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Best way to buy silver and cut costs?

Hi All,

I mostly use 18g to 22g sheet sterling stock and various
sizes/shapes of wire. Given the steadily climbing price of silver
what is your opinion on the best way to buy silver and cut costs? For
example, would it be less expensive to buy coin/scrap silver and make
your own sterling sheet stock using a rolling mill or is buying sheet
the way to go? Where do you buy your sterling, coin silver, etc?

Thanks for your comments,



A lot will depend on how much sheet and wire stock you are using. If
you need large amounts of wide sheet stock in your work, then
purchasing it would be most economical and practical for you. However,
if you are using smaller amounts of sheet stock, and in widths of a
few inches at a time, then rolling out your own is an easy enough
proposition, and absolutely the cheapest way to go, if you want to
devote the time and effort.

Unless you are making chain or something requiring many feet of the
same gauge wire, then making your own wire is something you really
might want to consider. As long as you have a good combination mill,
a few drawplates, and some kind of drawing machine, you are good to
go. You can make any gauge of wire, any shape you want, and in the
amounts you need for the jobs you’re doing.

In terms of where to buy the raw materials at the best price, your
local coin shops will have fine silver rounds you can buy at slightly
over the daily spot price. Don’t buy the silver ( or gold ) coins
sold for collectors, as they are premium priced. Just explain that
you are melting them down for their silver content. Buying sterling
coins or sterling scrap will all contain a pure copper alloy, which I
would try to avoid.

There are wonderful inexpensive alloys that replace that nasty
copper alloy, and that you will find make an advanced kind of
sterling much superior to standard sterling in every way.

Good luck in your efforts! I think you will see your creativity
increase the more experienced you become in making your own custom

Jay Whaley


Thanks for the tips. Could you point me to the better quality alloys
you spoke of?


Buying sterling coins or sterling scrap will all contain a pure
copper alloy, which I would try to avoid. 

At one time I was casting 500 to 1000 sterling rings, pendants,
charms, and earrings each week. I used to buy mostly Franklin Mint
sterling rounds from my local coin dealer at slightly over spot.

These were an excellent form of sterling to use, and this was before
de-ox and Argentium were available.

I just wonder, if this sterling worked so well for me as I have cast
over a million pieces and these were sold to wholesalers over a 12
year period, why would someone avoid this form of sterling?

I tried using fine silver and using s-88 de-ox alloy, but when you
are casting 27 7"x3" flasks a week with 350 grams per flask, it was
too much work, and there was no upside as no one knew the difference.

When I needed to fabricate, I roll out a sterling round, and this
works great, and I save quite a bit of money by not paying suppliers
prices plus postage. I use fine rounds to roll out and make bezel

I have never had much of a problem with firescale or firestain with
casting or fabrication over the last 40 years. I am not fond of
polishing, so I learned to control the heat when soldering and not

Richard Hart G.G.
Denver, Co.

Chris; Here are some things you might try. If you have the time and
equipment to make ingots from your clean silver scrap than go for
it. I personally think it’s a big pain and if you factor in your
hourly wage for what could be spent making things I question how much
you actually save. If you go to coins which I think they recently
passed a law making it illegal to melt U.S. coins than your talking
alloying (even more work). Try making your designs slightly smaller.
Cut out the backs when you can. Be more careful to utilize sheets
fully and to the best advantage… You could give the metal one pass
through the rolling mill to use 22.5 gage as opposed to 22 ga. for
example.Find a good refiner like United Metals Refining (not
affiliated). They offer free pickup and If I remember right about 95%
of spot on the refined metal. There are companies out there whom I
won’t mention that give you a little better than pawn shop prices on
your scrap. shop around. Just by doing these things I think you could
reduce your cost by at least 20%.

Dave Owen


I’ve got to disagree with you. While to you it doesn’t make much
difference whether you cast with traditional copper alloyed sterling
or S88 sterling and they work about the same, your customer will
definitely notice how much longer their sterling piece stays bright
without tarnishing. That is a fact.

Also, your traditional sterling takes much longer to pickle after
casting. It comes out black. The S57NA or S88 alloyed sterlings come
out of the investment not even needing pickling, unoxidyzed after
casting. You can save time there.

The extra time needed to add any alloy ( whether copper or a
high-tech alloy )to fine silver to make sterling is pretty minor to
me, time-wise. For me, I estimate this adds about another 30 seconds
per casting to calculate and add the pre-made alloy to the fine

The many advantages of a better class of alloy in sterling are well
worth it to me. I just don’t have any reason to keep using
traditional sterling. Even the big manufacturers are starting to
abandon traditional copper-alloyed sterling and switch over to the
newer alloys for their sheet and wire stock. This new, improved type
of sterling is now readily available for retail purchase in all the
standard shapes and sizes of sheet and wire stock.

Jay Whaley

The many advantages of a better class of alloy in sterling are
well worth it to me. I just don't have any reason to keep using
traditional sterling. 

Hardness and color. None of the “new” alloys are as hard as standard
sterling. The hardness in sterling comes from the copper and when you
reduce the copper you reduce the hardness. The color of all the "new"
alloys are different than standard sterling, color is a value
judgement but I prefer standard sterling.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

The color of all the "new"alloys are different than standard
sterling, color is a value judgement but I prefer standard

I am continually amazed that people whose focus is purportedly an
aesthetical one seem to focus on the craft benefits of the new
alloys; and miss the fact that their color is the white of dead fish

As I said before, gimme sterling for its warmth and richness.


I have to agree with James Binnion about traditional sterling. The
"new" sterlings are not what I would consider “improved” except for
one - and that is the 5% platinum-sterling. I love this stuff! it
does not firescale at all, it is as tough as 14-k yellow gold, and it
is a beautiful white metal color.

To keep my “costs” down I take in silver and gold scrap metal as
trade for services. I offer only a quarter of the spot price for the
silver and gold scrap metal. Then I send the scrap to a long time
established refiner and ask for my return from the refiner to be in
their environmentally sustainable recycled milled sheet and wire

We have to start thinking of “costs” being more than just our
individual bottom line. Our industries cost to the environment must
also factor into our thinking.

Nanz Aalund