Jewelry from the Scrap Pile (Mar, 1950)
Jewelry from the Scrap Pile
Relying strongly on a fusion type alloy, a Cleveland man turns discarded pieces of metal into fast selling jewelry that is both durable and beautiful.
WILLIAM R. MURPHY
Photographs by Paul
Considine Don Dilley likes to amuse his friends when they drop in at his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, by taking them back to his one-man factory in the kitchen, and making them a piece of costume jewelry in three minutes flat.
He takes an ordinary paper clip, twists it into shape with a pair of pliers, or with his fingers, making sure that the two ends wind up in a parallel position, so that he can make a joint and braze it.
Then he gets out his little blowtorch, slips a fuel pill into the holder, lights the fuel pill and with a match, applies a small amount of paste type fusion alloy (a new kind of solder) to the joint, and heats it up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit by blowing a current of air through the flame and directing the flame to the solder and the joint. A few seconds of this treatment and the joint is made solid.
Dilley lets the article cool for sixty seconds, then applies gold lacquer, puts it in the oven of the gas range to dry for a few seconds, takes it out with the pliers, lets it cool, then hands it to his friend. He has made a piece of costume jewelry at a cost of a few cents and three minutes’ time, that would sell in the stores for about $2. In return for the gift, he asks his friend to try to pull the joint loose. It can’t be done, as it would take fifteen horses to do it, and who is going to hitch up fifteen horses in this day and age?
Dilley gets his raw materials from the scrap piles behind stamping mills and other plants where stamping and punching are done, or where metals are cut and scrap piles grow. He buys small pieces of metal—copper, brass, carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, parts of castings and other pieces of metal, paying from 50 cents to $1 per pound, and a pound of these small pieces lasts him for some time.
For persons who do not live near industrial plants where scrap piles grow, there are metalcraft supply houses which supply metals in sheet form, by the sheet or by the pound. These supply houses do a large mail order business, much of it with hobbyists.
Or one may write to a stamping plant in the nearest industrial city, and ask them if they will ship a pound or two of mixed scrap, and what price they will charge for doing so. One advantage of buying the metal in sheets is that it comes to the hobbyist chemically clean, and ready to work with, while the metal pieces picked up in the scrap pile are greasy and dirty and have to be cleaned thoroughly.
Did you ever hear of a “knockout punch”? Not the kind you see at boxing matches, but the knockouts which are the result of punching out holes in metal, and stamping metal. They are small pieces of the metal, from 1/2 inch to six or eight inches square. Dilley takes the larger pieces and appliques the smaller pieces on the larger in every conceivable pattern, then solders them on by heat applications. He makes paperweights, cigarette and card cases, pennants, brooches and all kinds of jewelry for personal adornment, as well as ornaments for the mantel or collection cabinet.
These scrap pieces of metal are dirty, of course, but Dilley has figured out a way to get rid of all grease and dirt and bring back the natural color of the metal. He combines these pieces in ingenious fashion, or he may take a metal box and build on that.
A cigarette box is one of Dilley’s most popular articles. It may also be used as a card case. Dilley’s directions for making it follow: Starting with a crystallized ginger box, which is the perfect size, clean off all wrappings, labels, and other material, getting right down to the clean metal.
After thoroughly cleaning knockouts in a 10 per cent tri-sodium phosphate solution (use a stainless steel or glass container but never an aluminum one) to get rid of all foreign substances, lay them on the side of the ginger box in whatever pattern occurs to you; the more different shapes and sizes, as a rule, the more original your pattern will be.
The corners and sides of the knockouts should be smoothed off (if you are lucky enough to have an emery wheel, use it) but a file and emery paper of various degrees of coarseness will suffice. Now use a camel’s-hair brush to apply the paste type fusion alloy or solder, pasting the pieces onto the ginger box, pressing the parts against the box firmly.
Light the fuel lozenge, put it in the holder, start blowing with the blowtorch, directing the flame against the solder and part, one at a time, until the solder melts (this will be at 2,300° F.); then stop blowing on that part, and go on to the others, pressing the part against the box in each case with a splinter of wood, while applying the heat.
