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Recycling the Red Metals Empty Recycling the Red Metals

Post by Forerunner Mon Nov 30, 2009 11:29 pm


Of all the common metals that offer themselves for
recycling, copper is the most valuable. There are many
sources for scrap copper, but with the current high
markets, access to these sources is becoming
There are still the old houses and outbuildings to be
taken down, and the copper contained in them, whether
plumbing or wiring, makes a healthy bonus to the
recycled building materials,
Electric motors are one of the surest copper sources,
although many today are wound with aluminum wire,
which really is a poor second for durability, heat
endurance and conductivity, not to mention scrap
value. Electric motors must have both end caps
removed, the center portion, called an "armature",
removed, and then the remaining shell, called the
"stator", must be subjected to the heat of, say, a
shop wood stove, for about a half hour, longer for the
bigger motors. There is a varnish of sorts that must
be cleaned off before the wires are freed up to be cut
and removed from the stator. A wood fire does a very
clean and safe job of this. Allow the stator to reach
a dull red heat. Then, immediately plunge the shell
into cold water. The resulting and violent bursts of
steam will clean the impurities out of the nooks and
crannies, rendering the wire easier to pull and a much
cleaner product.
The buyer involved will be impressed with the finished
product prepared in this manner. If water is not
available, the copper still pulls and the end product
is still quite marketable.
Copper plumbing pipe and tubing are the second best
source for copper, especially if one comes across an
industrial application that permission can be gained
to dismantle.
The industry prefers any copper of length to be cut
into approximately four foot sections. A fifty-five
gallon steel or plastic drum makes a good transport
vessel for tubing or wire.
If you are particularly smiled upon during your
recycling of older houses and some industrial
buildings, copper guttering, down spouts and roofer's
flashing are all sometimes made of copper. In the
right situation, which is becoming rare, there can be
a lot of weight accumulated quickly.
Another rare but very lucrative source is industrial
grade electrical switch, breaker and junction boxes.
The chances of stumbling onto these are slim, but they
sometimes contain copper plates that are as thick as
three-eighths of an inch, several inches wide and
several feet long. They can weigh 20-50 pounds each.
On old building sites, when removing houses or
outbuildings that once had propane heat, watch for the
telltale brass fitting on a copper tube that indicates
where the propane tank set in the yard. That tubing
will likely only be buried a few inches deep and not
that difficult to dig or pull out of the ground.
Older barns and homes still oftentimes have copper
lightning rods and ground cables. In recent years,
there have been growing reports of this commodity
disappearing from buildings when no one is around.
What goes around, comes around. Keep your operation

There are many grades of copper in the recycling
Smaller scrap yards like to acknowledge only two or
three, those being "number one copper", "number two
copper", and "sheet copper", but if you learn the
various grades and prepare the material in a
professional manner, it is not difficult to break into
the larger, more lucrative markets by further
separation into the more refined grades. In the scrap
metals industry, quality and quantity of material
define the price. Once you develop a good, trusting
relationship with your buyer, and show that you take
the spec preparations seriously, he will pay you
quantity prices for smaller batches of material. His
preferences may vary with those represented in this
article. He will be glad to instruct as to what grades
he needs and how he prefers them to be prepared.

The highest paying grade of copper, for our purposes,
is called "bare-bright wire". Each individual strand
of this grade material must be the thickness of a
pencil lead or larger, and be stripped of its
insulation mechanically, and NOT burned. As a rule,
the only wire worth stripping in this manner is
industrial wiring larger than a pencil, unless you
have time on your hands, and/or no better way at your
disposal to remove the insulation.

The second highest-paying grade is called "no.1
It is wire that is free of insulation, cleaned by any
other means but mechanical stripping. The individual
wire strands must, again, be larger in diameter than a
pencil lead. Most house wiring and industrial grade
wiring falls into this category. Many of the larger
electric motors are wound with this grade of wire.

