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

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  • #16
    Thanks for all the replies.

    Carm's suggestion to give 'er a few whacks with the hammer sent me to the shop to try it out. I used the ball end of my ball peen and compared the resulting marks to some red brass hex stock I have along with a couple of samples of more yellowy brass. The result of this ball peening test is pretty dramatic. Thumps that produced easily seen marks about 3/32 to 1/8 inch diameter on the other brasses didn't even mark the mystery metal. So on that basis I'm going to assume, for safety's sake, that it is BC.

    The airborne dust issue was a new caution for me. The reason they used at work for taking away the BC screwdrivers was that they could splinter if broken and that the splinters may enter the skin and stay there unnoticed for long enough to leach through and into the blood stream. Correct or not that was the reason given for collecting them up and sending them away. Then I find that some of you had a variety of tools made from the stuff.

    Ngriff, when you were turning the material did you use any gloves or other protection than usual to aid in avoiding slivers from the chips?

    Reading around in some online material I've found (bob_s, that BrushWellman link is one of them) I've come to realize that it can be safely turned. And regular handling of it is fine. Washing up before eating much like with handling lead is probably a wise idea though. But as noted how does one dress down the end when it mushrooms? That is if it mushrooms at all. The stuff is crazy hard. Not cold chisel hard as mentioned but if I beat it against some mild steel I'm thinking the steel would suffer the damage instead of the BC.

    And since the stuff is at least somewhat risky what in hell do I do with the chips from turning? I'm not the sort to just put them in the trash if it's a known harmful product in that form. Will it stay stable in a landfill? Ngriff, when you did that turning what did you do with the chips after cleaning the machine?

    The intent for this 1/2 inch diameter x 12 inch long bar was to turn it into two fairly stout non-marring punches to use for drifting rifle sights and similar uses. But the stuff is so hard that I'm not sure it would qualify as "non-marring" in any event. So I think I'm just going to mark it as possible BC and see if I can find a home for it with someone else unless I can learn more about it.

    Anyhow, once again thanks all. This place is a treasure chest of knowledge and experience.
    Chilliwack BC, Canada

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    • #17
      Originally posted by BCRider View Post
      Ngriff, when you were turning the material did you use any gloves or other protection than usual to aid in avoiding slivers from the chips?
      I worked in a machine shop where BeCu and straight Beryllium were more common than steel or aluminum. BeCu is used as an extremely stable, ultra-high vacuum material in particle accelerators. We use it for RF cavities, collimators, scrapers, etc. Straight beryllium is used for beam lines at the collision point because it has excellent transparency to sub-atomic particles. Anyway, the turnings and chips are not considered hazardous waste by any Federal standards (unless the specific alloy contains lead or other hazardous materials) and can be discarded as normal solid waste. However, BeCu is worth quite a bit, even now when the scrap market is low. We always saved the turnings and cashed them in once a month or so. A small amount can bring more than enough to pay for a Friday pizza lunch for the whole shop!

      See here for guidelines on safely machining it:



      Note that Materion is one of the biggest suppliers of beryllium to the high energy physics world. They've been in the industry since the 60's. Maybe their safety literature is biased but I tend to think that they know what they're doing.


      All of that said... for non-marring drifts ... I'd buy some known material and save the BeCu for something special (or sell it to a scrapper who will buy BeCu). Even regular old yellow brass is probably suitable and would be much less than red brass.

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      • #18
        That's some gold info there Fasttrack. Thanks.

        In all this research since yesterday when I started all the references have been to airborne dust being an issue. Nothing at all about skin contact or slivers. Based on that I'm feeling far more positive about this machining this material. What I'd do is simply avoid any filing, sanding or grinding.

        There's still the issue of its suitability as a "non-marring" punch to use on potential pieces of mild or near mild steel. So for giggles I set down my coffee (it's breaky time here) and went out and used the piece of BeCu to beat on the end of some mild steel bar stock freshly turned from the lathe just yesterday. Sure enough, it dented the steel with no visible signs of marking the "ALLEGED" BeCu. So it's not going to do much good to use it for what we intended....
        Last edited by BCRider; 08-03-2016, 01:34 PM. Reason: Added "ALLEGED"
        Chilliwack BC, Canada

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        • #19
          Originally posted by BCRider View Post
          Ngriff, when you were turning the material did you use any gloves or other protection than usual to aid in avoiding slivers from the chips?
          To be honest after the first 5 or so I got tired of my gloves getting in the way trying to deburr the edges with a bastard file. I personally didn't find the chips to aggravate my skin and just made sure to remove any slivers right away before they got below the surface. But that was more out of fear mongering from fellow staff than any scientific reasoning. And yes that stuff is really really hard. I'd quite often have to use a cold chisel to 'carve' burrs off in places where I couldn't' get a file or countersink.

