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Machining Beryllium Copper in the 1940s

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  • Machining Beryllium Copper in the 1940s

    I'm in the midst of rereading The Indomitable Tin Goose, which is the biography of Preston Tucker, when I stumbled across mention of them having to make replacement suspension arms for the Tin Goose out of beryllium copper. This got me wondering as to how easy it would have been to find and machine back then (assuming they actually did use the stuff, the book isn't accurate in a number of details, and its possible the author made up the story about them using beryllium copper), not to mention what, if any, safety precautions they would have taken.

    Anyone have any ideas? Also, how easy would it be to check and see if the arms really are made of the stuff, without removing them from the car? (I know people who are friends with the owner of the car, so it might be possible to confirm this, if there's a simple, non-destructive test that can be done.)

  • #2
    Take the car to a scrap yard with an Xirf gun. They could tell you exactly what they are.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by macona
      Take the car to a scrap yard with an Xirf gun. They could tell you exactly what they are.
      You're proposing that I suggest they take a car worth approximately $1 million to a scrap yard?

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      • #4
        You could try a few simple test as beryllium copper is non magnetic, a simple magnet test, clean part and look as it should look like plain copper!
        You could get a few scrappings for spectrographic examination or even SEM exam.
        From memory it should look just like copper!
        In the 60's I worked at a copper refinery where they made beryllium copper alloy containing less than 3% Be that was before its toxic properties were widely known, last I heard (in Uk) all the a\lloy was being made at Harwell!

        Peter
        I have tools I don't know how to use!!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Tuckerfan
          You're proposing that I suggest they take a car worth approximately $1 million to a scrap yard?
          -No, he's proposing you find a scrapyard that has the gun, and somehow arrange to use the gun on the part, whether that means bringing the gun to the car, the car to the gun, or somehow meeting in the middle.

          The gun's not cheap (what, $5K?) so it may be tricky, but you never know. The guy that runs the scrapyard might be glad to swing it by after work one day just for the chance to see a Tucker in person.

          I suspect, however, you'll find they're not BeCu. It's very expensive even today, orders moreso back in the forties, and very difficult to machine- especially back at the dawn of carbides.

          There's no reason to have BeCu A-arms; the metal's not lighter than steel, and while it's stronger, there's very little savings from using less copper instead of more steel.

          Preston, however, wasn't necessarily the most rational designer, so who knows?

          Doc.
          Doc's Machine. (Probably not what you expect.)

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          • #6
            The roller tuning coils in some of the USAAF aircraft radios used in WWII had bearings and shafts made from BeCu because they were carrying RF current and needed to be wear resistant.

            RWO

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Doc Nickel
              -No, he's proposing you find a scrapyard that has the gun, and somehow arrange to use the gun on the part, whether that means bringing the gun to the car, the car to the gun, or somehow meeting in the middle.

              The gun's not cheap (what, $5K?) so it may be tricky, but you never know. The guy that runs the scrapyard might be glad to swing it by after work one day just for the chance to see a Tucker in person.
              Well, the car's in a private collection near DC, and the owner is an elderly gentleman, who is probably unwilling to put up with a whole lot of fooling around to find this out.
              I suspect, however, you'll find they're not BeCu. It's very expensive even today, orders moreso back in the forties, and very difficult to machine- especially back at the dawn of carbides.

              There's no reason to have BeCu A-arms; the metal's not lighter than steel, and while it's stronger, there's very little savings from using less copper instead of more steel.

              Preston, however, wasn't necessarily the most rational designer, so who knows?

              Doc.
              It wasn't Tucker's idea to make them out of BeCu, one of his mechanics supposedly took it upon himself to make them, since he knew that the aluminum ones Tucker used wouldn't be able to withstand the weight of the lead in the prototype car. It might very well be false, since I've found a number of inaccuracies and contradictions in the book, so far.

