill hardens the metal and it becomes more and more brittle. To soften it again so I can continue to shape it, I anneal it by heating it with my torch, rearranging the molecules into a more organized pattern ready to be worked again.
On several occasions I’ve had the opportunity to do custom work using the client’s existing jewelry, melting it down, and turning it into something new. This full circle process is incredibly satisfying!