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Alternatives to denatured alcohol?


#1

I have read and re-read the thread on boric acid and denatured
alcohol under the thread “Roach-pruf”.

I come away from this still not knowing what is the safest to use. I
have been using denatured alcohol with “Magic” Boric Acid Powder. I
am increasingly uncomfortable using this, especially after reading
this thread over again. Is there a safer alternative? Is isopropyl
and boric acid safer and/or effective?

Thank you, I am trying to make my shop safer and also looking into
citric acid as a pickle… any thoughts?

Laura


#2

I’ve been using the denatured alcohol and boric acid flux for about
30 years and I’ve never lit myself on fire now suffered any (new)
birth defects. You could use drinkin’ alcohol but it’s expensive.

I use that hot tub acid in my pickle. I buy hot pots from Walmart
with a lid; the biggest they make. They last about 4 years. Don’t put
your hands in either of these liquids and don’t put your face over
either, either.

Don’t eat, drink or smoke near chemicals. I think safety in a shop is
more about how you do things than about the tools you use.

NM


#3

Laura- If Denatured alcohol and powdered boric acid were so toxic,
there would be no old jewelers. I happen to be one so I know they
exist.

Look, borax is commonly used in washing clothes. Boric acid is also
used in eye washes and as a cure for yeast infections.

Alcohol? Well, it hasn’t killed me yet despite al of the vodka I’ve
drunk over the years. Denatured alcohol is just alcohol that has had
stuff added to it to keep folks from drinking it.

So… Don’t drink your boric acid and alcohol solution. I give the
same advice for cyanide and pickle

Have fun, stop worrying so much, and make a bunch of nice jewelry.

Jo Haemer
www.timothywgreen.com


#4

Isopropyl is not a good choice as boric acid is not terribly soluble
in isopropyl. Denatured will be fine just keep your fingers out of
the jar, fish around for that lost piece with tweezers.

Thank you, I am trying to make my shop safer and also looking into
citric acid as a pickle... any thoughts? 

I have used citric acid for years and it works just fine.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#5

isopropyl alcohol isn’t as effective nor does it dissolve acids as
readily as denatured alcohol or a pure, ingestible grain alcohol like
everclear (180 proof). Stick with the denatured alcohol and use pure
borax over 20 mule team- the laundry stuff contains fillers and
excipients that make up about 6% of the composition. Grate, chip or
grind a cone down to a usable form and then dissolve it in alcohol,
store in a non-metallic closed jar (ordinary canning jars metallic
rings, though they have a fairly thin sealing area of rubber, rust
readily- so if you can find an all glass stoppered container that
screws or bails shut (usually with a rubber or even better, a
silicone gasket -bed, bath and beyond has them, or make your own
silicone discs out of sheet silicone (a silicone pot holder, or tub
sealant piped onto a non-stick surface and fully cured: if you go
that route, make sure to form the ring/gasket a bit larger in
outside diameter than the opening of the jar/vessel you intend to
store the mixture in). It will last a long time if tightly sealed.
boric acid is more intended to add to the melting of scrap or in
making an alloy in the crucible…or anytime the metal needs a degree
of cleaning. If you are doing the first fluxing in a simple two part
soldering application a product like Cupronil, or your own mixture of
borax and alcohol works well particularly if you build up the coats
by warming the metal between each subsequent spray of chemical
preparation. They are relatively non-toxic if you don’t position your
face over the soldering operation, if you have at least adequate, if
not excellent, ventilation and direction of the fumes away from your
respiratory system. Peroxide, citric acid or sour salt are
alternatives to borax, but they can’t be used to glaze a crucible and
aren’t intended to use as a flux, so if money or storing chemicals is
a consideration in your studio one product- borax - would be my first
recommendation. For pickling though, sodium bisulfite, or pool pH
down is readily available at most hardware stores, home stores, and
x-marts… it is less than half the cost of Sparex (I personally
wouldn’t support Krohn industries in any way) for the same basic
chemical. Again most brands of pH down have a few fillers, so if you
want the purer stuff a source like www. cheapchemicals. com sells it-
still less than Krohn’s Sparex, and with far less fillers than Krohn
adds in either form (pure or pH down as Sparex is getting more and
more additive-full as the years progress…it is filled presently with
clay from sewerage sludge that has been somewhat refined and as such
leaves a slick of brown goo on the top of a new batch of Sparex.
Whatever size container you may buy they all have at least 10% junk
added at a premium cost because its sold to the jewelry industry
compared to buying it as a chemical in its pure form, or intended
for a pool…If Its a question of what works best in the studio borax
is the best bet, if you do alot of scrap reclaimation, then having
pure boric acid most roach away products contain nothing but 100%
boric acid and far cheaper than buying the USP stuff at a pharmacy in
the “simples” section (near the rosewater) is beneficial…they are
not 100% interchangeable though, boric acid is slightly more toxic
melted -again, if you are breathing it in… - but you positively
need borax to glaze a crucible as nothing else works on clay or
silica crucibles (graphite crucibles do not need glazing if intended
for an electro-melt furnace)…and I have known people that tried
using enamel (vitreous/ glass) for glazing a crucible but it doesn’t
work-it cracks when cooling and makes a mess with anything requiring
more than 1700 degrees fahrenheit- like borax which can be
repeatedly reheated or replaced provided the crucible is still usable
and the borax has absorbed all the oxides possible (it will turn
opaque blue, through blue-greens with silvers, and red through
reddish browns with golds once saturated with oxides. If the crucible
is worth saving you can heat the glass flux to molten and drive it
off with gravity into a metal bucket of water, or cast iron pan with
sand…never use a plastic container as the molten flux glass can melt
through the bottom of the vessel holding water due to its weight when
the mass hits bottom)… rer


