G. Ribisi played Phoebe Buffay’s (Lisa Kudrow) brother, Frank Jr. in the sitcom Friends back in the 90’s. He was memorable. In the introduction scene where he meets his long-not-seen sister, Frank Jr. spends the bulk of his time with her melting plastic in the apartment kitchen. He was fascinated by melting plastic. It was weird, amusing and quickly established his character as quirky at best, whacked most likely. I confess that, at the time, I didn’t really get it. Melting plastic is a pretty cool thing to do – that part I get – but what kind of sitcom writer uses melting plastic as an introduction for a character?
Now I know.
My friend, J, is clearly channeling his inner Giovanni. He wants to melt. In this case, he wants to melt silver and gold. He has collected a bunch of old sterling silver plates, bowls, cutlery and such (92.5% pure silver) and a few ounces of gold bits and pieces and he ordered all the stuff to get into melting such stuff. He’s keen. And he wants company. Enter Dave stage right. But the proper damn equipment hasn’t arrived yet (Covid delays) and he’s impatient so we started melting yesterday sans all the right equipment.
J can do just about anything and has the attitude to go along with that. He’ll do just about anything, too. Plus he is well equipped with assorted tools and equipment and is more than willing to use rocks, boulders, logs and junk to make a stab at something. Yesterday, we made a stab at melting some precious metals.
J pulled out his Oxy-Acetylene torch, grabbed a slab of granite rock off the ground and made a cement table using some Hardie planks and two saw horses. Then he handed me a thick apron for my bare legs and told me to ‘Go on, Dave, melt that stuff!’ So, I did. I started with the little bits of gold.
But before you melt anything, you have to have something in which to melt it that does not include melting the actual vessel itself. You need to start with a very heat resistant crucible and then treat it to make it even better. J had brought along a pretty dinky crucible but that seemed okay as we had pretty dinky amounts of metal. Step one is to ‘season’ or ‘cure’ or ‘something’ the crucible by melting Borax in it. Melting Borax is like melting salt or sugar. The white powder forms a coating on the crucible. After a bit, the crucible was ‘glazed’ with the melted Borax and ready to receive a concentrated blast of heat directed to the metal that was subsequently placed in the now-ready crucible.
For you own safety, do not underestimate how hot Oxy-Acetylene can get, how Borax occasionally splatters, how melting metal always splatters and how important wearing something thick over bare skin is. Trust me on that. That lesson sinks home pretty quickly.
It is a trickier process than it seems, too. Despite the granite rock tipping and rocking at the most dangerous times, the precariousness of Hardi-planks on saw horses with Sal anywhere nearby, a blazing white-hot torch and none of us knowing what we were actually doing until we were too deep into it to get out, we prevailed. The hardest part was actually pouring the molten metal out of the crucible into the tiny Graphite mold. J had foisted the pouring of liquid gold and silver to me. He’s smarter than he looks.
Plastic is much easier to melt, of course, but it still gets pretty hot. And still I have melted plastic onto my bare skin in the past many times trying to do some cockamamie plastic repair-chore. But here I was working with some really hot stuff! I tried to be careful (a bit late in the process, don’t you think?) and, except for a couple of inadvertent touching of really hot things, I went mostly unscathed. I had on thick gloves that weren’t quite thick enough but still kept things tolerable. Bottom line: molten metal is dangerous stuff and that becomes increasingly more and more apparent as you go along.
Like Frank Jr. though, we kept at it and were rewarded with blobs of melted silver and smaller blobs of melted gold rather than just large blobs of plastic on a kitchen table. We are so much smarter than Frank Jr. don’t you think?
Maybe not. J was strangely encouraged by it all and is eagerly anticipating getting the proper equipment. He wants to melt more stuff. He wants more blobs. Me? Well, okay…I admit that making blobs wasn’t so bad. Kinda fun, actually. I wouldn’t mind a few more blobs, if I do say so myself. I will definitely go back for another audition.
But, this time, I will be wearing thicker everything.