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Concerns about health risks in silversmithing

Hi there,

I joined this site to read up on, and have some discussion about the health risks of doing basic silversmithing at home. I have some tools from about 20 years ago that I thought I would play around with to see if I enjoyed the work. I had taken a class back then and made a few things, but various things kept me from moving forward with it.

Seven years ago I had uterine cancer, and a few years ago I was diagnosed with a type of liver disease that causes scarring in my liver. Because of that, I don’t even take things like Tylenol because they are bad for the liver. Due to that, I am having to give very strong consideration to whether or not I should try out working with silver, or if I should just sell my tools and move onto something safer for me.

I am not adverse to buying quality fume or dust extractors to reduce my exposure to toxic fumes or dust, but so far I haven’t seen any independent oversight to say these are the standards a person would want to meet to protect themselves.

I don’t plan to do any elaborate methods, I’d just like to work with sheet silver and wire and saw and solder pieces and do some stamping and bezel stone setting. I have also read here and elsewhere how having a studio in your home is not the best idea…right now we’re living in a large house with high ceilings and lots of windows, but come summer it will be 24-7 air conditioning (we’re in Vegas) and I wonder if that won’t recirculate any fumes or dust throughout the house, even with extraction units.

Am I overreacting about potential risks working with silver? I know I can worry too much about health risks given my health issues, but I don’t want to over estimate or under estimate potential hazards.

Thanks!

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Welcome to the community.

Ventilation is very important. Dust partials from filling gets everywhere.
The solder pastes you use are harmful to breath. Even some of the fumes from a torch are bad to breath in.
If you use any kind of polishing wheels and compound those fly through the air. I’m suggesting that if you enjoy doing this then invest in safety first.

Good luck I’m sure more others will chime in and say other things I’m forgetting.

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Hello Lane and welcome to this community,
Personally I am a vegan and very focused on being healthy, but I think if you are going to do part time silversmithing your concerns may be overblown. There are simple precautions to take and then I think you need not worry a lot. There are solders containing cadmium and fluxes containing fluorides and you’d want to stay away from those. Torches are not any more toxic than any other open flame, like a gas stove. There’s been recent discussion here about fume hoods and such and a piece of dryer vent with an in line fan vented to the outside is a sensible precaution with a small fishmouth or hood attached. Your buffer, if a desktop model rather than a flexshaft, should also have a hood and filter, altho’ the polishes are impregnated in wax and not that airborne. There will be some lint from your wheels that will be more present than polishing dusts. Particles from sawing are quite heavy and will fall into your bench tray rather than being in the air like wood dusts. You might investigate alternative pickles like citric acid or vinegar and salt if you want to keep away from bisulfate pickles, altho’ it isn’t clear that these are dangerous. So if all you are going to do is some construction with silver…sawing and soldering and buffing, I don’t think you are at much risk given sensible precautions. I myself am much more concerned with an anticancer diet given all the toxins in some foods and in the environment at large, and given your prior history, you might investigate such. HTH and good luck enjoying the artistry of your craft! -royjohn

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I think it helps to keep things in perspective. Walking down the street is dangerous. Cooking is dangerous. Life is dangerous. Sometimes we can go overboard worrying about the dangers of metalwork. And, honestly it matters a lot if you are doing it as a profession and exposed every day all day long, or just doing it as a hobby. But … having said that, there are some things you just don’t mess with. Polishing for instance. I’d never buff or polish anything without eye protection and a good dust mask. I also won’t try to buff a chain :). Silicous is very, very serious and you just don’t want to be breathing buffing or polishing compounds. Ever. You also don’t want to be breathing soldering fumes, but that one is more problematic if you are just doing metalwork as a hobby. You absolutely must have a ventilation hood if you are soldering all day … if you just do it occasionally and have a well-ventilated room you probably don’t need to freak out over it. And … there have been volumes of conversations here over the years about storing gasses. The consensus appears to be store your gas outside … which isn’t feasible for many of us. I have a B tank and 5lb propane tank with oxygen in my shop … cos its my only option. I think the take away is don’t be afraid of your equipment, but respect it and take the time to educate yourself on the dangers and figure out which things you really need to worry about. I’d never keep a jar of alcohol with borax as a barrier flux … others do … but I’m enough of a klutz to set it on fire. I use prips … or nothing since I seem to have switched to Argentium for silver. I do manage to saw my fingers too often … and the hammers seem to find my thumbs regularly. And … hint … just because a piece looks cool doesn’t mean it is, so don’t pick it up.

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Thanks for the input so far. I usually don’t see people talking about safety beyond wearing goggles when they’re doing something, and maybe sometimes a mask for sanding and an open window for ventilation. So I am trying to do my due diligence before I invest any money in additional supplies. And I’d rather spend money on dust or fume solutions than a pile of tools I might never use. My health is important to me.

Nancy LT Hamilton has a great write up on studio safety.

Any precaution you can take would be beneficial.

I have my studio outside, wear a respirator at all time, goggles when needed. I personally wouldn’t have my studio inside the house due to the point you made about the HVAC. It’s amazing how much schmutz your work will produce and it gets everywhere…there’s a reason why some jewelers will send in their chairs (if sitting on a fabric seat) to reclaim the metals from them after so many years!

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