An snowy city street.

The Road Is Peppered With Rock Salt Alternatives

Every winter, millions of tons of rock salt is sprinkled across roads in the US, mostly in the Midwest and Northeast regions. It’s a cheap and effective way to prevent accidents. Rock salt is chemically the same as the stuff that sits next to the pepper, except it isn’t as finely ground, and it doesn’t have sodium or potassium iodine added to it to prevent goiters. Both table salt and rock salt melt ice by lowering the freezing point of water. So does sugar.

Much of what we salt the Earth with every winter comes from underground networks of salt crystal that formed when various ancient seas dried up. As natural as it may be, rock salt is bad for the environment. For one thing, chloride is forever, and can’t easily be decoupled from the soil and water it taints when it washes away. Rock salt also corrodes concrete, makes its way into the groundwater, and is bad for pets. Worst of all, its efficacy drops along with the temperature. At 15° F (-9° C), rock salt loses more than 86% of its melting power.

Disposable Detroit

All this salt is not great for cars, either — it’s bad for the paint and eats up the frame. In the saltiest parts of the US, aka The Salt Belt, cars only last a handful of years before they become Flintstones mobiles. Well, not really, but salt is terrible for the brake lines and most of the undercarriage. Consumer woes aside, there’s a real environmental impact to manufacturing all these disposable cars to meet the demand.

But the problem is that we need to use salt, or at something like it. Even though millions of people are staying home a whole lot more, the trucking industry still relies on salted highways and local roads. So if you like stocked grocery stores and stuff arriving from the Bezos Barn in a timely fashion, you can see the problem. So what are the alternatives? Are there any?

Continue reading “The Road Is Peppered With Rock Salt Alternatives”

The (Sodium Chloride) Crystal Method

[Chase’s] post titled “How to Grow Sodium Chloride Crystals at Home” might as well be called “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Salt Crystals (but Were Afraid to Ask).” We aren’t sure what the purpose of having transparent NaCl crystals are, but we have to admit, they look awfully cool.

Sodium chloride, of course, is just ordinary table salt. If the post were simply about growing random ugly crystals, we’d probably have passed over it. But these crystals — some of them pretty large — look like artisan pieces of glasswork. [Chase] reports that growing crystals looks easy, but growing attractive crystals can be hard because of temperature, dust, and other factors.

You probably have most of what you need. Table salt that doesn’t include iodine, a post, a spoon, a funnel, filter paper, and some containers. You’ll probably want tweezers, too. The cooling rate seems to be very important. There are pictures of what perfect seed crystals look like and what happens when the crystals form too fast. Quite a difference! Once you find a perfectly square and transparent seed crystal, you can use it to make bigger ones.

After the initial instructions, there is roughly half the post devoted to topics like the effect growth rate has on the crystal along with many pictures. There are also notes on how to form the crystals into interesting shapes like stars and pyramids. You can also see what happens if you use iodized salt.

If salt is too tame for you, try tin. Or opt for copper, if you prefer that.

Take This 3D-Print Post-Processing Method With A Grain Of Salt

There’s a lot of folklore around post-processing of prints from FDM printers. Proponents swear by their methods, which are generally intended to either strengthen the part or to improve its appearance, or both. But do they actually work?

Knowing that a collection of anecdotes is no substitute for actual data, [Stefan] from CNC Kitchen has again performed some valuable experiments, this time testing the strength of parts that have been annealed in salt. This was a follow-up to his recent experiments with baking prints after entombing them in plaster, which yielded mixed results in terms of strength gains. Viewers commented that common salt makes a good medium for annealing prints, so he set about finding the right kind of salt. It turns out that the finer the grain, the better — powdery salt packs tighter and leaves little space for the softened plastic to flow — but that powdery salt is not easier to find. He ended up making his own by pulverizing table salt in a blender. He also had to play around with temperatures and times until coming up with a good process.

The results are impressive. PETG, ABS, and two varieties of PLA prints tested with force applied perpendicular to the print layers all showed marked increase in strength after breaking, to the point of nearly matching the strength of parts printed with the layers parallel to the stress. As with the plaster, parts were printed at 100% infill; a Benchy printed at 20% was notably unseaworthy after annealing. Surface finish on the annealed parts is an interesting combination of pitting with white residue — not unattractive but still a bit weird.

Salt annealing might be a bit cumbersome, but it’s a neat method to add to all the other post-processing tricks that people have come up with for their 3D prints. Continue reading “Take This 3D-Print Post-Processing Method With A Grain Of Salt”