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Thread: Reclaiming Silver from Electrical Contacts?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
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    Almost Dallas
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    Default Reclaiming Silver from Electrical Contacts?

    Late last year I bought an auction lot of used motor starters, overloads, contactors and such. As I was loading my stash the owner of the company mentioned that some folks melt the silver off of old contacts and sell it. I didn't think too much about that at the time.

    Now I've sorted through the stuff, kept everything I can use, (and used some of it) and have a pile of old pieces that I'll never use, and don't feel like trying to sell. I hate the thought of just tossing everything into the trash bin.

    Does anyone here know anything about the feasibility of reclaiming and selling this silver? Is it workable on a home shop basis? Have you done it?

    There was a thread about this a few years ago, but no usable information came out, so I thought I'd ask again.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    iowa
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    It has been a few years, but I have sold the silver contacts for scrap. I would hold the part in a pair of vise grips, heat the back of the contact until the silver solder melted and let the silver contact drop into a bucket of water.

  3. #3

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    No advice on reclamation methods but just a comment on what you have to work with. When I worked at Square D a number of years ago, contacts were made in a powdered metal using silver, tungsten carbide and binders. The whole mix and process was proprietary but I presume others in the industry use something similar. So you should have two useful commodities there. And there are companies that specialize in separating scrap streams to wind up with rolled sheet stock in steel, copper, brass, etc. Synopsis is maybe you can sell the copper, steel, and contacts as a collection and let the professionals worry about the details of recovery.
    .
    "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison

  4. #4
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    Dec 2004
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    Toronto
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    As TGTool mentioned, they are rarely pure silver - too soft which = lower life.

    Most are made from a tri-layer of sliver on copper on nickel (or steel). In high arc situations siver cadmium oxide is used as the "honeycomb" filler with silver . Think of foam filled with silver.

    As a result you may find that you get less silver than you thought possible.
    Still worth a try on a few of the ones in your stash.

    Geoff

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Posts
    199

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by TGTool
    No advice on reclamation methods but just a comment on what you have to work with. When I worked at Square D a number of years ago, contacts were made in a powdered metal using silver, tungsten carbide and binders. The whole mix and process was proprietary but I presume others in the industry use something similar. So you should have two useful commodities there. And there are companies that specialize in separating scrap streams to wind up with rolled sheet stock in steel, copper, brass, etc. Synopsis is maybe you can sell the copper, steel, and contacts as a collection and let the professionals worry about the details of recovery.
    I work in the Lincoln plant. Which plant did you work at, Cedar Rapids?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Beaverton, OR
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    7,104

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    Nitric acid will dissolve silver to create silver nitrate then you can reclaim the silver from solution. The nitric should not attack the brass and copper at normal concentrations. I think... Its been a while.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by MaxxLagg
    I work in the Lincoln plant. Which plant did you work at, Cedar Rapids?
    Yeah, what was your first clue? I relocated in '92 so much water has gone under the bridge since then though there probably haven't been any radical changes in technology. Spent some time in the toolroom, then in tool engineering and while I might have had some complaints with the organization and the direction things were going, I do give them credit for some good experience, some good co-workers (not counting the others) and a lot of good stories. Did I ever tell you about the time .... ?

    How are things there, by the way?
    .
    "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    El Dorado Hills, CA
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    A friend of mine does heavy industrial electrical work for a living. For years he saved anything electrically defective that had silver content for later reclamation. At the end of the year, he had his silver ingots made into very nice commemorative coins of his own design that he gave to friends and family at Christmas time. He no longer does that.

    EPA and CA environmental law safeguards made the commercially based reclamation process prohibitively expensive to the point of not being worth the effort. Admittedly, the stoppage occurred before our recent large price increases in precious metals.
    Last edited by Pherdie; 02-02-2011 at 09:07 PM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
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    2,078

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    Contact silver is more like silver solder than pure silver. At least the sample I took to the silversmith's shop was. I had a request from a junkyard owner who had collected a lot of it,and wanted to have little ingots cast to give his friends for Christmas presents.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Tucson AZ
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    I've had some contacts replaced and they were cadmium-silver. Be careful of vapors from melting and expect a max return of 50% silver value.

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