Monday, April 14, 2014

Fire and pickles?

Back when I took over the blog I started out with working on rocket stoves and at last report I had accidentally turned my favorite design into a mini charcoal cooker... well, that experience was do at least in part to me being impatient and not loading it well. So this week I'm picking it up again with the goal of learning to load it better (and as part of an ongoing struggle to learn patience...). This time I started with smaller sticks and no bigger stuff (again) and the new lighters I found. It started quickly and then I waited (and waited and waited (several whole minutes at least)) and then...
sideways fire achieved!. I started loading in some wood that was a bit bigger and almost put it out. I added some more small stuff with the medium in and it picked right back up. Over time I added more of each and it kept going pretty well. I added the largest couple of pieces (1-2 inches in diameter) and almost killed it again, but again more small stuff brought it back. There were some wind gusts and it seemed to go out a couple of times but each time it would bounce back with at most some more small material for help.

I have heard rumors of these things getting 'iron banging' hot. I tried testing this with a piece of rebar I wanted to use for a project.
No luck on getting it hot enough to pound out, but it definitely got hot enough I needed my gloves to hold it.

It more or less stayed running over an hour, still taking more attention than I would like, not getting as hot as I would like, but better than before. I finally ended up putting it out with water resulting in lots and lots of steam.

Analysis from this test:
1. feed small material first and build up.

2. never assume it's out unless you've doused it very well.

3. it definitely gets hot enough to generate steam and you can probably cook on it (though that will wait for another test...)

4. I still have tinkering and learning to do (and hope to get it hotter))

But wait there's more!
when you are working with metal sometimes you need to take the oxidation off the surface  a standard tool for doing this for jewelry and small sculpture is pickle. Pickle is an acid compound that is usually kept in a slightly warmed bath. It's a really useful and nice thing, sort of. The problem is most pickles used today are pool ph- (sodium bio-sulfate), sulfuric acid or similar products; these are not chemicals that you want loose in your home, around your kids or pets, or in less than highly controlled conditions... not to mention they are not exactly what you would call eco friendly.

So, I spent a little time looking for a less difficult to store, easy to obtain and a bit friendlier solution. One solution that is testing out nicely is a vinegar and salt mixture. My start mixture for testing is two tablespoons of salt to one cup of vinegar (my online research yielded a wide range of mixes and several arguments on the subject.

For this test we are starting with some copper wire that I am annealing (softening) for another project.
Copper oxidizes quickly and so a good pickle is really necessary (when your sterling silver oxidizes, it has a lot more to do with the 7.5% copper than the 92.5% silver).
Here one of the two bundles has been annealed and the other was left untouched for comparison. After I annealed it, the second one was just as black. And then into the pickle!
the pickle here is fogged up do to my bad habit of quenching the metal in the pickle... and after I bring it out...
Here is the copper after a short time in the pickle. It is no longer mirror shiny because of what's happened to it but it is a bright copper color again and so soft you can bend it with a thought.

Test evaluation:
Vinegar and salt does work as a pickle.
It's a lot safer around pets, kids, spouses and so on.
Both components are available at the grocery store or a decently stocked convenience store meaning it is more available (making mixing some up 'on the spot' a lot more doable, and saves on shipping).
It's mild enough you can safely get cooled metal out with your fingers (thus saving the dreaded "somebody used steel tongs in the pickle!" emergency. (that's a whole 'nother post) 
The one thing it's probably not going to do for you is acid etching (not nearly strong enough).

And as for another kind of 'pickle' entirely...
If you're actually living life every once in a while you find yourself with an, "Ok, how did that work" situation (aka Holy #$@#$#@%$#@! What happened there?)

For me one happened on Friday as I was closing the roll down door to the outside shop when... Whoosh Bang!
One of the springs in the door mechanism popped off, passed within a couple inches of my head and slammed into the door.
On further analysis the end of the spring actually snapped off! So a chance for bodily harm passes and a new home repair adventure begins! (Hey I get to play fix the door! That's great, I didn't have any projects to do... oh wait... nuts).

While we're on scary things let me put in a plug for safety equipment...
 This is one of my welding gauntlets after pressing down on the wire (after it had stopped visibly glowing!). Trust me on this folks if you work on hot metal without proper safety gear you will experience "brand awareness". (And wear the safety glasses too).

Well, more food, fire, fun, and shiny things (and hopefully less opportunities for unintended decapitation) next week! See you then.


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