How much easier would it be to make electrical repairs if you didn’t have to make your way back into town or even cannibalize another piece of equipment in hopes that it will have the component you need?
Whether you’re homesteading or simply trying to make life easier as a survivalist, the knowledge of how to refine copper into wiring, small copper components and other parts with the resources around you is a crucial chunk of survival knowledge.
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking: “Wouldn’t I at least need some kind of expensive blower to get a fire hot enough to produce copper?”
The answer is a resounding “no.” That being said, let’s discuss which natural ores are available around you to produce this valuable metal.
The most common ore is chalcopyrite, and while finding this ore isn’t as easy as slipping outside for a stroll and picking it up along the forest floor like berries, it is still a relatively easy ore to find. Chalcopyrite can be found at the base of limestone-rich mountains and natural rocky outcroppings containing limestone. It is found by breaking open large limestone and extracting the metallic tetrahedron-shaped mass from the inside by simply hammering it out.
The second most commonly found copper-bearing ore is chalcocite, found mainly in sedimentary rock quarries that are heavy in sedimentary rocks such as limestone, for example. See a correlation here? Chalcocite is widely commercially mined due to the ease at which it can be separated from the copper sulfide.
Now, for those of you desert buffs who prefer to homestead in more arid climates. The third most-common copper sulfide bearing ore is malachite. This ore is so prolific and was mined so much commercially that you have most likely seen malachite at rock and gem shops and had no idea you were looking at one of the most common sources of copper in history. While malachite doesn’t have nearly the amount of copper that chalcocite (79.8 percent when purified) has, it’s still one of the easiest ores from which to separate the copper.
Since your head may be spinning from the scientific end of this project, I suggest we move to the fun part: producing copper. As wonderful as this modern age is due to all the convenient equipment it brings — including flashlights, generators, solar panels and so much more — it has one flaw. Like everything else, eventually, your equipment will wear down. Parts break, and wire burns and shorts out.
Either way, one of the wonderful things about copper is that it doesn’t take some million dollar factory plant or factory to produce the copper products that we use each day.
You need three things to start: a bellow, wind pipes, and a furnace in order to smelt your copper ore.
After a suitable furnace spot has been found, your next step is to make a small piece of clay tubing to fit over the end of the wind pipes in order to keep the end of the wind pipes out of the direct heat.
You now get to play with some clay. You have to mold a small clay cup or “crucible” to contain your ore, and make a lid to match. It’s best to make sure all the parts match as best you can. Take your copper bearing ore and roast it for about an hour by sprinkling it over a small camp fire and putting wood on top of it. Don’t be worried about sifting out the copper from the wood ash, as the difference will be obvious.
Crush your roasted ore with either a hammerstone or a hammer, and deposit it into your clay crucible after allowing the clay to dry in the sun for two to three days.
You will need a furnace to smelt the copper now. One of the fastest ways to build a furnace primitively is to carefully remove a nice 1 ½-foot piece of round turf or rooted ground in the spot you chose to smelt your ore and dig down another foot and a half into the dirt. This will create a natural furnace to keep your heat right where you want it. After building a small fire inside your hole, line the bottom and sides of the hole with charcoal. Set your clay crucible in the middle of it and put your lid on your crucible before covering it with more charcoal.
Simply replace the turf lid and insert your bellows windpipe under the lid of the turf. Begin working your bellows, and get comfortable for the next five hours! Apologies but this is the economic way of doing things. After five to six hours of continuous pumping (see where a partner comes in handy?) you will see the flame start to show streaks of green. This shows that your copper is nearly complete. Have a friend continue working the bellows while you use long tongs to remove the turf lid and carefuly lift the clay lid from your crucible to check that the contents have melted into your liquid copper.
Once this has occurred then your next step is to carefully pour the liquid metal into either a mold you prepared to recast a broken copper electrical component, or into a long thin tube mould for later reheating and stretching into copper wire as you need it.
Keep whatever scraps of copper remain after your project. This copper can be easily reheated and used how you see fit.
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