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              • #8
                it casts well, you can forge it, mill it, press it and it rolls well, a lot of oilworkers tools were made of it as its antispark as its non ferrous, odd thing is you can get cold chisels to cut steel out of it, windows for xray tubes are made of it, but dont grind it or sand it without an extractor as you will absorb the dust in your lungs and cause nasty things to happen, they didnt care too much in the 40s but they knew all about it by the start of the 50s as cases of poisoning were frequent, i dont know if it worked but workers were given milk to drink, same as the leadworkers [who were mostly going nuts anyway]
                the human body has interesting ways of storing poisons, bone teeth and hair, also nails end up as storage sites for what the body cant excrete.
                Some of the modern day poisons like Strontium 90 are so similar to calcium chemically that it gets incorperated as bone, emmiting radiation and irradiating your own bone marrow, as well as poisoning you
                mark

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Doc Nickel

                  The gun's not cheap (what, $5K?) so it may be tricky, but you never know. The guy that runs the scrapyard might be glad to swing it by after work one day just for the chance to see a Tucker in person.
                  Closer to 30-35k.

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                  • #10
                    We used beryllium copper for nozzles in plastic injection moulds, horrible stuff to machine, very tough. We bought it in solid bar form and made them as required. Not dangerous. As stated above "looks like copper".

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                    • #11
                      Peter is right. Beryllium copper is not dangerous. The Be is alloyed with the copper and only separable by a chemical reaction. Beryllium is dangerous if pure ( almost impossible) or in ceramics. We have a shop here ( rather not name) that does the ceramics. It is locally know as the "shop of death". When they opened they pooh poohed the danger and told prospective employees that the danger was remote but if they ever did develop berylliosis they would cover all expenses and pay their salary for life. When they did get it they were dumped on workman's comp, including a woman in HR whose only contact was talking to workers in their work clothes.
                      In the alloy it is not a danger. It would be from welding, plasma cutting or similar processes.
                      I do not believe a BeCu cold chisel could cut steel. The stuff I have encountered was not that hard. Spark resistant tools I have seen, including hammers , Channellocks and adjustable wrenches have all been and labeled as Aluminum Bronze

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                      • #12
                        The only copper beryllium I've ever been around was housings for a downhole survey tool. Non magnetic - good for instrumentation housings, strong - good for thin wall tubes, big $ from what I was told.

                        And yes, it did look like copper when scratched, and took on a dark brown patina with time.
                        Design to 0.0001", measure to 1/32", cut with an axe, grind to fit

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                        • #13
                          Since I was on a Minesweeper Ocean, a boat that could not afford to have a magnetic field in combat, nor, since we never went to a battle area, when we went to field trials.

                          All forged steel tools were removed from the ship to be replaced with BeCu tools, from combo wrenches to Crescents to socket wrenches to screwdrivers.

                          They were at least as strong as the forged steel tools they replaced.

                          The boat was wood. I think they even used non-magnetic spikes to attach the hull planks. Degaussing coils all around the boat. Take your magnetic personal belongings off the boat (early transistor radios, electric razors, etc., off the boat before trials.

                          I read in a sci-fi novel, many years ago, I think the smart guy was called a Xenopath, about a colony that died off, and the skeletons of the colonists were pocked as though they had been pecked by birds. He proved or convinced them that they died of Be poisoning. It ate away the calcium from their bones. The surface, not like osteoporosis, which is general reduction of bone density.

                          As mentioned, in alloy, it is probably not all that harmful, but I don't know that for sure.

                          Cheers,

                          George

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by tdmidget
                            Peter is right. Beryllium copper is not dangerous.
                            I'd be real sure about that, its contrary to just about everything you can find to read on it. CuBe is toxic to inhale. Pure Be is worse and is machined in in pressure suits (accounts of reactor workers and nasa parts makers) in sealed rooms.

                            it safe as an antispark tool or suspension part or whatever, its the CuBe dust that'll kill you. 2% CuBe is toxic, even lethal but its one of those things that doesn't affect everyone, about 1/3 of the population are susceptible. Welding is a no-no, grinding done wet etc....but you always get some dust when machining, where the chip is fracturing all kinds of stuff are going on and knocking about. Just not something i want anything to do with.
                            Last edited by Mcgyver; 06-17-2010, 11:38 PM.
                            .

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                            • #15
                              An MSDS for copper beryllium.http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/CO/copper_beryllium.html
                              Design to 0.0001", measure to 1/32", cut with an axe, grind to fit

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