|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
N the morning some wandering coppersmiths were passing.
Mother Ambroisine had sold them the old kettle. Besides the
sale, they were to make over the lamp whose foot had melted
on the stove, and replate two saucepans. So the smiths
lighted a fire in the open air, set up their bellows on the
ground, and in a large round iron spoon melted the old lamp,
adding a little tin to replace what had been lost. The
melted metal was run into a mold, from which it came out in
the shape of a lamp. This lamp, still pretty large, was
fixed on the lathe which a little boy set in motion; and
while it turned, the master touched it with the edge of a
steel tool. The tin thus planed off fell in thin shavings,
rolled up like curl-papers. The lamp was visibly becoming
perfect: it took the proper polish and shape.
Afterward they busied themselves plating the copper
saucepans. They cleaned them thoroughly inside with sand,
put them on the fire, and, when they were very hot, went
over the whole of their surface with a tow pad and a little
melted tin. Wherever the pad rubbed, the tin stuck to the
copper. In a few moments the inside of the saucepan, red
before, was now shiny white.
Emile and Jules, while eating their little lunch of
and bread, looked on at this curious work without saying a
word. They promised themselves to ask their uncle the reason
for whitening the inside of the copper saucepans with tin.
In the evening, accordingly, they spoke of the tinning and
"Highly cleaned and polished iron is very brilliant,"
explained their uncle. "The blade of a new knife, Claire's
scissors, carefully kept in their case, are examples. But,
if exposed to damp air, iron tarnishes quickly and covers
itself with an earthy and red crust called—"
"Rust," interposed Claire.
"Yes, it is called rust."
"The big nails that hold the iron wires where the
bell-flowers climb up the garden wall are covered with that
red crust," remarked Jules; and Emile added:
"This old knife I found in the ground is covered with it
"Those large nails and the old knife are encrusted with rust
because they have remained for a long time exposed to the
air and dampness. Damp air corrodes iron; it becomes
incorporated with the metal and makes it unrecognizable.
When rusty, iron no longer has the properties that make it
so useful to us; it is a kind of red or yellow earth, in
which, without looking attentively, it would be impossible
to suspect a metal."
"I can well believe it," said Jules. "For my part, I should
never have taken rust for iron with which air and moisture
had become incorporated."
 "Many other metals rust like iron; that is to say, they are
converted into earthy matter by contact with damp air. The
color of rust varies according to the metal. Iron rust is
yellow or red, that of copper is green, lead and zinc
"Then the green rust of old pennies is copper rust," said
"The white matter that covers the nozzle of the pump must be
lead rust?" queried Claire.
"Exactly. The prime difficulty with rust is that it makes
metals ugly: they lose their brilliance and polish; but it
works still greater injury. There are harmless rusts which
might get mixed with our food without danger: such is iron
rust. On the contrary, copper and lead rusts are deadly
poisons. If, by mischance, these rusts should get into our
food, we might die, or at least we should experience cruel
suffering. We will speak only of copper, for lead, on
account of its quick melting, cannot go on the fire and is
not used for kitchen utensils. Copper rust, I say, is a
mortal poison; and yet they prepare food in copper vessels.
Ask Mother Ambroisine."
"Very true," said she, "but I always have my eye on my
saucepans: I keep them very clean and from time to time have
"I don't understand," put in Jules, "how the work that the
tinsmith did this morning could prevent the copper rust
being a poison."
"The smith's work will not make the copper rust cease to be
a poison," replied Uncle Paul, "but it will prevent the
rust's forming. Of the common metals tin rusts the least.
Exposed to the air a long
 time, it scarcely tarnishes. And
then the rust, which forms in small quantities, is
innocuous, like iron rust. To prevent copper from covering
itself with poisonous green spots, to preserve it from rust,
it must be kept from contact with damp air and also with
certain alimentary substances such as vinegar, oil,
grease—substances that provoke the rapid formation of rust. For
this reason the copper saucepan is coated over with tin
inside. Under the thin bed of tin which covers it, the
copper cannot rust, because it is no longer in contact with
the air. The tin remains; but this metal changes with
difficulty, and, besides, its rust, if it forms any, is
harmless. So they plate copper, that is to say they cover it
with a thin bed of tin, to prevent its rusting, and thus to
prevent the formation of the dangerous poison that might,
some day or other, be mixed with our food.
"They also tin iron, not to prevent the formation of poison,
for the rust of this metal is harmless, but simply to
preserve it from changing and covering itself with ugly red
spots. This tinned iron is called tin-plate. Lids,
coffee-pots, dripping-pans, graters, lanterns, and
innumerable other things, are of tin-plate; that is to say,
thin sheets of iron covered on both sides with a coating of
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