Sunday, June 6, 2010

Adventures with Silver

Being a curious cat, I decided to investigate sand mold metal casting.  Previous work installing a new water heater for my aunt left quite a bit of silver-tin solder droppings from working on the copper pipes.  After reading a post by T-Rexy at the artistic dot dot dinosaur blog showing silver trilobite jewelry by Billy's a Bad Kitty, it made me wonder if I could make silver fossil replicas.  I used silver-tin solder scraps for my experiments trying to mold fossil shapes in metal.  In the end, silver metal clay is the material that should be used instead of trying to recycle plumbing solder. Below shows an attempt to replicate Turritella gastropod fossil from Alabama.

First, when dealing with flames or soldering irons remember safety is the priority.  During my metal working, I wore safety glasses and had on thick leather gloves.  In addition, I worked with the metal inside a grill and used thick rocks and metal trays with sand as a medium to hold the molten metal.  Extreme caution was used when dealing with this hot material and tools!

On of my molds involved the Silurian Period brachiopod Stegerhynchus? from the Waldron Shale of Clark County, Indiana.  The first picture shows a result and you can see the pits made by grains of sand, maybe they can be polished out?  A picture below shows the actual fossil and its silver-tin replica.

I next tried the Phacops rana trilobite from the Jeffersonville Limestone of Clark County, Indiana.  A few things became obvious at this point, detail gets lost in the sand and metal replica gets a lot smaller than the original.

My last set of images show an experiment using a Flexicalymene trilobite from the Ordovician Period. I used plaster to make this mold because the fossil is small.  As you can see, the plaster got some what scorched while melting the metal.

UPDATE: (07/04/2010) The Dry Dredgers of Cincinnati generate some great YouTube videos and one of them is of a member who did some lost wax castings of fossils using brass.  Included in this post is the link to the video:

As a side experiment inspired by Theodore Gray's column at Popular Science on how he burned diamonds.  I do not have any diamonds plus it appears quite dangerous to burn them.  Instead I wanted to try and melt fluorite after reading it is used as a flux for steel making.  So I tried it and found that fluorite crystals sort of just explode like a kernel of popcorn in the microwave. Suspecting this might happen I had metal shielding between me and the crystals I was working with. Now I wonder if they grind the fluorite into a powder and then try to melt it?  More research needed...


Dave said...

I would like to be the first to offer my condolences to the Popp Family upon the untimely demise of Michael. :P Be careful!

Fossil Detective said...

Don't you know, curious cats have nine lives. ;)

My experiments are pretty much over and I did not catch anything on fire.

T-rexy said...

These are looking pretty good! I'm really impressed with your creative approaches! Glad you're trying this out- if you're interested in looking into other avenues of success, I might suggest seeing if any of the local colleges (especially art colleges) in your area offer foundry classes. I took foundry throughout college and had lots of fun figuring out how to make detailed casts from molds.

T-rexy said...

PS. Thanks for the blog shout-out :)

Fossil Detective said...

It is neat working with the metal even though I kludged my setup together in MacGyver fashion...well in my case more like MacGruber.

The geology club I am in is associated with the Southeast Federation of Mineralogical Societies, Inc. which is affiliated Wildacres and William Holland where they teach lapidary arts (including silversmithing & metal clays).

I thought about volunteering at Louisville Glassworks because they have a 2200 F degree furnace to study. Classes there might cost about $500.