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:
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).
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.
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.