#6

Thank you. You guys rock! I’ve been using it (denatured alcohol and
boric acid) for years, but sometimes when you work alone all the
time, you wonder if you missed the safety lecture :wink: Appreciate your
candid and humorous responses. Back to having fun!

Laura


#7
Stick with the denatured alcohol and use pure borax over 20 mule
team- the laundry stuff contains fillers and excipients that make
up about 6% of the composition. 

Here we go again. Borax (Na2B4O7-10H2O) AKA Sodium Borate or Sodium
Tetraborate or Sodium Perborate is NOT very soluble in denatured
ethyl alcohol, only 2% by weight.

So no matter how fine you grind it it will not dissolve more than 2%
into the alcohol. Boric Acid is however more soluble in ethyl
alcohol, 11% by weight. Both are much more soluble in methyl (wood)
alcohol (borax 19%, boric acid 20%) but, methyl alcohol is much
more toxic than ethyl (grain) alcohol.

The bottom line here is that trying to get fire stain/scale
protection from borax in denatured ethyl alcohol or grain
alcohol (180 proof everclear) is pretty much a waste of time and
materials. Boric acid on the other hand works just fine and both
work much better in methyl alcohol

Peroxide, citric acid or sour salt are alternatives to borax, 

Again where do you get this stuff. What kind of peroxide would you
be referring to here? And citric acid (aka sour salt) in not useful
as a hard soldering flux and in fact will inhibit solder flow. It
can however be used as a soft (lead/tin) solder flux however.

If Its a question of what works best in the studio borax is the
best bet, 

Boric acid melts at 366 F (169 C) and coats the metal and begins to
provide protection from oxidation on the other hand borax does not
melt till it reaches 1369 F (743 C) so you get no protection till it
reaches this temperature. Both borax and boric acid decompose to
boron oxide when heated to high temperatures. Boron oxide dissolves
many metal oxides to from a metal metaborate this is the heart of
the flux/metal reaction we need to get clean solder joints. So there
is no difference in how both boric acid and borax act as oxide
reducing fluxes because it is the boron oxide formed in the thermal
decomposition of both borax and boric acid that is the true fluxing
agent. The molten glass like compounds that form as both of these
compounds melt provide a barrier protection between the oxygen in
the air and the heated metal as it approaches soldering
temperatures. Because boric acid melts at such a low temperature you
get a much earlier formation of the glass like barrier layer than
the one you get with borax. In fact many silver solders melt at
temperatures below the melting point of borax so using pure borax as
a flux for silver soldering will often be a frustrating experience.
If you use a mixture of both boric acid and borax you get the best
of both materials and this is the basis for Prips flux, Cupronil
Stop-Ox and other similar water based flux preparations. Many past
fluxes will also have both boric acid and borax in them, often with
other components like sodium bi-fluoride and potassium hydroxide
that aid in cleaning and make the flux more fluid.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#8
The bottom line here is that trying to get fire stain/scale
protection from borax in denatured ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol
(180 proof everclear) is pretty much a waste of time and materials.
Boric acid on the other hand works just fine and both work much
better in methyl alcohol 

