Friday, September 6, 2013

Down an Unbeaten Path (Part I)

A popular contest in the SCA Arts & Sciences community is to do a "sheep-to-shirt" project--going from raw fleece, through cleaning, combing, spinning, dyeing, weaving, measuring, cutting, and sewing, to a finished garment.  Wouldn't it be cool to do a "rock-to-cup" project?  Start with ore, smelt it, hammer it out, then work it into some type of artifact?

So, I started looking into where copper comes from.  I've got plenty, to be honest--having recently re-plumbed my house, and removed all of the old plumbing still in the basement from the last re-plumbing, there's lots of old copper pipe sitting in the Garage, awaiting its trip to the recycling facility; I could "save" some of it by melting it down myself--but I'm getting ahead of my story...

Good sources of copper ore include malachite and azurite, both semi-precious stones.  Well, not having the funds available to buy enough of either, I began casting about for alternatives.  As luck would have it, I found a YouTube video on making your own copper ore, from common household ingredients.  The process involves dissolving some root killer (copper sulfate) in water, then adding baking soda.  The sodium bicarbonate reacts with the copper sulfate to give copper carbonate, water, a little sodium sulfate, and a whole lot of CO2.  The copper carbonate crystals will precipitate and settle out of solution--and what is malachite, but copper carbonate!  A little coarse filtration and drying, and there you are.

What is required then is smelting.  Again, YouTube to the rescue!  Another couple of videos demonstrate "Bronze Age" and "Iron Age" smelting.  Dig a small hole, add a blow-tube ("truyere") with a bellows; build a charcoal fire.  When it's going well, toss in your crushed "malachite" (copper carbonate dust/powder), add a little more charcoal, then cover the whole thing (you need a reducing environment, with minimal oxygen, else you'll end up with black copper oxide).  Let it go for a few hours, working the bellows the whole time, then let the fire go out, and the whole thing can cool.  Dig through the ashes at the bottom, and hey-presto!

All of which seems a little primitive.  You can also put your ore, with a little charcoal, into a crucible, put a lid on it, and heat the whole thing up, then pour it into a mold (or cast something with it--I've got the soapstone for it...).  Much cleaner!  But I don't have a crucible... So, a little more research is in order.

(To Be Continued...)

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