After turning off the heat, press the part against the the box until the solder solidifies. This takes a few minutes. When the solder and parts are thoroughly cooled, wash the box in soap and warm water, and if this does not get rid of all residue or smear, bathe the box in the tri-sodium phosphate for an hour.
Now use a Brillo pad to get rid of all traces of solder or any other foreign material, and polish the box with a steel wool pad, then soak in warm water with soap lather again to get rid of all flux. Let the box dry at room temperature, and assist the drying process with a dry, soft cloth. Polish with Bon Ami, then burnish for fifteen minutes with a piece of old wool twist carpet tacked to a slab of wood; this is the longest operation of all, but it should bring out the real beauty of the metal.
Now use clear lacquer (gold, black, or any color desired), putting it on with a spray or a brush to prevent tarnishing, and you should have a cigarette box which is a “knockout.”
Dilley says that the equipment in his “factory” cost him less than $5. He says he makes “doodads” out of “thingumbobs,” the only difference being that the “thingumbobs” cost very little, while the “doodads” bring, in many cases, rather fancy prices.
Dilley’s firing kiln is Mrs. Dilley’s oven in the gas range. He dries out his “masterpieces” in the oven if he is pushed for time in the drying process. The paste type fusion alloy he uses for solder fuses or melts into the grain of the metal and the solder becomes a part of the metal instead of just sticking on the surface like cement. This paste type fusion alloy was used extensively during the war in aircraft plants due to its great tensile strength.
Dilley’s materials include four different kinds of paste type fusion alloy, for different metals or different purposes, scrap metal (about a month’s supply at a time), soap, Bon Ami, the phosphate solution, necessary wire for costume jewelry, bought in different diameters in the hardware store, and a supply of fuel lozenges, which cost about two cents each. One of these will burn eight minutes, and can be lit, used, blown out, relit, etc. When Dilley washes the finished product he takes a toothpick or match and cleans away all evidence of solder, so that people who look at the item are puzzled to know what is holding the pieces to the box. You can put gold, silver, or bronze lacquer on any piece, but when copper or brass is well burnished, no lacquer is needed. The metal comes out in its original beauty without artificial coloring.
Dilley freely admits that he has not begun to exhaust the possibilities in this field. He sticks pretty close to the items he can do well, and those which he knows will sell at a good price. He feels that any one who has full time to operate this type of workshop should do very well indeed, while pursuing a fascinating hobby.
Dilley has found his best markets in gift shops and florist shops selling ornaments, particularly the shops in the neighborhood districts, rather than the big downtown stores. His method is personal contact, showing the gift shop owner samples of his work. The storekeeper takes the work on consignment, usually, and sells it at a price agreed upon between them. The storekeeper takes a 30 per cent split and Dilley gets 70 per cent.
This same arrangement is made with community exchanges, with proprietors of greeting card shops, and in one or two downtown hotel cigar shops.
A shut-in would probably need a friend to act as an agent in placing his work, but it is the work that sells, and not the personality of the worker.
Hobby shows are excellent outlets also, as hobbyists are natural born promoters, and they exude enthusiasm at every pore, not only over their own work but also the work of others.
While the prices that can be charged depend upon the income level of the neighborhood, and are generally set with the approval of the shop owner, who knows how much the “traffic will bear,” here is a typical price list of Dilley’s.
Cigarette cases ……….from $2 to $4.
Card cases …………….from $2 to $4.
Brooches…………from 50c to $1.50.
Tie clasps……….from 50c to $1.50.
Cuff links………………from $2 to $4.
Earrings ………………..from $1 to $2.
Scatter pins …………..from $2 to $7.
Old coin ornaments………………..
……………………..from $1.50 to $4.
Dilley IS fully employed as an engineer, but he has tested out the possibilities of full-time work at this hobby several times, during vacations, and on week ends, by spending full days on the job and measuring his production.