Without arguing at all with your solubility notes, I might add two
more. One is that whatever the usefulness of boric acid over borax,
it should be noted that almost universally in the jewelry trade, the
mix used is ordinary denatured alcohol (since it’s available and
cheap) along with boric acid powder.

The solubility of either chemical in the alcohol is actually only a
minor concern most of the time, since most of us (well, at least the
jewelers I’ve known, and sources I’ve read on the subject) don’t use
this mix as a clear solution of dissolved chemical in alcohol.
Rather, using powdered boric acid, we usually mix a slurry. Some of
the boric acid may dissolve, but it doesn’t matter, since the alcohol
is mostly there as a carrier, which carries the slurry of
undissolved powder just as well as it carries the percentage which is
dissolved. This practice means that any of the alcohols would work
about the same, unless one is expecting good protection from only the
clear alcohol without suspended undissolved particles. And I’ve found
that doing that sometimes doesn’t put quite enough boric acid on the
piece to give the full level of protection one might wish (though I
admit I’ve not tried it with methyl alcohol). Doing it that way might
be the practice and sufficient for some, but it’s not what I’ve
observed in commercial practice. Mixing the alcohol and powder to a
slurry means it would work just as well to put a coating of borax
powder on the metal too, if starting with sufficiently
ground-to-a-powder material. And the alcohol is used primarily
because it either evaporates quickly, leaving a protective coating,
or can be burned off even quicker. Burning it off has the advantage
that then you don’t have as much annoying and potentially toxic
alcohol fumes floating around. The alcohol also perhaps offers some
effect as a cleaning/wetting agent, allowing the boric acid to not
have to fight through fingerprints or minor oils, etc, as much,
though I’m kind of guessing there.

Also, regarding RER’s comment to not use laundry aisle borax, I’d
suggest that even though it has additives, those don’t seem to make a
difference. I’ve used that very cheap grade of borax (20 mule team
brand from the laundry aisle) for making prips flux since I first
learned how to make it in '72. Never had any complaint, nor noticed
any difference between my mix made with that, and the mix made by me
or others (such as in school) made with technical grade chemical.
The main difference I see is that with the laundry aisle stuff, when
you go to pour some from the box, it pours without you needing to
work so hard to break up the big lump the box would otherwise have
turned into while sitting on the shelf… The same, by the way, can
be noted with regard to useing hardware store sodium bisulphate, sold
for pool and spa water conditioning, as pickle. It too has
anti-caking additives so it doesn’t form clumps. But those don’t
seem to affect it’s function as pickle.

If Its a question of what works best in the studio borax is the
best bet, 
... In fact many silver solders melt at temperatures below the
melting point of borax so using pure borax as a flux for silver
soldering will often be a frustrating experience. 

True. But here, RERs comment has substantial historical precendent,
as the use of a just plain borax slurry or paste, obtained by
grinding a borax cone into a slate dish with water, is indeed a
longtime traditional silver soldering flux, the use of which can
still be found mentioned in some contemporary books on silver work.
Whether it’s the best way, of course, is a whole other question,
which you address well, as usual. :slight_smile: But I recall in my very first
jewelry classes, in high school in (I think it was…) 1968 (whew.
that long ago?), that borax cone and slate dish was the flux we most
often used. There was also some blue liquid flux the teacher had,
and would bring out if someone was having trouble, but most of the
time it got hoarded since it cost more…

Peter Rowe


#9

The bottom line here is that trying to get fire stain/scale
protection from borax in denatured ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol
(180 proof everclear) is pretty much a waste of time and
materials. Boric acid on the other hand works just fine and both
work much better in methyl alcohol