          Originally posted by BCRider View Post
          Ngriff, when you did that turning what did you do with the chips after cleaning the machine?
          Similar to Fasttrack's comments our shop was VERY insistent we kept the BeCu chips in a separate barrel so we could sell to the scrappers later. No pizza payout though so now I'm a little bitter, lol. The coolant we always placed in a separate containment tank that was processed by a local company. No idea if that was necessitated by the Ministry of the Environment or was just something we did. Most of our coolant went into a shared settling tank setup for reclaim later.

          Glug, I can't speak for US agencies or their employees but I have to say I've never heard anyone accuse an WSIB agent of not enforcing safety or being friendly towards an employer, lol. Don't forget this is a socialist province run by bureaucrats that would just a soon shutdown an entire plant over someone taking a safety guard off a machine. If WSIB was concerned that BeCu was unsafe they would have shut us down. I have to agree about the after effects of the next person on the machine. We allowed 4hrs to flush and clean the VMC I ran that job on to try and mitigate that issue. At the end of the day as a home shop machinist it's up to you to decided the level of risk you're willing to assume.

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          • #20
            You can analyse it with dry methods, OES, optical emmision spectroscopy, X-Ray fluorescence or even traditional wet chemistry, all dependant on having available standards, which are rare to be honest, and expensive. We used all the above but as BeCu alloys don't generally exceed 2% Be inductively coupled plasma was the most accurate,
            It is dangerous when in dust from machining or grinding but arguable no more dangerous than any inhaled metallic dust, they are all best kept out of your lungs, it poses a risk when welding in the way most metals do, metal fume fever is a real thing, your going to have to expose yourself to a fair amount to get affected, but it will.
            Oddly it's a common material, it's very good at its job too.
            Moulds are made from it, continuous casting moulds for steel are BeCu, again 2%, we used to polish them with angle grinders, frequently.
            A dust extractor was added to the grinders in the late 80s btw, I spent a few shifts with 80 grit paper cleaning up mould faces.
            You can read about its properties here, a good guide

            I don't think your going to die of it myself, it can damage feet, I dropped a lump on my toe once
            Mark

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            • #21
              "But as noted how does one dress down the end when it mushrooms? That is if it mushrooms at all. The stuff is crazy hard. Not cold chisel hard as mentioned but if I beat it against some mild steel I'm thinking the steel would suffer the damage instead of the BC."

              I wasn't the safety guy, just a welder, but I dressed all the tools. A good 45 or so chamfer on the hammer end before it went out took care of most of that. Dressing was with a 8 or 10" bench grinder (long time ago) with a gravity feed water splash. Kinda messy but not compared to working in mud.

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              • #22
                Originally posted by Carm View Post
                "But as noted how does one dress down the end when it mushrooms?
                Toss it in the lathe and turn the mushroomed end down.
                Location: Long Island, N.Y.

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                • #23
                  Originally posted by boslab View Post
                  I don't think your going to die of it myself, it can damage feet, I dropped a lump on my toe once
                  OK, so beryllium copper carries a risk of toe loss if proper safety guidelines are not followed.
                  Location: Long Island, N.Y.

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                  • #24
                    Originally posted by boslab View Post
                    You can analyse it with dry methods, OES, optical emmision spectroscopy, X-Ray fluorescence or even traditional wet chemistry, all dependant on having available standards, which are rare to be honest, and expensive. We used all the above but as BeCu alloys don't generally exceed 2% Be inductively coupled plasma was the most accurate,......
                    Thanks Mark. I'll try to keep my toes out of the way. By some crazy reason I seem to be fresh out of those methods for testing for BeCu.

                    At this point as I mentioned earlier much of the boogie man issue related to working the material is dissipating. But in the end it is clearly going to fail at it's original intended use as a non marring punch for use on mild to harder steels. I'm going to keep it around for now but really I'm not sure what use it will be in the end.
                    Chilliwack BC, Canada

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                    • #25
                      Arr you sure it's not Ovaline ?

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                      • #26
                        Originally posted by hephaestus View Post
                        Arr you sure it's not Ovaline ?
                        Spelling on that? A search for "ovaline" turned up nothing but I did get hits n olivine. But that's a mineral, not a metal. But then searches don't always show the more odd things. Any more details on this "ovaline"?
                        Chilliwack BC, Canada

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