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Watchmakers' Hand Book

Part II,
Page 7


      99. Copper is an elementary body of a reddish-brown color, which must not be confounded with brass, occasionally termed yellow copper. In tenacity it comes next below iron, breaking with a strain of 34kils. per sq. mm. of section (or 48,000 lbs. per sq. inch).

      In horology, the only use made of pure metal is for the construction of compensation pendulums on the gridiron principle, and as wire in electric clocks. It is also employed, when rolled into thin sheets, for a base to receive the enamel of watch dials, in consequence of its expansion being about the same as that of the enamel, which does not therefore crack in the cooling.

      The copper of commerse is seldom pure, and this gives rise to many of the imperfections met with in ordinary brass.


      100. This is an elementary metallic body of a bluish white color. It is used in the form of rods, for compensation pendulums.

      It must be obtained of great purity, whether it is employed by itself or to alloy with another metal. The presence of foreign bodies in zinc, even in very small quantities, has a marked influence on the physical properties of an alloy into which it enters.

      The purer the metal the more easily will it roll, and this fact can be taken advantage of as a test of quality.

      Although very brittle at 0° C. (32° F.) and 200° C. (400° F.), it has a maximum malleability at about 100° C. (212° F.), the boiling point of water; it should, then, be heated to this degree before bending, rolling, hammering, etc.

      It may be annealed in boiling water, or by heating to such a temperature that water hisses when allowed to drop on it.

      It melts at 420° C. (790° F.) and volatizes if raised to a red heat.

      A sudden cooling, or the presence of arsenic or antimony, will render zinc brittle. It must not be melted in cast iron vessels, as the quality of zinc is deteriorated by the small quantity of iron it takes up under such circumstances.

      This metal possesses a great affinity for oxygen, and therefore oxidizes very readily when fused.

      It is usual, before pouring zinc that is intended for rolling, to throw some pieces of the solid metal into the molten mass, the object being to somewhat reduce the temperature, and thus prevent a too rapid cooling, as, in that case, zinc is very brittle.


      101. Pure copper is difficult to work with the graver or file, but such is not the case when this metal is alloyed with zinc; we then obtain brass, or, as it is sometimes termed, yellow copper.

      Alloys containing copper, zinc, and tin are termed bronzes.

      If a small quantity of lead, about 1 per cent. of its weight, be added to brass, it renders the metal less fibrous, imparting to it a certain degree of brittleness so that it is more easily worked with the graver, file, drill, or the saw.

      Whe the grass is required to be hammered, a portion of the lead is replaced by tin; by this means the metal becomes more malleable, or, in terms of the workshop, soft.

      The color, tenacity, ductility, malleability, etc., vary with the percentage composition of the alloy. It is, then, of the utmost importance that a watchmaker be able to test and select the brass before employing it in his work; metal that is excellent for wire-drawing, for example, would be utterly useless for making an escape wheel, since it would become distorted in the cutting in consequence of its ductility. It belongs, in fact, to the class of metals that will extend under the hammer without hardening (very soft brasses).

      The following is given as an analysis of brass very frequently employed in horology: copper, 66 per cent., Zinc, 33 per cent.; and lead, 1 per cent. But it must not be forgotten that this is only to be taken as a mean. Both the proportions and the qualities vary with different makers, doubtless also according to the degree of purity of the metals employed in their manufacture.

      102. To select brass. By following the directions given below any watchmaker should be able to select the brass best suited to his special requirements.

      When the copper is in excess, zinc being proportionately reduce, the brass is usually soft and of a beautiful golden color. On the other hand, as the proportion of zinc is increased, the brass becomes more and more brittle, and at the same time, more fusible; the color changes to a light yellow, ultimately becoming greyish-white, and brass of this nature is said to be "hard."

      Very soft brass chokes the file, and spreads without hardening under the hammer; very hard brass, on the other hand, is fragile, liable to crack when hammered cold, and breaks in passing through the draw-plate.

      Metal of a good yellow shade, intermediate between the golden and the pale yellow color, passes well through the draw-plate, spreads out slowly under the hammer, but without cracking, until of about half the initial thickness, and then resists the further action of the hammer, which rebounds from it; such brass is usually found to be of good quality for watchwork.

      A sheet of brass is rarely homogeneous. If, after pouring, the metal has been allowed to cool slowly, the interior will be crystalline, and there will be an uneven fracture. This will cause the tenacity, etc., to vary throughout the mass. Similar differences are occasionally to be observed between the two faces of the same plate, due to the phenomenon of liquation; that is to say, to a tendency that characterizes certain metals when melted together to separate from one another when the cooling is not effected under proper conditions.

      If the two surfaces of a plate be scraped clean at several points, and drops, as nearly equal as possible, of very pure watch oil, be placed on these surfaces, it may be taken as a rough indication that the metals are uniformly distributed if the successive shades of color of the oil as time goes on are the same at all points experimented upon.