Some yards differentiate, and some allow the two
grades to be combined, but for the sake of education
and clarity, we will separate
"no.1 tubing" from "no.1 wire" in this article.
Number one copper pipe and tubing can be of any
thickness, but must be free of paint, solder, heavy
corrosion or oil. The author has often found it worth
the time to hammer painted or corroded copper tubing
flat, on an anvil or railroad iron, for the purpose of
removing the paint and corrosion, thus rendering the
material more valuable, as well as condensing the
tubing into smaller, heaver pieces.
It is simple enough to prepare, just make all of your
cuts next to the lower grade portions of pipe, such as
at the joints. Then prepare the left over longer
portions to the four foot spec. Watch closely while
inspecting the joints, some are welded with solid
copper and need not be segregated from the # 1 grade.
The industry standard in grading the # 1 coppers is to
strive for a 95% purity. This looks good on paper, but
is a difficult measure for the grass roots scrapper to
go by.

The third grade of copper is referred to as "no. 2
This grade of material can contain any wire or tubing
that has corrosion, silver, tin or lead soldered
joints, small brass fittings, brass electrical
connectors, even short portions of wire still
containing some insulation, but don't push that last
one. Industry grade purity is 85%. Tubing can have
paint on it. The ground wire from lightning rods is
almost always included in the # 2 grades, the only
exception being if it brand new. Most smaller electric
motors will contain this thinner grade of copper.
Automotive wiring harnesses, freed of all insulation
fall into the # 2 category. Number 2 copper is, by
far, the most common grade of copper that will be
encountered by the grass roots scrapper. Again, the
spec diameter of # 2 copper is anything smaller than a
pencil lead.

The fourth grade of copper, for our purposes, is
"sheet copper".
This is the grade where copper flashing, guttering,
downspouts and old, bent up copper cookware are all
Again, in the larger markets, if one comes across
really clean, pure and shiny material, it may pay to
segregate this and ask for a nickel or even a dime a
pound more than standard sheet grade commands.
Usually, sheet copper is gunked up with roofing tar or
thick paint.
Those impurities should be removed to the best of
available ability, or expect to be docked in price at
sale time.

Some radiators and many heat exchangers are
constructed of copper.
There is a specific grade setting for copper
radiators. Heat exchangers fall into this category
unless they are dismantled completely, at which point
the tubing can be sorted into the 1 and 2 grades.

Most automotive radiators are a mix of copper and
The industry title for this grade of copper bearing
material is "auto-rads". These must be sold as a
separate grade of material from the all-copper
radiators. Brass and copper radiators must be
stripped of steel fittings and shrouds and all rubber
or plastic before top prices can be expected.
The only copper grade that can contain very small
quantities of steel is the # 2 grade.

In the heating and cooling industry, one can find what
are referred to in the recycling business as
"aluminum/copper radiators".
These are the condensers and radiators found in air
conditioning units- commercial, residential and
automotive. They consist of copper tubing encased in
thin, almost foil-like sheets of aluminum. Watch the
laws and methods of preparation when dealing with
If a connection can be made with a plumbing and
heating or appliance shop, demand that all
refrigerants be removed before you take possession of
these items. Large coolers and freezers such as can be
found in restaurants, grocery stores and the like
often contain very large condensers and radiators. If
these can be procured, they are not difficult to
prepare and will yield large dividends to the grass
roots scrapper.

Lastly, for our purposes, is the lowest grade of
copper bearing scrap,
insulated copper wire. If there is no safe or feasible
way to remove the insulation from your copper wire or
insulated tubing, all is not lost.
Once you've established with the buyer that you are
capable of quality and, hopefully some quantity of
material, he is capable of offering a price for
insulated wire that is not far, percentage-wise from
the price paid for clean number two copper. The
insulation on smaller wire usually makes up roughly
50% of the weight of the material and the price of
insulated wire usually reflects this without further
In some instances-again, check with your buyer- it may
pay to segregate the larger insulated industrial
wire from the thinner stranded material.
The same specs for 1 and 2 copper apply, whether there
is insulation present or not. That extra
step could be worth considerably more, per pound, over
what the common insulated grade commands in price.


As copper is the most valuable of the commonly
available metals for the grass roots scrapper, brass
may well be found to be the most dense, i.e., a five
gallon bucket of brass fittings can weigh over a
hundred pounds. Only lead weighs up faster, but it's
not near as valuable.
Brass usually comes in relatively small, heavy pieces,
and it is not difficult to fit three quarters of a ton
of the red metal into a 55 gallon drum.

