What Is a Smelter?

“Smelting” sounds like a form of melting . . . but it isn’t!

“Smelting” also sounds like going fishing for shiny little fish that are called smelts . . . but it isn’t that either!

So, What Is Smelting?

Smelting is a process by which pure metals like copper, silver and gold are extracted from ore that is mined from the earth. People started smelting more than 1,000 years ago. Depending on what you read about smelting, you will be told that it was first done in Africa, Asia, or Europe. It seems that everybody wants to claim that smelting was first performed in their part of the world. Why? Because people who discovered how to separate metals from ore by smelting were pretty doggone smart.

How Did They Do It?

There are a few basic principles to understand about smelting. The first is that in order to separate a metal from the ore that contains it, you have to heat the ore to a temperature that is higher than the melting point of the metal you are trying to extract. When you do that, tiny amounts of the metal liquify and then cling together, forming nuggets that are easy to separate from the surrounding powder and charred dirt that are left after smelting is finished.

The second principle is that when you add certain other chemicals to the ore before you smelt it, the “glomming together” of the metal you want becomes more efficient, the metal you get is purer, and you enjoy other benefits, including the ability to smelt larger quantities of ore. In the earliest days of smelting, charcoal was added to the ore to achieve that result. Later, during the Industrial Revolution, coke (a byproduct of coal mining) was used too.

Raising the Temperatures Resulted in More Efficient Smelting

At a certain point in history, early smelters discovered that they could raise the temperature of materials being smelted by moving them into a closed furnace, often equipped with a bellows, and performing the smelting process there. The hotter the temperature, the more efficient the smelting.

Applying Smelting Technologies to Extracting Precious Metals

Here at Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners, we use smelting techniques to separate gold, silver, platinum and other precious metals not from ore, but from a variety of surrounding materials. We can use smelting technology to extract gold from piles of dirt that were swept up from a factory floor, for example, or to separate silver from scrap that was collected in a welding facility.

Smelting Is Old, Smelting Is New . . . Smelting Is a Process that Can Work for You

Can smelting be used to separate gold, silver, platinum and other precious metals from the kind of scrap you have collected? Call us to find out. We are available to answer your questions at 800-426-2344. If you have scrap to process, call us today. Smelting could be the answer!