Posts Tagged ‘aluminum’

Van Crushing

Van Crushing by Proggie on flickr under non-commercial creative commons.

A few days ago, a friend and neighbor of ours asked for directions to the metal recycle center. He needed some extra money and he had some aluminum that he wanted to exchange for cash. Our friend has an excellent job as a cook at a national chain steakhouse that consistently receives excellent Zagat ratings. He is married, with one young daughter.

Our friend is uninsured, and his family receives food stamps because, even though he has a good full-time job, the pay is insufficient for the family to live on.

When our friend returned from the recycle center, he was ecstatic, as a first-time visitor to recycle always is, because it is fascinating, and also because he had received just over four dollars for his clean piece of aluminum. By “clean” I mean that the aluminum was not mixed with other metals, and there was no plastic attached to it.

The working poor are now collecting scrap metal to get by and this is a recent trend. This man’s example is just one of many that we have seen in the past three to four months.

‘Our’ dumpsters that were once bounties of riches that we had mostly to ourselves are now harvested so often that we can no longer expect to find anything; the practice of collecting recycle scraps no longer is limited to the unemployed. At recycle we have witnessed everything from people on foot or in wheelchairs or pushing grocery carts to well dressed people in high-end vehicles.

What is scrap metal?

For the purposes of this discussion, scrap metal is salvaged metal that can be recycled. The most popular scrap metals are copper, aluminum, brass, stainless steel, iron, chrome, steel, bronze and shreddable sheet metal.

Copper, aluminum and iron are elements, listed in the Periodic Table with symbols Cu, Al and Fe. Copper and aluminum do not stick to magnets. Sometimes it is easy to be fooled. I have taken coils of shiny, beautiful copper wire to recycle, only to find out that the wire is copper coated or copper color, over a basic layer of sheet metal.

Magnets are essential to distinguish between types of scrap metals. In a pinch, a small old car stereo speaker makes a pretty good magnet.

Copper and aluminum are money metals, with copper being the most valuable of all scrap metals. Copper is perhaps most often associated with wiring. Anything that plugs into the wall will have copper, and so, appliance cords are popular among scrappers. Some wires are easy to strip and some are not. If I cannot strip a wire easily with box cutters, I turn it in at recycle as insulated copper, at a reduced rate. We do not burn wiring, nor do we condone it, although some people do.

The electricity grid, because of its high copper content, is sometimes the target of thieves. High-end plumbing pipes are made of copper. Metal theft often involves plumbing.

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Brass is a high-quality money metal that does not stick to a magnet and, due to its unique composition and sound conduction, it is a metal of choice for musical instruments. Most of our brass comes from door knobs, drawer pulls, lamps, and discarded items from the electrical grid. Some lamps can fool. Die cast can look almost exactly like yellow brass. Match Box toy cars, for example, are die cast. Die cast brings a fraction of the price of real brass.

Stainless steel, or corrosion resistant steel is a steel alloy with at least 10.5% chromium. Steel is an alloy of mostly iron, combined with a small percentage of carbon or other elements.

The term “money metal” is a common slang term for those metals that bring the most money for the least amount of weight. Stainless steel is a money metal that is often overlooked by the scrapper and tossed onto the sheet metal pile at the back of the yard.

Things marked “Stainless steel” can either be magnetic or not. This depends on the atomic arrangement. Perhaps a reader can explain the metal chemistry and physics better here. For the scrapper’s purpose, if it sticks to a magnet, the scrap yard will most likely consider it sheet metal, and the scrapper will receive a reduced price, or scrap price. However, the difference between high-grade stainless and reduced-rate scrap is significant.

By the way, just so you know, what happens to be stamped on a metal does not necessarily mean it is what it says. I have had items marked “14K” that were not gold. The exception to this is silver. Silver items are stamped, somewhere on the item, on a rim, a ridge, somewhere not very visible, with the symbol “925,” meaning 92.5% elemental silver by weight. If you are not looking at such a symbol, you are not looking at silver. You are most likely looking at silver plate or stainless. So, if you are thinking of cleaning all of the silver out of the thrift stores and flea markets, take a magnet (silver does not stick) and a really good magnifying glass, because for now, anyway, silver plate is essentially a scrap metal.

Another note on silver: Consider hanging onto it if you can. Silver is generally increasing in value. Here is a precious metal prices ticker.

Bronze is an alloy of mainly copper. It is not a common metal for a scapper to encounter; bronze is used, for example, in the manufacture of truck gears. Bronze chemistry is interesting. (My sister is a bronze foundry foreman.)

Metals that do stick to magnets bring “shreddable sheet metal” prices, which in this area is currently between ten and twelve cents a pound. Sheet metal is valuable to the scrapper due to its collective weight. For this reason, it is nice to have a long-bed pickup truck. Our truck is a reconstructed 1995 Dodge Ram 1500 that we got from a salvage yard, and it is perfect for hauling metal scraps.

In a future post, I will talk about the steps in metal recycle, from the initial scale to the mill.

