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What is Pot Metal?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pot metal is a slang term used to refer to cheap metal alloys with a low melting point. The low melting point makes this metal very easy to cast, but the generally low quality can cause problems during casting and at a later date. There is no formal definition of pot metal, so it can be hard to determine its contents. Some common metals included in such alloys include zinc, lead, copper, and tin, among others.

The mixed contents of pot metal make it highly unpredictable, which can be a problem for people who are trying to create specific items. It has a tendency to become very soft and porous, and over time, it is subject to deformity. It also tends to break or bend easily, making it unsuitable for many tasks, and because some of the metals commonly included are toxic, this type of metal can also be hazardous to human health.

Rapid and easy casting is the primary advantage to pot metal. No sophisticated foundry tools are needed, as comparatively low temperatures are needed to turn it into a castable liquid, and specialized casts and molds aren't necessary either. Some people like to use pot metal to play around in the foundry, experimenting with molds and ideas before using metals of higher quality, and this metal can be useful in the production of some items.

This metal can be difficult to plate, because of its often unknown properties. Many people attempt to plate pot metal to protect it or to conceal its origins; it tends to be a dull gray color when left unplated. Objects made with this type of metal are also difficult to repair, as they tend to take poorly to welding, soldering, or gluing, techniques typically used to repair other broken metal objects.

Some people refer to pot metal disparagingly as "monkey metal," and it is also sometimes referred to as "die-cast zinc" or "white metal," among other names. Ingots for melding and casting are available from many metallurgical companies, and some people make their own pot metal, breaking down various scrap metal objects around the shop and melting them down into an alloy. Foundries may also sell scrap to people looking for a cheap source of metal, although such scrap sometimes contains an assortment of impurities which may prove problematic later.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Ginchy — On Oct 18, 2013

As a kid (well over sixty some years ago) we used to cast our own toys but used lead. It was everywhere and even found in homes in the old plumbing systems. Dime stores and hobby shops sold molds and still do today, you could melt any lead even fishing sinkers, tire weights, and cast your own toys from the molds and paint them with hobby craft paints. Just be sure you cover your cast toy completely with the paint.

Today, you can still do the same thing but I never knew one kid who cast toys using old recovered 'pot metal, white metal or spelter'. Lead can be dangerous but is cheap, quick and efficient to use and there are quality face guards and breathing protection apparatus that can make these projects very safe and fun.

By clintflint — On Sep 24, 2012

@Iluviaporos - I think the real advantage for those kids, aside from the low melting point, was that they could pick up pot metal from anywhere. Just scrounging in a junk yard or even in their fathers' garages would do it, since the metal didn't have to be pure.

A lot of artists also use pot metal to make jewelry for basically the same reasons. Unfortunately, it doesn't tend to keep very well, so even if a piece is handmade and unique you should make sure of the quality of the metal in order to know how to care for it.

By lluviaporos — On Sep 23, 2012

I think kids used to make toy soldiers out of pot metal. I read an article the other day about how kids could once buy sets of molds and burners that would allow them to melt metal and create their own zinc soldiers.

It seems very shocking now, since there's no way a kid would be allowed to do any pot metal casting, or any activity that involved using molten metal, at least unsupervised. But in a way I think that's a shame. Yeah, you don't want your kids to be mucking around with dangerous things, but even crossing the road is dangerous. And you have to teach them how to be careful at some point.

It's a tough call to make in the shops though because a lot of parents depend on the packaging of a toy to tell them when their kids are allowed to do something.

By anon289522 — On Sep 04, 2012

You might wish to add "spelter," which is primarily zinc-based in Britain, but technically is a type of 'pot metal'.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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