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Shop safety questions from a bird owner


Hi, all! This is sort of long, please bear with me–all my questions
will be at the end of my explanations.

I own a one-person jewelry biz that, thus far, has specialized in
pet-themed jewelry made with gemstone beads and sterling silver
charms/pendants, etc. Started as a hobby, got out of hand, and became
a really fun job. It’s a niche market, and I’m happy there. I’ve been
dealing with an older lady who did all my silver casting for me, and
made the occasional custom piece for me. She had to retire rather
abruptly due to poor health, and gave me the opportunity to buy all
her equipment. I have always wanted to work with metal, and create my
own charm & pendant designs, and this was too good an opportunity to
pass up.

So I purchased the entire contents of her shop, including a water
torch, vacuum caster, multiple electro-melts, wax pot, ultrasonic,
pickle pot, vulcanizer, molds for everything I’ve ever purchased from
her, benches, vent hood, wax pens, and boxes and boxes of other
goodies, for a very good price. I spent several weekends at her place
training on the equipment, and reading every book I could find on the
subject. While I’m not an expert, I at least understand the basic
processes involved in casting silver. So here I am, with all these
new toys, and a whole new career ahead of me. I’m excited and eager to
get started.

I have several questions regarding setting everything up in the
safest possible manner. This stuff is all going in our house, down in
the basement. The area where the silver shop is going in used to be a
kitchen–it’s a 10x10 three-sided alcove in a corner of the basement,
with a vented window. We live with several parrots and cockatiels,
some of whom also live in the basement (I used to raise birds–these
guys are now all too old to breed, so we’re running a birdie
retirement home ). They have their own room, with a door that
closes, and two vent windows to the outside. My main concern is the
health of my birds. I can’t help but thinking of the canaries in the
coal mines (you know, the ones that died from toxic gas and warned the
miners it was time to leave), and I don’t want to poison my birds with
fumes from the shop. We do plan to move to a new home within the next
year or so, and one of our criteria for the next house is an
outbuilding where I can put the shop. But for now, I have to work
with what we’ve got.

Here are the precautions I’m taking thus far:

All chemicals will be stored in the garage when not in use. (reduces
possible birdie exposure to chemical fumes).

I’ve got a large vent hood with a huge furnace fan inside of it. When
all the wiring is in place, it will be installed to blow exhaust out a
vent in the glass block window. The fan will be on at all times when
I’m in the shop, except maybe when I’m just doing beadwork. I will be
putting a draft stopper under the door to the birds’ room when I’m
working, to cut down on any fumes entering their room.

I will be using citric acid in the pickle pot, as I’ve read that it
is less toxic and releases less fumes than other pickles.

I will be using a steam dewaxer (which did not come with the
equipment I purchased) to cut down on smoke/fumes during burnouts.

Here are my questions:

**Have I made the correct decision regarding the use of citric acid
as a pickle?

**What other things should I be aware of that may release harmful
fumes during the process of casting silver?

**Can anyone provide me with directions for making a good, safe and
effective home-made steam dewaxer? I have the McCreight book that
shows a hot plate and a pot of water. I’m just wondering if there are
better ways of doing it.

**Am I overlooking anything totally obvious that might harm my flock
of feathered companions? I would never forgive myself if I hurt them by
doing this.

And I have two other safety questions:

**Regarding eye protection while using the torch. What’s the best
kind of glasses/goggles to wear while using a water torch for
soldering, and where can I get them?

**And what type of fire extinguisher is best for a shop setting–A,
B, C, or multi?

Thank you in advance for your help and advice.

–Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Jewelry


If you use a small fan to draw fresh air into the birds room so that
there is a Positive pressure in the room it will greatly aid in
keeping out any toxic fumes etc. The air flow will be from positive
to negative. Exhaust in the shop, intake fresh air as replacement into
the birds room. Dan Wellman


Kathy: There is an old trick used by darkroom builders to keep dust
out, but it should work just as well on fumes. Use positive pressure
ventilation. In other words, use a fan blowing air into the bird
area from outside. Assuming that the climate is OK for this, it
means that air is leaking out of the bird area rather than into it.
Then run your ventilation out of the shop in the normal way and just
make sure that the two vents (bird intake and jewelry shop exhaust)
don’t have a chance to communicate. You could also run your vent
into the bird room from elsewhere in the house during the winter.
The main idea is to get clean air and have it under some slight
pressure in that room.

I think your greatest fumes will be from burnout. If there is a way
to use a cart and roll the kiln outside the door, maybe under an
overhang, that would be best. Just make sure the fumes don’t get to
the bird intake!

Good Luck,