When you’re inspired to do some DIY projects at home, you can find yourself looking around your house for materials to use. Whether you want to do some at-home metallurgy, custom-made jewelry, or even blacksmithing, aluminum can be a great material to use.
After finishing a box of canned soda or some canned soup, you might have wondered how you could put those empty cans to use. This article will cover how you can melt those cans down into workable fluid with the tools you have at home.
What do I need to melt aluminum cans?
The most obvious component to getting aluminum into a liquid form is, of course, heat. But not everyone has an industrial-grade foundry in their backyard. Luckily, aluminum has a relatively low melting point that can be easily achieved using homemade equipment.
At what temperature do aluminum cans melt?
The melting point of aluminum is 660.32 °C or 1220.58 °F. This is considerably higher than what a kitchen oven can reach (which is what makes aluminum so useful for cooking.)
An important note: as you would be working with very high temperatures, this endeavor is a potentially dangerous one, and should only be done by adults using proper safety precautions.
There are some precautions you should take in order to minimize the risk of injury. If you have long hair, make sure you tie it back. Wear long pants, safety glasses, and shoes that completely cover your feet. Steel-toed boots are best.
Also very important is to ensure that there is no liquids, especially water, left inside the cans. Significant amounts of liquid, when heated, will rapidly expand into gas and potentially cause a steam explosion.
It’s a good idea to let your cans dry out for at least a few weeks before melting them.
Some things to have handy to proceed safely would include:
- Butane/Propane Torch (or a kiln or home foundry if you have one)
- Heat-resistant gloves
- Metal tongs
- Cast iron skillet (or any stainless steel/cast iron container) or a crucible
- Molds to pour the aluminum into (steel, sand, lost foam, lost wax or plaster)
- Aluminum foil to catch any spills (making clean-up easier)
Is melting aluminum cans toxic?
While aluminum is generally safe to melt, it is typically the things such as the plastic labels and ink on the cans that can release toxins and cause some health concerns.
Working with melting metals or even grinding them can release microparticles of metal into the air. When inhaled, this can cause something called “Metal fume fever”.
Metal fume fever is a bigger concern with galvanized materials than cans. Still, this is one reason why it is important to work in an open, and well-ventilated space.
What is the best thing to melt aluminum in?
Maybe you’re a bit of a perfectionist and you want the best possible result when melting your cans. For that, a steel foundry or forge is recommended. These can be easily heated using propane or even charcoal.
But of course, not everyone has a steel foundry handy, or are willing to invest in one. That’s fine because more common everyday tools can also get the job done.
How to melt aluminum cans without a foundry or forge
If you don’t have a steel foundry, or you don’t feel like making one, there are other ways to melt aluminum cans. An easy alternative is an electric kiln. These appliances typically offer you the option to simply select the temperature you wish to achieve, almost like an oven.
One thing you will need however, is a crucible. A crucible is nothing more than the container which will hold your cans as they melt into liquid.
The crucible needs to be made of a material that has a higher melting point than aluminum to ensure that it doesn’t melt along with your cans. Crucibles are typically made of steel, but even homemade ceramic crucibles will suffice.
Can I melt aluminum with a blowtorch?
You may be wondering if a foundry or a kiln is needed at all. The answer is, that direct heat from a propane or butane torch is actually enough to melt aluminum cans. All you would need is the crucible.
However, this is the least recommended method as the heat produced by propane and butane torches can reach temperatures high enough to melt steel and even cast iron; which would mean melting your crucible and spilling molten aluminum, which can be quite dangerous.
Nevertheless, this method involves using the flame of the torch directly on your cans whilst avoiding the crucible. This is best done by someone who has lots of experience cutting metal with blowtorches.
It’s also likely to result in a lot of metal lost to oxidation. Again, using a crucible in a home foundry or kiln is the better option.
Melting the aluminum cans
You’ve got your heat source, your crucible, and your cans. Now to start melting:
- Place your foundry, kiln, or crucible in a well-ventilated outdoor space on a surface that can withstand high heat (sand, gravel, concrete). Surround your working space with sheets of aluminum foil to catch any spills.
- Crush your cans in order to make melting faster and to maximize space in your crucible.
- Activate your heat source and use the metal tongs to place your crucible within it.
- The aluminum will melt quickly. When the last can is fully liquid, skim any slag (clumps of contaminants) off the surface with the tongs. It’s useful to have a bucket of water handy, into which you can drop the hot slag.
- Slowly pour the molten aluminum into the mold; try not to pour any leftover slag with it.
- Let the aluminum cool.
Why would you melt aluminum cans?
Perhaps you need some ideas for all those melted aluminum cans. Aluminum is quite a versatile material and can serve many uses.
Cookware is perhaps the most obvious one. Making DIY forks, spatulas, pots, and pans can be a very satisfying endeavor. Patio furniture or even some furniture repair is also possible with aluminum.
There are also the more exotic ideas for cast aluminum. Cosplaying props such as swords and armor, artistic sculptures, and much more are popular items for backyard metalcasting.
Or maybe you just want to have some raw aluminum ingots around for that one day when you are inspired and find a use for your recycled aluminum.
Now with a clear understanding of safety precautions, methodologies, and hopefully some inspired ideas, you can get to work on that DIY project you’ve envisioned.
Recycling is always a fun way to create new useful things for your household. All those aluminum cans you’ve collected can finally be put to some interesting purpose.