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Manufactured metal stock standards


A few months ago, Bill Seeley of “Reactive Metals Studio” and I were
having a discussion about refining companies who manufacture wire and
sheet stock. Bill mentioned a couple of interesting stories about how
the quality of manufactured precious metal sheet stock can affect the
manufacturing of a mokume-gane billet, sometimes resulting in a
failure of the entire billet.

We have heard that some of the precious metal refiners and
manufacturers, in order to trim their production costs, have laid off
certain highly paid technical experts, key to manufacturing quality
sheet and wire stock. These experts have been replaced, in some
cases, by less experienced ( but cheaper to pay) workers who are
expected to produce the same high quality precious metal stock,
without the experience and expertise needed to do so.

Do any of you have personal experience with precious metal wire and
sheet stock you’ve recently purchased that did not meet up to your
expectations? Is it too much to expect a quality product from
companies who should be experts in this type of manufacturing?

Jay Whaley

Do any of you have personal experience with precious metal wire
and sheet stock you've recently purchased that did not meet up to
your expectations? Is it too much to expect a quality product from
companies who should be experts in this type of manufacturing? 

We had a bad run of sterling silver a while back, but you tell the
company, and they lift their game. They usually like to know when
their products are failing.

Have you informed the company about their failure?

Regards Charles A.

Hello Jay,

When you say “recently” regarding the layoffs of these experts, you
mean like ten years ago, right?

The sad thing is, this is going on everywhere. The companies thought
is “why should we pay some old timer to do what some newby can do for
half the rate.”

Then they will charge their arguments with some schpeal about “new
blood”, “being a younger minded company”, etc. whatever lowers the
cost of employment without raising the incidences of ageism lawsuits.

As far as precision in the pre-fab raw stock area, I have never
gotten individual sheets of pre-fab stock that are the same thickness
unless they were ordered in the same order.

On top of this, Almost non of these thicknesses have been a brown
and sharpe (AWG) gauge. They are always off, which is fine when
tolerances aren’t a huge issue, but when you are counting on 24gauge
sheet being 0.511mm you’re out of luck unless you mill it yourself.

This is similar in any “craft”, just name it, take crocheting and
knitt= ing, my mom always goes on about having to over buy yarn
because she wants the colors to be the same dye lot.

This is what we have to deal with when we buy pre-fab processed
goods. The cost of precision will make these goods too expensive for
the average consumer, which is not going to go over well to big
companies who are in the business to make money.

If we complain, all this is going to do is either raise prices with
the manufacturers which will trickle down to higher fabrication
charges or cause these manufacturers to go completely over to using
machines and then they will omit all human handling except when the
"expert" needs to come out monthly to calibrate the machines…

Look at how Lego’s are made, they have one human on staff on their
production floor. The entire production run is done by machines that
do everything, from filling hoppers with plastic beads to dumping the
hoppers full of bricks. They even extend this to their package
filling. The human is there in case on of the machines malfunctions,
the preverbal MayTag man. Has this lowered the price of Lego’s?

If you want to show 'em, you (and other open workshop owners like
you) should offer a special lowered rate on a class where people can
bring in ingots, scraps, sweeps, etc and process these into wire and
sheet. I am sure that you would have no issues filling attendance if
you were to offer a class that showed people how to process their
sweeps. A lot of people who make jewelry do not have accounts with
the big refiners and companies like Rio only take in sweeps as a
donation. If this catches on and the refiners start losing our
returns to “forward thinkers” like you then they will have no choice
but to listen to our demands…

Or perhaps you and Bill should offer a special line of precision
sheet and wire for those looking for exact specs. Honestly when
customers see the prices of standard “semi” calibrated sheet and wire
up against the cost of high precision sheet and wire, it will scare
people away.

As an example look at 0.999 fine silver and 0.9999 medical grade
fine silver, the price difference is shocking! The medical grade stuff
is almost seven times higher in cost.

Imagine if an ounce of sheet had a fabrication charge that was seven
times what it is now? For silver these fabrication fees would be more
then the metal itself.

Something to think about.

It’s a sad fact, people want cheaper stuff even if they have to
sacrifice quality.

As far as any issues working with this “semi” calibrated metal, all
I have noticed is that it seems to flow a bit smoother when it melts
compared to sterling I have alloyed myself. This could be explained by
the processing being mostly recycled material these days with
refiners adding extra zinc for a smoother flow when processing and
the inert environments they are processed in.

In the past I would get the shakes when I would fuse a lot of
standard sterling, this is a reaction to the zinc vaporizing. I have
the same reaction when I use easy solder which is why I stay away
from it. I use mostly Argentium now for fusing and I don’t have these
issues anymore, even when using sterling as the backing.

Breathing zinc isn’t necessarily bad, it boosts immune function, but
it does cause headaches! I don’t recommend it!!!

As long as it is still legally sterling (975 silver) and doesn’t
contain anything harmful, I am good.

As far as the problems Bill is has had with his Mokume-Gane stock,
which metal is he having issues with? I wonder if it is the copper he
is having issues with.

Kenneth, DynastyLab

Certainly the manufacturing can be poor, including, as a recent
example, a piece of sheet silver with a blister measuring about 5mm
by 3mm. But even when the bullion is well produced, there are major
problems with the handling of those products before they are shipped
to the customer (ie. to us). This is because sales staff aren’t
trained properly in the handling of these goods. I can think of
several examples of this, like pin wire supplied bent, square bar
with damaged edges and measured sheet which is guillotined, meaning
that the edges must be filed flat, making the sheet smaller than the
original order specified!The other problem is findings, which while
they tend to be well produced, are often poorly designed, and Cookson
in the UK have a history of buying up other companies to increase
their market share, but then purging the products of those companies.

Jamie Hall