Bismuth is a nontoxic heavy metal with a low melting point. It can create stunning geometric crystal structures that are colored by vibrant oxidation patterns.
Materials and Tools
- One pound of 99.99% pure Bismuth can be purchased from Amazon for about $28 including shipping.
- Two metal containers such as a tuna can or coffee can
- A propane blowtorch and igniter
- Safety glasses, face mask, and heat-proof gloves
- A pair of pliers to move the container
- Remove all fire hazards from the work area.
- Place Bismuth in the metal conatiner.
- Heat from above using the blowtorch.
- Once the bismuth has liquefied, turn off the blowtorch and use the pliers to move the container.
- From here you can experiment with the bismuth. The best crystals I created were made when I coated the sides of the container with liquid bismuth. You can also try pouring the bismuth into the other container.
- Allow time to cool before handling without gloves or pliers.
The bismuth can be remelted repeatedly. My quick research on the internet suggests that after 4 or 5 remelts, the bismuth becomes too impure to create great structures. I haven’t run into this problem.
Oxidation is easy to achieve. Crystallization not so much. The best crystals I created were made when I coated the sides of the container with liquid bismuth. I tried pouring the bismuth into another metal container. I also tried pouring the bismuth onto a piece of MDF.
I used both my phone camera and a DSLR. The DSLR was equipped with a 10x Macro Lens which attached onto a typical zoom lens set to 25mm. For the photosynth, I compiled a series of images into one large image. This allowed me to see the details of a macro image within a larger context.
Moving Forward in Digital Craft
The crystal structures have a simple, recursive geometry. It’s fractal nature could inform how we build our parts. At the very least, the patterns would make an interesting texture for a tooling path.
I would like to try pouring the bismuth into a small pool of water to try to build more robust crystals.