Without arguing at all with your solubility notes, I might add two
more. One is that whatever the usefulness of boric acid over
borax, it should be noted that almost universally in the jewelry
trade, the mix used is ordinary denatured alcohol (since it's
available and cheap) along with boric acid powder. 
The solubility of either chemical in the alcohol is actually only
a minor concern most of the time, since most of us (well, at least
the jewelers I've known, and sources I've read on the subject)
don't use this mix as a clear solution of dissolved chemical in
alcohol. Rather, using powdered boric acid, we usually mix a
slurry. Some of the boric acid may dissolve, but it doesn't matter,
since the alcohol is mostly there as a carrier, which carries the
slurry of undissolved powder just as well as it carries the
percentage which is dissolved.

I think you may not realize how much the assistance of the dissolved
boric acid is helping your work as you over fill to create the
slurry. I will also say that there are many who use commercial flux
preparations like Luxi Flux or other methyl alcohol boric acid
fluxes without the extra boric acid and it works just fine. I think
the reason for the slurry is because of the lower solubility of
boric acid in denatured alcohol. As you say denatured is readily
available and cheap compared to methyl alcohol. So your typical
frugal jeweler will substitute denatured and then realizes it
doesn’t work as well and just adds more boric acid till the slurry
is formed and protection gets to a reasonable level with the slurry.

This practice means that any of the alcohols would work about the
same, unless one is expecting good protection from only the clear
alcohol without suspended undissolved particles. 

I have tried 99% isopropyl and found it is not as good as denatured
so I will disagree here

And I've found that doing that sometimes doesn't put quite enough
boric acid on the piece to give the full level of protection one
might wish (though I admit I've not tried it with methyl alcohol). 

Try it I think you will like it.

Also, regarding RER's comment to not use laundry aisle borax, I'd
suggest that even though it has additives, those don't seem to make
a difference. I've used that very cheap grade of borax (20 mule
team brand from the laundry aisle) for making prips flux since I
first learned how to make it in '72. Never had any complaint, nor
noticed any difference between my mix made with that, and the mix
made by me or others (such as in school) made with technical grade
chemical. 

The last time I looked up the MSDS for 20 Mule team borax it is pure
borax, no additives.

If Its a question of what works best in the studio borax is the
best bet… … In fact many silver solders melt at temperatures
below the melting point of borax so using pure borax as a flux for
silver soldering will often be a frustrating experience.

True. But here, RERs comment has substantial historical
precendent, as the use of a just plain borax slurry or paste,
obtained by grinding a borax cone into a slate dish with water, is
indeed a longtime traditional silver soldering flux, the use of
which can still be found mentioned in some contemporary books on
silver work. Whether it's the best way, of course, is a whole other
question, which you address well, as usual. :-) 

Agreed as to the historical precedent but that just means they did
not have boric acid readily available in the old days and probably
did not know the advantages. This is why Prip developed his flux as
a boric acid, borax mix. For gold work borax is great and for hard
silver solders but medium and easy grades don’t get enough
protection from pure borax.

Regards,
James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#10

James, I think in one of the threads the Citric Acid was being used
as a Sparex pickle substitute. I use a Citric Acid pickle and it
works just fine. Never used or heard about Peroxide as a Pickle
substitute though.

Monica


#11
James, I think in one of the threads the Citric Acid was being
used as a Sparex pickle substitute. I use a Citric Acid pickle and
it works just fine. Never used or heard about Peroxide as a Pickle
substitute though 

Yes it works great as a pickle and when mixed with hydrogen peroxide
it will do wonders for removing copper flash from accidental copper
plating and other aggressive pickle jobs. But RER offered them as
substitutes for borax in the middle of a discussion on flux/firecoat
hence my question and comment.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#12

It is interesting to note that denatured alcohol is generally
produced by the addition of methanol (poison to drink) with good old
drinkable ethanol (also poison?). The only reason to add the
denaturant is to make the ethanol undrinkable. Methanol causes severe
gastric disturbance, or so I read on the side of the container. Why
do they bother? Why go to the effort? Well, the ethanol in a gallon
of denatured product is cheap. It is not taxed. Vodka is ethanol plus
various amounts of water (perhaps other flavorants but I cant detect
them). It is expensive because it is taxed as a beverage and is a
source of great revenue. Alcohol is cheap, booze is expensive.
Perhaps, as a native Tennessean I carry a chip on my shoulder over
this.

