The Bismuth Business
Psychology major Evan McCormick founded The Bismuth Business, an online shop selling bismuth crystals, just over a year ago. A lifelong chemistry enthusiast, he captained his high school’s Science Olympiad team and once experimentally designed a Rube Goldberg machine. Evan continues to work on projects and attend science conventions recreationally.
He fell in love with bismuth at one such convention, while watching demonstrators melt its solid form in crucibles. Evan was immediately hooked, likening the experience to that of a “blacksmith working in a forge.” The mystery of what size, shape, or even color the crystals will adopt once they form continues to fascinate him to this day.
Founding a Crystal Store
The Business came together when Evan recognized his need for recreational expenses. His tutoring job had failed to procure an adequate amount of money, so he pursued a more well-paying venture. An avid mineral collector, Evan realized the potential of his love for bismuth; as he puts it, “an idea crystallized.”
After creating an online business model, he zeroed in on opening a commodity shop. He bought bismuth in bulk and started converting it into large homemade crystals to sell online.
However, while his online store has found success, he cites marketing and selling the crystals as the most challenging requirement of the business model. “It’s the kind of business that I think would do well in an arts and crafts fair or as a science fair project, but, alas, we aren’t holding any arts and crafts fairs these days,” he says. But Covid-19 restrictions or not, Evan plans to continue promoting The Bismuth Business in any way possible.
How to Grow Bismuth Crystals
The process for creating the crystals is relatively straightforward, but requires precise timing. Evan follows these key steps to grow his crystals via the “geode method”:
The Geode Method
- Melt the bismuth (Evan does this over a campfire to eliminate the risk of spilling).
- Skim the bismuth and pour it into an insulated crucible.
- Wait for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Pour out the remaining molten bismuth; bismuth crystals should have grown on the inside of the crucible.
- Remove the crystals from the crucible with a blowtorch and a hammer.
- Cut the crystals to isolate the hopper formations, recovering as much excess bismuth as possible.
Want to Make Bismuth Crystals?
Evan recommends performing ample research before purchasing any supplies and doing chemical experiments at home. This includes pinpointing material costs, specifically if you wish to sell items for profit. How-to videos are also crucial resources. For those interested in bismuth crystals, he recommends exploring the information at https://www.reddit.com/r/BISMUTH/.
Evan also offered a few insider tips, or “common wisdom,” from the bismuth crystallization community.
- Always use safety equipment. For Evan, this equipment includes safety goggles, a dust mask (when working with ceramic fiber or cutting the bismuth), forge gloves and a fire extinguisher.
- To make bismuth crystals of a significant size, you’ll need to purchase at least 5 pounds of bulk bismuth solid.
- Two popular crystal-growing methods exist: the “single crystal” method, which involves plucking grown crystals from the top of an open pot of molten bismuth, and the “geode” method (described above). In Evan’s experience, the geode method produces more crystals–and larger crystals–because it allows for greater growth surface area.
- To heat bismuth, use some kind of flame–a stovetop burner or a camp-stove will work. (Evan’s attempts to melt bismuth with an electric hotplate did not heat the material sufficiently, and failed to prompt crystal formation).
- Cool the bismuth slowly in order to ensure large crystal size. The best way to do so involves utilizing ceramic fiber insulation (commonly known as forge insulation). If that’s not an option for you, find a burner setting that will allow for this slow cooling process.
- After pouring, position your container in the upside-down position.
- Use a Dremel Drill, fitted with a diamond tipped circular blade, to cut out crystals. Regular saws get damaged easily and do not facilitate efficient cutting. Using two pliers can also be an effective cutting method, as bismuth is brittle material and tends to break between crystal formations.
If you are interested in learning more about Evan and The Bismuth Business, visit https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheBismuthBusiness37
Learn how to make copper crystals here.