For instance, he turned out, in one six-hour day, without undue pressure, seven cigarette cases for which he had an order for favors for a party, which gave him a total of $21. He has made other tests with a variety of articles, keeping a record of the time to make one article, and the number which can be turned out in one day, working a reasonable number of hours. He is convinced that even a very slow worker, or one who could work only a few hours per day, should earn from $10 to $25 per week, while there is a strong possibility of greatly increased earnings if one is able to put in a full day at this work, possibly $35 to $50 per week.
Of course selling would have to go along with, production, but he believes that these products will sell anywhere, at good prices.
The profits are very good, too. A cigarette case which sells for an average of $3 can be made at a material cost of less than 25 cents.
Dr. Bernard cooper, a retired dentist, was one of the best known metal craftsmen in the Cleveland area, while he was practicing dentistry. His patients brought him scrap metal, and he made ornaments for them. At the outbreak of World War II, he voluntarily surrendered to the government 500 .pounds of copper he had accumulated for his hobby activity.
When he heard about the blowtorch and paste type alloy method, he tried it out and adopted it for his own. He said the new method of soldering joints was the first significant change in solder that had taken place in his lifetime. He found by experiment that the alloy has high penetrating characteristics, flowing freely into the joint without clearance, and when heated to fusion temperature, actually fuses with the metal in the mating surfaces. He found that the fact that it fills up the joint with no allowance for clearance was very important in precision work, also. Furthermore, Dr. Cooper said that the fusing does not depend upon working in a controlled atmosphere, and that he found the process entirely free from toxic fumes and that the flux, tinning and cleaning agents are all in the alloy itself, which eliminates three operations.
Dr. Cooper’s fame spread across the country, and he was invited to become a lecturer in the Fine Arts and Industrial Arts Departments in the University of Southern California, where he is now teaching this new, dramatic and revolutionary type of soldering, with the blowtorch and fuel pill.
Dilley, who was familiar with Dr.
Cooper’s work, says that the only moving part in his factory is a good pair of lungs, and that he is fast becoming “just an old blowhard.” He says all he does is to snap a fuel pill in the holder, light it with a match, put the tube to his mouth and start blowing. It takes a few tries to get the flame directed right at the part and the solder, but his eight-year-old son has mastered the trick and makes himself some very attractive trinkets, and some for mother, too. For a short, quick job, Dilley just lights a match and puts the flame against the solder and parts to be fused.
Pennants, brooches, pins and lapel ornaments and paperweights of all kinds come out of the Dilley factory. And just lately he says he discovered a new product.
Never one to pass up a chance to turn an honest penny, Dilley browses around old coin shops when he has a few minutes to kill, and picks up old (very old) coins that are defective and which the dealer cannot get any coin collector to buy. One of these was a Queen Victoria Jubilee shilling. It had just a small defect, but Dilley got it for five cents. He says that is the average price he pays for coins. Then he goes to a dry goods notion store, where findings are sold, and buys pin-backs, the fastening agent for brooches, etc. Now he is ready to go to work and make a nice ornament. He solders the pin-back to the back of the coin, giving it the treatment outlined above, and he has a very nice ornament and a unique one, at a cost of a few cents.
The craze for costume jewelry has spread all over the country. Groups of women get together to make their own personal adornments, and save money. They are thus able to possess a great deal more jewelry than they could afford to buy.
Dilley reports that a number of Cleveland shut-ins have obtained outfits and gone to work as a commercial venture, making costume jewelry for sale by means of the blowtorch and paste type alloy method.
In various veterans’ hospitals, this method has been introduced for purposes of rehabilitation or for occupational therapy while in several school systems, the blowtorch and paste type alloy method has been introduced, and school supply houses are listing the outfits in their catalogues.
The making of costume jewelry and ornaments of various kinds offers an attractive part-time or full-time activity to persons with some slight artistic tendency, for of course the more creative and the more imaginative the products are, the more attention they will attract.
Dilley believes that it is quite possible for a person with initiative to start an operation of this kind in any town, and of course the one to start it first will get a head start on any others who imitate the pioneer.
It looks like a sure winner for a person who is industrious and aggressive, and who likes to earn money.