      Some watchmakers heat the brass to a red heat (which must never be exceeded), and plunge it into nitric acid (equal parts acid and water). By this means the entire surface is cleaned, and the above examination is facilitated.


      103. Plates. The selection of the metal will depend on the purpose for which it is intended, and the thickness must be such that, when hammered till of sufficient hardness, it will approzimately equal one dimension of the required object; for it is advisable to remove as little of the surface metal as possible, a plate always hardening much more at the surface than in the interior.

      There is considerable difficulty in indicating clearly in a book the exact mode of conducting the operation of hammer-hardening, and the assistance of a competent master is essential, at any rate for the first few trials. It must sufice to point out that the anvil, with a slightly convex surface, and the hammer, of sufficient weight, must be in very good condition and, if possible, polished on their faces; the head of the latter should be rather convex, and the pene or chisel end somewhat broad and gently rounded off in all directions, for it will be needed as a means of bending the metal upwards; the curvature being such that there is not a danger of starting a crack, etc., by its means. We have already spoken of these two tools (79, 80); it is only necessary to add that a thick straw pad whould be placed under the anvil or block.

      When one is compelled to use brass that is too thick, so that there is much work to be done with the hammer to reduce the thickness to what is required, it is a good plan to commence by elongating the metal in one direction, striking with the pene of the hammer a series of parallel blows in the direction of the required elongation; when the thickness is two or three times that ultimately needed, the surface is smoothed with the hammer-head and annealed; then it is brought to the right thickness by another hammering in the manner explained below, but it should be again pointed out that, when possible, metal of a suitable thickness ought to be taken in the first instance, since too much hammering has a detrimental effect.

      Before hammer-hardening a plate, it must be dressed, an operation which consists in rounding off the edges very carefully in order to prevent their cracking, and in rounding the bottom and sides of internal angles which, without such a precaution would occasion a rupture. After this is completed, proceed to the hardening, using a rather heavy hammer, and giving sharp blows along lines parallel to the sides of the plate; commence from one of the corners in the case of a square plate; and with a round plate let the blows be in circles. In the latter case, work from the circumference towards the center. If the work is done evenly and without hurrying, the surface will remain relatively flat. a fact which should be verified from time to time by the aid of a metal rule.

      Round plates are sometimes hardened by commensing to hammer in the center and working towards the circumference along two dadii in oposite directions; that is along a diameter. This first diameter is then crossed by another at right angles; the intervals are filled in with other diameters that must not touch until the entire surface is covered, always taking care to work from the center towards the circumference.

      When the metal is thin only the hammer-head is used, but beyond a certain thickness the pene of the hammer must be employed until about half the required thickness is reached; the surface is planished and the hardening finished with the face.

      Blows that are irregular, too hard or roughly given, will cause the metal to crack. Hurried working will disturb the molecular grouping of the alloy; it will at the same time be heated and therefore softened, thus losing all the good qualities that are anticipated from hammer-hardening, namely increased body and elasticity. It was in order to avoid this heating that the old watch-makers used to hammer the brass in cold water, an excellent precaution which is too much neglected at the present day.

      Brass that is badly hammered, the blows being violent or irregular, will spring out of shape on being cut and occasionally crack when gilding.

      If during the process of hammering, a crack is observed to be commencing at the edge, it must be removed with a rat-tail file, all sharp angles being rounded off; and when cracks immediately reappear on continuing the operation, it is an indication that the metal cannot support any further hammering cold.

      If brass is compact or well forged it may be relied upon to preserve the oil at pivots, etc., better, as oil is decomposed more rapidly in presence of a finely divided metal.

      104. Brass rods. Rods having a square section must be hammered on two opposite faces.

      A rod of square section can be hammered on all four faces but it must be first filed perfectly square; the hammering must not be pushed too far, and the four angles must be maintained right angles. If some are made obtuse and others acute, a flaw will be produced in the direction of a diagonal.

      The three following methods are employed in the cas of round rods:

      The first consists in hammering over the entire surface, the rod being at the same time rotated on the anvil by hand; but this operation must not be much prolonged, as the metal is liable to crack lengthwise.

      The second metod consists in reducing the diameter of an annealed brass rod to about one-half or two-thirds its initial amount by causing it to pass in succession through a number of holes of the draw-plate.

      When the third method, which is due to Brocot, is adopted, one extremity of the brass rod is gripped in the bench vise and the other end in a hand vise, which is then caused to rotate round the brass rod as an axis. If the torsion be continued until the metal is on the point of breaking, it will be found to be very effectually hardened. This method is resorted to with advantage for hardening pin-wire and the metal for making pillars.

Submitted by: Samuel Kirk (##)

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