Gerald Vaughan


#13
It is interesting to note that denatured alcohol is generally
produced by the addition of methanol (poison to drink) with good
old drinkable ethanol (also poison?). 

I would not say generally, I can buy 3 different brands of denatured
alcohol here in town. Each one has a different set of additives to
make it “denatured” One is mostly methanol as the additive but the
other two contain no methanol. If you are curious you can generally
find the MSDS on line with the list of compounds used. I buy the one
with methanol as it makes it work better as a fire coat.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#14

Has anyone tried 100% methanol? I was just comparing the price
difference of the two, and you can get a gallon of methanol for
around $3.00, versus a gallon of denatured alcohol for around
$14.00.

Btw, I tried buying a pint of denatured alcohol at my local Fred
Meyer Pharmacy, and they wanted $13.50 for it; it would have cost me
$60.00 for a gallon!

So what about methanol?


#15
Has anyone tried 100% methanol? I was just comparing the price
difference of the two, and you can get a gallon of methanol for
around $3.00, versus a gallon of denatured alcohol for around
$14.00. 

Methanol will work great as a carrier for boric acid and/or borax.
The big caveat is that it is very toxic by ingestion, inhalation and
skin contact so you need good ventilation, and work habits to safely
use it. I use a premixed methanol boric acid flux from Otto Frei. I
like it a lot my studio assistant uses denatured (with methanol as
the denaturing agent) and mixes the amount of boric acid he likes
into it. They both work.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#16
Btw, I tried buying a pint of denatured alcohol at my local Fred
Meyer Pharmacy, and they wanted $13.50 for it; it would have cost
me $60.00 for a gallon! 

Wow. But prices for almost anything at a pharmacy are going to be
like that.

Instead, try Home Depot or another hardware or paint store. There,
that 13.50 price should be roughly what a gallon sized can costs.
Well, maybe a bit more, but not much. I think the last can I bought
was about 17 bucks if I recall…

Peter


#17

You’re buying in the wrong department at Fred Meyers. Go to the
paint dept. at Freddys or Home Depot and you can buy 1/2 gallon of
denatured alcohol for the price of a pint in the pharmacy.

Jo Haemer
www.timothywgreen.com


#18

Methanol works well. The problem with it is that it is more toxic
than ethanol. Consumed it causes blindness. The fumes should not be
a big problem if you use it with good ventilation. When used a a
vehicle for flux, you burn it off with your torch. I use it for a
number pf process without worry but with awareness for what it is.

Gerald Vaughan


#19
Methanol works well. The problem with it is that it is more toxic
than ethanol. Consumed it causes blindness. The fumes should not
be a big problem if you use it with good ventilation. 

If I remember correctly, we have done this subject before and I did
post some recommendations.

First there are no need for alternatives to denatured alcohol.
Denatured alcohol can hold 11% by weight of boric acid in solution.
It is true that methanol can hold as much as 20% by weight, but 11%
is enough to create protective coat. The key is to prepare solution
in advance because process takes time. Shaking is not required. One
can safely ignore the sediment on the bottom. Clear solution holds
enough boric acid to do the job.

One can increase solubility of boric acid in ethanol (denatured
alcohol) by combining it with other salts. From goldsmith perspective
addition of borax does the trick.

If heavy coat is required that solution should be prepared with
water and not with alcohol. Mixture of boric acid, borax, and water
brought to boil and used hot. Solution solidifies when cold and
should be reheated to be useful. Addition of phosphoric acid is
beneficial, but not necessary.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#20

people -

what’s all the flap about an ‘alternative to denatured alcoho’l? i
mean, yes the economy is bad and the cost of silver and gold is
strangling most of us, but as an alternative to the winos’ choice of
denatured alcohol, the cost of a decent riesling wine isn’t
prohibitively high! sip it slowly -

ive
people, think more now, regret less later.