"Elemental" Digits In A Box, Custom Sets

After viewing my videos (see my first set and second set) documenting the creation of "Elemental" versions of my Digits In A Box puzzle, a few of my friends said they might be interested in purchasing such sets for themselves. These would not be cheap (the material cost alone will be hundreds of dollars, and that will just be a fraction of the final price), but this page gives the details.

The first two sets I made are for myself; the first just to see if it could be done, and the second to refine the casting processes and to start experimenting with alternate elements. If you order the elements used to create each digit (0 through 9), you can construct a "design code" for that particular set. My first two sets are represented by these two design codes:

Set #1: Pb-Ag-Sn-Bi-Cd-Sb-Cu-In-Al-Zn
Set #2: Pb-Ag-Sn-Bi-Cd-Sb-Zn-Se-Al-Cu

I don't expect to make a lot of custom sets for other people, but if I do, I will follow a couple of basic rules:

  1. I will only use elements. No alloys or other compounds. So, no brass, bronze, pewter, or such.
  2. Each set I make will have a unique design code. In other words, a customer may choose which elements are used for which digits, but whatever combination is decided upon, it must be different from any previous sets I have created (whether for myself or someone else). This will ensure that the set is unique.
  3. Because of toxicity of some of the elements potentially used, I will only ship these within the United States; no international orders. Sorry.

If you are interested in a bespoke set for yourself, you may download this spreadsheet to study potential costs of a set based on what metals are used for which pieces. Note, this spreadsheet is in OpenDocument format and is readable in OpenOffice or LibreOffice -- I assume it is probably also readable in Microsoft Office, but I'm not positive. When you open it, there are two sheets ("PIECES" & "ELEMENTS"); you should only alter the data in the first sheet in the highlighted yellow cells (where you are told to enter element choices). When you enter the element names, all other data will be appropriately recalculated. Any custom sets created will be the same size as my second set (essentially they are designed to fit in a 2.5 inch cube).

The "ELEMENTS" sheet of the spreadsheet lists densities and costs for reference. With that spreadsheet you may explore different element options. For example, maybe you are trying to minimize material cost. Or maybe create the heaviest set possible (or lightest).

Below I discuss what elements can be used (these are included in the spreadsheet above); I also discuss elements which cannot be used, for various reasons...

Element Choices

IMPORTANT! Some of these metals are considered toxic! I will provide links to the National Institute of Health's (NIH's) webpages about these substances; please read about these elements before you request of me the creation of any puzzle pieces with them. Do not buy a set as a toy for children. These sets are meant to be more artistic in nature; it can be played with as a puzzle, but if you are going to be working with it excessively, you should probably just by a plastic set.

Beyond the links I give, you are encouraged to research each element thoroughly (Wikipedia is always a good place to start).

Elements That Can Definitely Be Used

The below eleven elements are the ones I used, in some combination, to create my first two sets. I am confident in my ability to melt and cast these elements. A couple of them (selenium and indium) have interesting physical properties that make them better suited for particular pieces/shapes.
  • Aluminum (Al); 13 Everyone knows this metal (though some know it as "aluminium"). I actually melt down old soda cans to get most of my raw material, so this choice has virtually no material cost associated with it. Here's what the NIH has to say about aluminum.
  • Copper (Cu); 29 I have a new respect for copper after having worked with it on my first two sets. It has the highest melting point (just under 2000°F) of any element I can melt with my makeshift foundry. I melted down spare copper pipe fittings I had when making my first two sets, but for future sets I will be ordering pure copper. Here's what the NIH has to say about copper.
  • Zinc (Zn); 30 A common, inexpenive metal and easy to work with. Ordered from Rotometals.com. Here's what the NIH has to say about zinc.
  • Selenium (Se); 34 This is a non-metal -- not malleable, more like a glass. I used it in my second set for the 7-piece, and it works fine with the other pieces, but I do handle it carefully. Too much pressure, or a careless drop, and the piece will likely break. Even though I used selenium for the 7-piece in my set, I think it might be smarter to use it for the 8-piece instead. The 8-piece is a more solid shape, and this might help prevent accidental breaking. Of course, an 8-piece requires more material than a 7-piece, and this is a rather expensive material. I ordered mine from an "element supply" company but hope that I might be able to get some in (cheaper) granule form off eBay or from other suppliers. Here's what the NIH has to say about selenium.
  • Silver (Ag); 47 A classic, precious metal. Pretty high melting point (over 1700°F), so a bit tricky to work with. I order "silver rounds", the price of which varies day by day. Here's what the NIH has to say about silver.
  • Cadmium (Cd); 48 An easy-to-melt metal with a low melting point. This metal is considered toxic; at the very least wash your hands thoroughly after handling a piece of it. Ordered from Rotometals. Here's what the NIH has to say about cadmium.
  • Indium (In); 49 This is a very soft metal; you can literally cut it with a knife. It is quite easy to bend/deform a puzzle piece cast with indium. Because of this, I would strongly recommend that the piece made with it be the 7-piece. This is because the 7-piece can most easily be bent back into its proper shape if its original shape is accidently deformed. The 7-piece has no branches or enclosed volumes; it's just a single path of metal. Imagine if you accidently dropped an 8-piece made of indium. If one of the hole-sections got deformed, it would be nearly impossible to repair it by hand-bending (as you could with the simpler 7-piece). Indium is not a cheap metal. Here's what the NIH has to say about indium.
  • Tin (Sn); 50 Another classic metal known and worked with since antiquity. Pretty cheap (I order it from Rotometals.com). Here's what the NIH has to say about tin.
  • Antimony (Sb); 51 A metalloid, not a metal. Somewhat brittle, but I've not have any breakage issues with my pieces. Ordered from Rotometals.com. Here's what the NIH has to say about antimony.
  • Lead (Pb); 82 Good old lead. Easy to work with, but, yes, technically toxic. Don't chew on it; wash your hands afterward. Very cheap to buy. Here's what the NIH has to say about lead.
  • Bismuth (Bi); 83 Not a commonly mentioned metal, but easy to work with and a low melting point. Inexpensive. Here's what the NIH has to say about bismuth.

