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Can we spot beryllium copper by how it responds when machining it? What to look for?

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  • Can we spot beryllium copper by how it responds when machining it? What to look for?

    A buddy that used to work at a big mill gave me a hunk of reddish bronze/copper rod that he had left over from his tool box while there as a mill wright. The intent being to machine it into a couple of non marking punches for each of us.

    But it looks suspiciously like the same color as a beryllium copper adjustment screw driver I was issued at work many years ago. Those screw drivers being recalled when management had it pointed out to them how toxic small slivers of the stuff was if it got chipped off the blade at all during use and was picked up as a sliver in our skin.

    So if I were to cut into this stuff and it IS beryllium copper will it cut differently than red bass or aluminium copper which are a similar color? A basic web search didn't turn up any solid information on this and I though perhaps someone here worked with this material in their career.

    The idea being that if it behaves like BeCu I'll stop right away and meticulously clean the lathe.

    He's no help at all. He just recalls that he used it as a big drift punch on a few occasions.
    Chilliwack BC, Canada

  • #2
    If suspect, I wouldn't risk it. I'd take it to a scrap yard and ask them to check it with their XRF gun. I know someone who likely developed parkinson's from welding it.
    The more general question, how to identify beryllium copper, is a good one.

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    • #3
      Does it matter what metal is is? Either you are the "Skydiver without a parachute" or you aren't. Either ignore the potential risk, machine it into three punches or give the unknown material back and buy some brass of known alloy.

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      • #4
        like Glug said I would find someone with a gun- not all of them will scan Beryllium so make sure it is one that will or find someone with a spectrometer..
        I would keep using it as a drift and buy known metal myself.

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        • #5
          see:

          http://www.pa.msu.edu/~edmunds/LArTP...e_to_be_cu.pdf

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          • #6
            Could file it, snort the filings and see if you cough up blood the next morning

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            • #7
              After reading the above guide for beryllium copper, I would probably go ahead and use it. Don't grind it into a powder and breathe in the powder.

              Mike

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              • #8
                I don't think XRF can detect beryllium - to low atomic number!
                Not sure how those XRF guns work as most x-ray tubes have a beryllium window!

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

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                • #9
                  Been said many times before....
                  Don't use mystery metal.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Rosco-P View Post
                    Been said many times before....
                    Don't use mystery metal.
                    Yes! As anyone knows many home shop machinists who only spend a few hundred on their machines always happily pull their wallet at their metal supplier to buy 6ft bars of brass.

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                    • #11
                      Working with Beryllium isn't as scary as some will infer. I machined over 100 welding electrodes made of the stuff for the steel mills in the area. The key things to remember is to use coolant and lots of it to ensure you're not creating dust. I'd also avoid taking light cuts at the material. The bigger the chips the less chance of fine dust. Once you're done the job immediately clean the coolant tank and machine thoroughly. A grievance with WSIB was placed over the weld electrodes while we were running job. WSIB cleared our process and setups which I think shocked everyone including me. I agree with some of the other posters though that maybe for your intended use something else might be a better fit?


                      Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ngriff View Post
                        The key things to remember is to use coolant and lots of it to ensure you're not creating dust.
                        Just because a shop process is in compliance with the local inspector's view of the law does not mean the process is safe. We have plenty of inspectors in my county who ignore the law and look the other way.

                        Use of coolant can still result in 'aerosolized' particles. That is especially true with grinding, less so with turning. But even for turning, consider when the stuff dries out and if the machine is ever blown off. Maybe some bits end up under the cross slide, and a couple years later you (or someone else) tear the machine apart to R&R it, and then use solvent and compressed air to clean those bits, sending it into the air.

                        Another thought about a punch or drift. How do you touch those up? I use a grinder. How do you prevent someone from doing that now, in your shop, or in the future if they should ever end up with the tool containing beryllium?

                        Originally posted by Rosco-P View Post
                        Don't use mystery metal.
                        Never considered it could be a serious health risk. Thanks to those who pointed out it may not be detected by XRF.

                        I read about some chemical tests to detect it. Not terribly complicated but not trivial. The process was also unverified.

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                        • #13
                          When I worked natural gas transmission there were times that BC was mandated, and we had every tool you can think of made out of it, including all wrenches (adjustable too), hammers, flange spreaders and cold chisels.
                          The main caution was (noted post#11) avoid grinding dust. No doubt you wouldn't want splinters either.

                          One way to test your piece is whack on it as if it was a chisel. While not a carbon steel, it will take lots of blows to get it to mushroom vs. alum.brz. and esp. red brass.

                          Right, wear gloves and safety glasses.

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                          • #14
                            The risk is overblown by many here. Inhalation of the dust can be *very* bad for a small percentage of people but ingestion, slivers, cuts, etc. are not known to cause problems. Think of it like sand. You can spend all day on the beach, building sand castles and playing beach volleyball, even scraping up your knees and you'll be just fine. But even breathing a relatively small amount of dust from the sand (e.g. when pouring it from a hopper into a mixer, etc.) and your lungs will be very unhappy. It doesn't take much dust to cause silicosis and it doesn't take much beryllium in the lungs to cause serious damage to some people.

                            http://copperalliance.org.uk/docs/li...-notes-pdf.pdf

                            By the way, the toxicity of beryllium for the vast majority of the population is comparable to nickel. As of yet, I've not heard anyone worry themselves about handling or working with stainless steels...


                            And an MSDS that covers nickel, cobalt and beryllium:
                            http://www.nsrw.com/msds/msds-class%203.pdf
                            Last edited by Fasttrack; 08-03-2016, 11:24 AM.

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                            • #15
                              "By the way, the toxicity of beryllium for the vast majority of the population is comparable to nickel. As of yet, I've not heard anyone worry themselves about handling or working with stainless steels... "

                              Umm, nickel maybe not. Stainless has some known hazards, all dependent on what is being done to it.

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