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!