    Elements That Might Be Used

    A few choices that I have not yet worked with, but which I have not yet ruled out, either.

  • Germanium (Ge); 32 This is a metalloid that seems like it should work, but I have not yet tried working with it. It's melting point is fairly high (over 1700°F, about like silver), so it is not the easiest material to work with. Also, it's pretty darn expensive (almost two dollars per gram last time I checked). I plan to experiment with it eventually, and if it does work, I'll move this entry up to the category above. Here's what the NIH has to say about germanium.
  • Ytterbium (Yb); 70 This metal might be suitable. It would be cool to use a "rare-earth" metal. It is not particularly toxic, but everything I've read about it states that it "reacts with air" and should be stored in mineral oil. I don't know if that means it just tarnishes a bit, or if, like, it would chemically corrode away if left out in the open. I hope to experiment witn it soon, but it's nearly two dollars be gram... Here's what the NIH has to say about ytterbium.
  • Gold (Au); 79 If someone really wants me to try casting them a gold piece, I'll be happy to try, but I assume it is cost-prohibitive. We're talking about $60 per gram or thereabouts (the price fluctuates daily, of course). Even the smallest volume Digit-piece would run about $15,000 (and that's not counting extra material needed during casting. If I actually sell several of these bespoke sets to others, and I make enough profit, then I might try to cast a piece for myself. Here's what the NIH has to say about gold.
  • (depleted) Uranium (U); 92 So, it's actually legal to own small amounts of (depleted) uranium, amounts large enough that I could theoretically make a Digit-piece out of it. It's melting point is just above 2000°F, so I could probably melt it (though, inhalation of the fumes is really a bad thing, I imagine). Surprisingly, it's radioactivity is not the major concern; chemically it is also considered pretty toxic. An even bigger issue (as far as a custom puzzle is concerned) is that it costs about $40 per gram (and given that it's nearly as dense as gold, you'd need a lot of it to make a Digit-piece). Here's what the NIH has to say about uranium. There's also a good summary about its safety at this webpage.

    Elements That Cannot Be Used

    Some elements that I cannot use for Digit-pieces for various reasons.

  • Lithium (Li); 3 I would have loved to use lithium; it's a metal lighter than water, but it is too reactive with moisture in the air (it's not sodium-I'm-gonna-explode-with-water, but it still slowly produces hydrogen). Here's what the NIH has to say about lithium.
  • Magnesium (Mg); 12 Low melting point, but you have to actually melt it in a vacuum, because it will burn if oxygen is present (and metal fires are not fun!) Also, a very reactive element (being in the second column of the Periodic Table). Here's what the NIH has to say about magnesium.
  • Sulfur (S); 16 Believe it or not, I actually hoped to use sulfur. To right is a picture of an 8-piece I cast using the stuff. The problem, of course, is that sulfur has a crystalline structure when solid, and it quickly broke on me when I was finishing it after de-molding. Oh, and of course, most people hate the smell of the stuff. Here's what the NIH has to say about sulfur.
  • Iron (Fe); 26 Obviously a very common metal. The melting point of pure iron, though, is 2800°F (I can really only get my foundry up to 2000°F). "Cast iron" has a lower melting point, but it is an alloy. Plus, of course, iron rusts. Here's what the NIH has to say about iron.
  • Gallium (Ga); 31 A very cool metal that has a melting point of 82°F. This would obviously make it troublesome as a puzzle piece (if you left it in a warm room or hot car, your piece would liquefy). It also has the problem of getting absorbed into aluminum if left in contact with that metal (the two form a soft alloy without any external heat applied). Here's what the NIH has to say about gallium.
  • Palladium (Pd); 46 A nice, strong metal, but it's melting point is over 2800°F. It's also quite expensive. Here's what the NIH has to say about palladium.
  • Tungsten (W); 74 Unbelievably high melting point (about 6200°F), so it's a no-go. Here's what the NIH has to say about tungsten.
  • Platinum (Pt); 78 Pretty much the same issues as palladium, above. Here's what the NIH has to say about platinum.

    Other Possibilities?

    If you have another element in mind that you think might work for a Digit-piece, let me know. I've perused the Periodic Table pretty thoroughly at this point and don't think there are any great candidates... but I may have missed something.

    Want A Set Of You Own?

    If you would like to create a custom "Elemental" Digits In A Box set for you, download the cost estimation spreadsheet to experiment with possible prices. Email me if you have serious interest in a set and we can discuss exact costs and payment. It will take about a month to create a set.