Experiment 17: Melting Metal in a Campfire

If you want to melt metal at home, but you don't want to go to the expense, hassle, and surprising manual labor required to build a complete furnace, this experiment is for you!  You can easily and cheaply melt metal in a campfire at home or while camping!  To do this experiment, I cut a soup can down to about 2" and then cut holes in the sides so that an iron bar I had could pass through.  Then, I secured the can to the bar with a piece of thick copper wire.  My can-on-a-stick crucible ready, I put in a quarter's worth of pennies dated after 1982 (these pennies have mostly zinc cores) and lit the completely regular campfire.  No fanning, blowers, charcoal, or other extremes are needed to melt your very own metal in a campfire.  While the fire was going, I made a mold by placing a 1 1/2" diameter brass pipe about 2" long on top of a large flat piece of stainless steel.  The specific metals for these don't really matter; I just had them on hand.  This setup provided a good way to create a circular ingot mold for the zinc, without messing around with sand, wood, or plaster of paris.  Once the fire was going, I put my can-on-a-stick over the fire and let the pennies melt.  They melted quite quickly, actually.  When they were molten, I used a short strip of steel to scoop off the copper shells of the pennies, revealing the amazingly shiny liquid zinc underneath.  I poured this in a smooth, swift motion into the brass pipe on the stainless steel and set everything aside to cool.  Cooling is really important, because very hot metal looks just like cold metal (I have a burn on my finger to prove this).  Once everything was cool, I knocked my new ingot out of the pipe.  Success!
The circular ingot blanks have a nice weighty feel and look very shiny to boot!  Also, note that after some calculations, I figured out that I had a 70% efficiency with this process.  Thus, 30% of the zinc metal I had in the pennies was wasted.  Keep this in mind, and have fun!

Experiment 16: Waste Oil (Heh Heh!)

My mind is always cogitating with new ideas and exploits to carry out, so this experiment is part of something bigger - much bigger.  Eventually, I plan to build a complete waste oil foundry capable of melting iron - yes, you heard me right, iron.  The awesome thing about this idea is that it runs off of waste vegetable or motor oil, which should be able to be acquired for free.  Thus, instead of paying for propane or charcoal (the latter of which is messy), I hope to be able to fire up my foundry whenever and pour a crucible full of liquid iron like it's as easy as walking down the street.

Anyhow, back to the experiment.  I took some vegetable oil (it was new, but the basic concept is the same) and some used lawn mower oil and then soaked a paper towel in each.  I placed these in a busted crock pot as a containment system for the fire and then lit the toweling on fire with regular matches.  After these were alight, I soaked some newspaper in the vegetable oil and added it.  To finish off the spectacle, I drizzled the leftover vegetable oil into the flames.  Then I started to play with my fire.  Yes, playing with fire.  I try to do it regularly.  To add oxygen to the flames like a waste oil foundry would, I blew hard on the fire.  The results were truly amazing.  The flames lept up to at least 1 1/2 feet and magnified in intensity tenfold.  They were extremely fierce and sometimes even white.  I really wish I had pictures, because these flames were really great - especially when one considers that they came from just oil and paper towels.  Thus, Experiment 16: Waste Oil (Heh Heh!) proved that waste oil:
  • Burns nicely
  • Combusts SUPER nicely with added oxygen
  • Will most certainly melt iron, given insulation, enough oil, and a lot of air
Successful experiment!  Time to make a proper burner for the oil in the style of "The Brute" from here!

Experiment 15: Burning Lithium Metal!

Well, I'll keep this one short and simple.  I disassembled a lithium battery pack from an old cordless phone and then extracted the lithium metal foil inside (Experiment 2: Lithium Battery).  The foil was stored in a jar full of baby oil.  My baby oil was made out of mineral oil to preserve the lithium.  When I was ready to light the metal, I dried it off with paper towels and then folded it neatly.  The lithium was readily ignited with a propane torch.