There are likely more grades of the various brasses
and bronzes than there are grades of copper. For our
purposes, here, we will concentrate on the five most
commonly sought by the scrap yards. Brass is assumed
to be so complex in it's grading that many yards don't
even want the scrap peddler to make the attempt. The
yard buyers would rather pay a lower figure, per
pound, for all brasses combined, save cartridge brass,
which is always to be separated from the other grades.
With the proper education, and, again, after
developing a trust relationship with your buyer, it
will be found that the variously more refined brass
markets will be made available.

The five grades we will address here are as follows;
Red brass
Semi-red brass
Electrical brass
Yellow brass
Cartridge brass

The scrap industry has made some changes over the last
several years, resulting in a more stringent grading
system for the more valuable brass grades. It used to
be that almost any hard brass casting was considered
red brass. No more. True red brass is an alloy of
copper and tin.
The yards now only consider water valves with a pipe
thread diameter of one inch or greater as red brass.
There is generally no ready source for this material in
quantity. Large brass valves that have been used for
water service are where you find them, usually no more
than a few at a time, if that. These valves are the
premium grade in the industry, especially for the
small time scrapper. Again, once a trust relationship
is developed with the buyer, there are other hard
brass fittings that can be considered straight red
grade. But they are few. Don't be afraid to ask.

Semi-red brass is the most common and plentiful of the
brass grades, by weight, if nothing else. Any hard
brass casting, with the exception of electrical
service brass and chromed brasses, that does not make
the red grade, falls into the semi-red category. There
are many different alloys in the semi-red grade.
Yellow brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. The
semi-reds have varying degrees of copper, zinc and tin
in them.
The most common sources for semi-red brasses are the
liquid propane gas and the plumbing industries. Older
water pump impellers will usually fall into the semi-red category.
Small valves from the automotive
and heavy truck industries are semi-red. Heavy brass
clamps that are used to connect heavier gauge wire in
the electrical service industry can be mixed in with
semi-red. The valves on water heaters, if not plastic,
fall into the semi-red category. The brass compression
fittings on copper tubing connections are semi-red.
Heavy brass fittings and bushings can be found in
larger industrial electric motors and other commercial
applications. Segregate any pieces about which the
grade quality may be in question. Your buyer will tell
you if you've found red.

Older electrical gadgets occasionally contained a
heavy brass framework. These items are generally not
common. Any brass that has served the electrical
industry, save for the heavy connectors, will best be
segregated from the semi-red grades. Various market
nuances will allow some electrical brass to be mixed
with semi-red. Ask the buyer for his preference.

Yellow brasses are the lighter gauge items such as
brass sink drain tubing, the brass liner inside old
hand and wind powered water pumps, brass floats in old
toilets and carburetors, etc. This grade of brass will
either be bright yellow in color or is often chromed.
Brass water faucets such as are found on kitchen and
bathroom sinks are yellow brass. Any brass plumbing
fitting that is chromed, even if it is a heavy casting
such as is found on a public urinal or toilet, will be
considered yellow brass. Various older water sump
pumps are constructed largely of brass. The long brass
tube is yellow. The heavy casting "foot" at the bottom
may be considered red. Ask the buyer. The brass rod
inside can be either yellow or semi-red, depending on
the color. When in doubt,
add the piece in question to the higher grade barrel.
The buyer will call you on the mistake, if there is
one. It would be appreciated if such items were left
on top of the barrel or bucket so that they will be
easily seen and identified. Some older bed frames and
some ornamental gratings and railings are constructed
of brass. Depending on the thickness of the material,
it may be yellow or semi-red.

Lastly, for our purposes, is cartridge brass.
Cartridge brass is actually yellow brass, but, for
safety reasons, the industry wants it segregated.
Cartridge brass can often be had in quantity at the
local rifle range.
If a connection can be established, the military
occasionally sells scrap cartridge brass in quantity.
Always go through cartridge brass with a fine-toothed
comb. Don't send the yards any that contain live
primers, powder or lead bullets. Be known for your eye
toward a quality product.

Posts : 48
Join date : 2009-05-13
Location : West central Illinois

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