I encourage everyone to visit their local metal recycle center, because it is fascinating. For example, in addition to the brass urn with someone’s ashes inside (the owner of the ashes eventually retrieved the urn), we saw a coffin, among other things, including a train engine car without the engine and a perimeter wall made of school buses.

Hat tip to Masoninblue, my scrapping partner, for editing this post.

When Archimedes quantified the physics behind the six simple machines that perform work and make moving things easier for humans, he probably was not hunting for scrap metal on a daily basis because he could not find a job. Or else he wasn’t a redneck.

I grew up around tools because my father enjoyed woodworking. In fact, at age 89, he still works in his wood shop. Touching his tools was a death sentence, and he always knew their exact positions and places at any given time, such that, if you moved one, you ended up feeling like Paul Shelton in Misery when Annie Wilkes says, “Paul. My little ceramic penguin in the study always faces due south. Now it faces north. You’ve been out.” So I always had great respect for tools, although I did not use them much.

Taking apart a sattelite dish

This huge old satellite dish is mostly aluminum, except for the extremely rusted nuts and bolts. Required WD-40, vice grips, socket wrenches, a hammer and a ladder.

Lamps

A good deal of infrastructure goes to the landfill each day. We retrieved these lamps from a dumpster, for the nice aluminum. I also think the bulbs are pretty, so I collect them.

The six simple machines or tools are pretty much all present on a bicycle, and they are:

The lever

Force is applied to one end of a lever, and the force is magnified at the business end. Examples are the baseball bat, the crowbar, and the seesaw. The crowbar can be handy for scrapping activities such as removing tires or prying something apart when you have given up on other tools. We have one, but it is not very long and so there is not enough force magnification going on. We do not have a baseball bat, and this is a good thing because we have had a couple of annoying encounters with people who saw fit to invade our dumpster when we were in it and a bat could have complicated things.

Wheel and axle

We have these on our truck. Another example is a rolling pin, but I have never had a sudden urge to bake a pie while I was in a dumpster, so I have not collected them, although they are available free of charge in any number of dumpsters if you need one. Wheels work really well. We found this out when we were driving down the road and our brake cable ruptured. After pumping the brakes for several minutes (he was driving) I said something like, “What do you think that sucking noise is?” He said he did not know, and I said, “Since there is a red light and all, maybe you could actually see if we even have an emergency brake,” which he did, and that is good because we used it all the way home and then all the way to the shop the next morning, although we did discuss (I kid you not) the fact that since we were broke and since the emergency brake was working so well, maybe we could just use that for a while. At the brake shop the next morning the repair guy told us that people actually do that. Oh. The sucking noise was the noise of the last few drops of brake fluid being violently and repeatedly sucked out of that brake fluid container, as we rolled down the road, thinking we were going to die.

Inclined Plane

An inclined plane is a ramp. We do not have one but I wish we did. The work is spread over distance with a ramp. I love those really sturdy aluminum ramps sort of like the things that are attached to a U-Haul rental. I always thought that there were a lot of ramps around during the building of the Pyramids.

Wedge

Double inclined plane. Examples are axes, knives, chisels, screwdrivers, and if I am not mistaken, animal horns are also a type of wedge. Wedges are essential. You cannot function without screwdrivers and, probably the most important piece of scrapping equipment is a lineman’s wire cutter. I used to lose these things all the time. They disappeared faster than money in Iraq until one day, when a retired electrician gave me something called a Klein tool. Home Depot does not sell these things. It is a high-end wire cutter. Once you get a good wire cutter it is like finding a good ratcheting screwdriver or a great set of vice grips for the first time. You will think, “How did I ever make it without these things? How was it even possible to function without them?”

Screw

A screw is an inclined plane wrapped around a shaft, and torquing force is used, that is, applying force perpendicular to the groove to translate rotational into linear force. The object of the game in scrapping is to unscrew though, and so a ratcheting screwdriver with several heads and an extension is a must. Other tools that unscrew things are the hammer, the sledge hammer, the plug-in reciprocating saw and the blow torch. As you de-evolve through the list, your language may get quite colorful.

Pulley

We do not yet have the wheel part of our pulley but we have some great ropes, so we are ready when the right wheel presents itself. As a substitute for the wheel, we have a donut-shaped magnet that we have put the rope through, and we lower the rope into the dumpster with it, to pull up small pieces of metal.

Other Tools

Archimedes may not have had zip ties but we do, and they came in really handy one day when the front grill fell off the truck. Duct tape holds on, what is that strip on the side of the truck? It’s not really a bumper but you know what I am talking about. I often wonder how Archimedes made it through his life without magnets, duct tape, flashlights, bug repellent, WD-40 and AA batteries.

And another thing: Don’t do what we do and go out scrapping without taking water. Honestly, this is the truth: I was so parched one time that I dove for the nearest ditch, drank the water and took my chances, so you know. Going out without water during a heat advisory is serious, and it affects you sort of like nitrogen narcosis in scuba diving: you become disoriented but you do not know it.


Six simple machines reference article
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Finally, a summertime tune, with a bass, banjo, and even a jug- I am sure you remember this!