Monthly Archives: March 2013

My two cents worth

Two cents

Two cents

A few weeks ago, the Canadian penny was taken out of circulation. At a cost of 1.6 cent, the one-cent coin was obviously too expensive to make. Sure, as a taxpayer, I applaud this cost-saving measure ($11 million a year), but unlike a lot of people who are happy to see the penny go, I will miss it; the penny is invaluable to us metalsmiths. I always keep a few coins on my soldering table – and not just for good luck. 

Pennies can be really useful as soldering aids. Here are some examples of how they can help you:

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Use them as spacers to prop up an object on the fire brick when soldering (use one or several depending on the height you need).

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Penny used as a heat sink

Or use them as heat sinks, for instance when connecting a small chain (already soldered) to a much heavier piece.

Since copper has very high thermal conductivity, the penny will absorb some of the heat and direct it away from a delicate object that needs to be soldered (but not melted beyond recognition). It can also shield a previously soldered seam and prevent it from reopening. And yes, it works like a (good luck) charm!

Check out Charles Lewton-Brain’s article “Some jewelry Soldering Hints and Tricks”, on the ever helpful Ganoksin website , for more details on how you can use heat sinks to your advantage by preventing the heat from traveling to a specific area.

There are of course other tools that are available to the metalsmith for these purposes, like cross-locking fire tweezers, pins or a third hand. However, depending on the size or the shape of the object that you are dealing with, they might not be practical to use.

Make sure you use older pennies for this as they need to be solid copper. Until 1996, these coins were made mostly out of copper (98%). After 1996, because of the rising cost of copper, they were made out of zinc or steel. These newer pennies look like copper but are only copper plated, and as zinc has a fairly low melting point, it could melt and stick to your workpiece.

Pre and post 1996 coins. The oldest one is on the left.

Pre and post 1996 coins. The oldest one is on the left. *See note below

Now at this point, and on my lawyer’s advice :), I would like to remind you that, according to the Currency Act and the Canadian Criminal Code, “no person shall melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is legal tender in Canada”. Yes, although it is no longer being made, the penny remains legal tender in Canada. It is true that the Currency Act does not mention explicitly metalsmithing techniques or soldering aids, but you’ve been warned!

No need to start hoarding pennies yet, though. In 2011, the Mint issued $1.1 billion pennies. So they’ll be around for a while. Meanwhile, those who feel a bit nostalgic can read “The Life & Times of the Canadian Penny” on the Royal Canadian Mint Website there is some fun penny trivia there.

*Note: This is a dramatized representation of the cross-section of pre and post 1996 pennies. No actual pennies were harmed in the making of this blog.

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Intro photo

Photo: Chris Hadfield/Twitter

It’s almost the middle of March here on the “Wet Coast” of British Columbia, and the rainy season is not over yet. I can’t wait to get out of the house and go for walks in the neighbourhood, in search of inspiration. So in the meantime, for a change of scenery, I read Chris Hadfield’s tweets.

Commander Chris Hadfield. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Commander Chris Hadfield. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chris Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut, Commander of the International Space Station, and currently orbiting the Earth. He has been tweeting regularly since he arrived on the ISS last December. Test pilot, astronaut, mission specialist, commander of the ISS, etc. etc. I can’t list all of Commander Hadfield’s countless achievements in this post, but you can go to his Wikipedia page for more details. And he is also working on the first music album to be recorded in space. A true Renaissance man.

His tweets give us glimpses, often funny, of his daily life in space – on February 27th, “Just made myself another bag of coffee. One of those mornings, even in space : ) ”. When he gives interviews, it’s always a treat to see him in front of the camera, floating around and playing catch with the mike. I always learn a lot. For instance, how do you clean spills on the Space Station? Well, it involves gloves and rags, just like here on Earth, except, with zero gravity, it’s more fun!

As part of his research work on the Space Station, Chris Hadfield is testing for the Canadian Space Agency a device called Microflow, which, he says, could become “a real Tricorder” – yes, it turns out Commander Hadfield is a Star Trek fan (And so am I, by the way. There, I’ve said it). This device would be used to diagnose medical conditions on Earth and in Space. According to the CSA ,“The portable technology could offer near real-time medical diagnosis for astronauts in space, people in remote communities or in areas affected by natural disasters where medical equipment is not readily available.”

And his pictures of Earth, taken from the windows of the ISS, are…out of this world! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) From his unique vantage point, Chris Hadfield captures images of weather systems and storms hurtling across the skies, or shows how water and wind can slowly reshape the landscape. What I find fascinating is how his photographs reveal the impact that we have on our planet, whether through agriculture, industrialization or urbanization. There are places where the surface of the planet has been cultivated, tamed, and sometimes deeply scarred. There are also, still, some vast empty expanses. And then there are places where millions of us are huddled together:

Manila, Philippines. Photo: Chris Hadfield/Twitter

Manila, Philippines. Photo: Chris Hadfield/Twitter

What is obvious is that we humans share a beautiful home (and with a beautiful view).

Moonrise, March 4. Photo: Chris Hadfield

Moonrise, March 4. Photo: Chris Hadfield/Twitter