Fine silver

I know this has little to do with printmaking, but some of you may be interested in some of the crazy things I have been doing lately. In the 60’s, after I had left the TV station as art director, I started freelancing by doing architectural photography and model building. What my real interest was goldsmithing as I hoped to make a living doing it. I managed to do fairly well considering I had little time left after the architects demands. You can see from the jewelry section in this site that I was very involved with one off commissioned pieces or original designs that I made for sale in a few outlets across Canada.

Over the years I had collected much sterling and gold scraps, which I was able to recycle in adding to new metal, but the sawing and filing fine particles were all just put into a container that collected over the years I was active. A few years ago I decided to refine the precious metals as they have been steadily rising in price and made it worth the effort. To start I melted all the fine pieces together with a large amount of copper, then poured it into spinning water to form small metal shot. This I then dissolved in diluted nitric acid to produce silver and copper nitrate. Because of the amount of copper, the sediment left was very fine particles of pure 24K gold, which I filtered out and melted into an ingot. To my surprise there was just over two troy ounces of fine gold.

To get the silver, I added common table salt to produce silver chloride that settled out as a white sludge. This was washed many times with water and discarded with the liquid copper nitrate, which has little value in comparison. I had not bothered smelting the silver at that time as I figure it may contain only a few troy ounces. On a very nice day this week, my wife and I set up a larger “forge” made from a large red clay flower pot. It contained a welded support for the graphite crucible to melt the silver, and a iron pile to allow the forced air from a commercial heat gun to aid the fire. The silver chloride was mixed with borax and some charcoal and put into the crucible. Charcoal briquets were used as fuel to get the crucible a bit higher than the melting point of silver.

It took many charges of silver chloride and charcoal, but after about two hours we had recovered quite a large amount of solid fine silver. To my surprise it amounted to 32.7 troy ounces, which is quite a sum in todays silver prices.

While I do very little jewelry these days, I am looking for some germanium to produce a tarnish resistant sterling by addition of a very few % points. Sterling silver is produced if 92.5% is fine silver and the remainder any other metal, but usually copper. Copper is the problem as it darkens faster than silver and produces cuprous oxide beneath the surface when heated during fabrication. Just 1-3% germanium prevents this problem encountered by all silver workers.

I am also interested in seeing what would happen if I used tin as well since it has been used in copper to produce bronze as one of mans’ earliest technical discoveries. It might make the sterling too hard, but should reduce tarnishing as well. Any thoughts out there about this?

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