Smelting or Melting?

What is the difference between smelting and melting?

During the last week of the 2018-2019 school year, Lotus sophomore, Celeste used a small furnace to demonstrate to the teachers and students how to create small, abstract shapes of metal. She heated the furnace beyond the melting point of the metal (brass, in this case). She then placed a solid chunk of brass into the melting chamber. When the solid was liquified, Celeste used tongs to carefully lift the pot out of the furnace and pour the molten liquid into a tall container of water. As soon as the metal hit the water, it hissed and smoked and cooled as it sank to the bottom. She then poured off most of the water and scooped out the small organic shapes that had formed as the metal solidified on its journey through the cooling bath. A collective gasp escaped everyone’s lips at the sight of the brilliant, shiny, elegant shapes that emerged. Some of the shapes looked like metal bubbles; others had qualities of sea life. Still others looked like miniature lava flows. No two were alike, and all were beautiful. 

Smelting is the process of extracting pure metal from ore. Melting is the process of turning solid metal into liquid. Both processes involve heat.

After the molten metal was poured into the water, a film of dross floated on the surface. While some impurities were extracted, Celeste’s process was more a melting one than a smelting one. But we all called it “smelting” because it’s more fun to say than plain old “melting.”

Education at The Lotus School encourages students to experiment and test things out for themselves. If students have a question about how something works, our teachers help the students figure out how they can find the answer. The Lotus teachers understand that students learn best when they experience the learning for themselves. 

To see a video of Celeste melting and pouring the brass into water, visit lotusla.org/smelting.