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Chris Comtois

Brass Shell Casing

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A buddy has a 5-inch brass shell casing from WWII he wants turned into a trophy for his Veteran's golf league.  5 inch diameter, approximately 24 inches high and I'd guess a couple millimeters thick at most.  The open end is a bit dinged up from when it was ejected and hit the deck.  He'd like me to see what I can do about fixing the dinged up parts. 

I've not really worked with brass much.  Is it like copper, where it work hardens and I need to heat and quench it to work it?  Should I anneal it first before I start banging on it?  My current plan is to use a rawhide or Teflon hammer and start on the anvil horn, or get a chunk of pipe slightly smaller than the ID of the casing.  Anybody see and flaws with this?

Also, I know this isn't a gun group, but what do you all think about the potential for unburned powder?  I don't have the casing in hand yet, but my buddy says it's pretty crusty inside.  I'm thinking of wetting down the inside and putting a nylon toilet brush on my drill and going to town.  Thoughts?

Lastly, his group of Veterans being what they are, he fully expects the guys to go all "Stanley Cup" and drink out of the thing.  Thoughts or suggestions for a liner or coating on the inside?

Thanks all!

 

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I'll get this started.  Working brass is very similar to copper in my experience.  Anneal it first and then work it cold.  If you want to keep it clean when torch annealing you may want to pickle it periodically.  If just annealing you bring it up to a dull red and quench it (no need to have slow cooling).  Be careful when working the brass as it will harden up pretty quickly.

As far as a food safe coating, that is another story altogether.  I believe that the historical method is to either line the interior with silver or tin.  There are services that can do this for you or you can experiment yourself.  I think the surface has to be very clean for good plating, so you may need to figure out some kind of mechanically cleaning method with a steel brush (my vision would be a rotary tool like a drill motor turning a circular wire brush on a long rod).

There may be modern plastic coatings that will work as well, but I'm not familiar with same.  I also have no experience with powder remaining in shells, but would be careful during annealing just in case.  I assume the firing cap has been removed?

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Definitely clean first, then anneal. A long soak in hot soapy water should loosen up most of the crud. The brush on the drill is a good idea, but probably won't reach all the way into the inside corners.

A rawhide mallet is a good idea. For an anvil, I'd suggest clamping a 2x4 in your vise and rounding the top slightly. Remember, you're only fixing a dented section, not reshaping the shell. Using anything metal either for the hammer or the anvil increases the risk of thinning the edge, which you don't want.

Any place that would plate the inside for you would probably start with a serious washing and an acid etc to make sure the inside is perfectly clean. Tin is the traditional lining for brass and copper cookware, but I don't know if a lining is completely necessary for a drinking vessel. However, if they're willing to spring for silver plating, that would both eliminate any food safety concerns and look really cool.

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Wood block is a great idea, I hadn't thought about that, thanks!

 

Do you think I could anneal it with just my propane torch?  I don't know much about working with brass, but I think it has a sharp melting point, right?  As in, it gets red, than it goes right to liquid, not much room for error?   Google shows people annealing rifle casings with a propane torch, I assume the larger shell casing would be similar.

 

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Also, are you familiar with the trench art form of chasing ammo shells?  You may want to look into that also, though without experience working brass it may be a bit much.  They can get very cool, here is an example:

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Making a half round wooden block to fit the counter of the inside of the shell would show you how much work you need to do. Go slow

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Wow that's cool!  I guess when you have time on your hands, that's the kind of stuff you can do! 

35 minutes ago, Latticino said:

I'll get this started.  Working brass is very similar to copper in my experience.  Anneal it first and then work it cold.  If you want to keep it clean when torch annealing you may want to pickle it periodically.  If just annealing you bring it up to a dull red and quench it (no need to have slow cooling).  Be careful when working the brass as it will harden up pretty quickly.

...

  I assume the firing cap has been removed?

Missed the first part about annealing it when I made my last comment, so it looks like my propane torch would work OK, thanks!

Regarding the firing cap, I need to do some research on the anatomy of these shells.  My pal did send a pic of the bottom.  I thought I would research taking the cross-type thing out and cleaning it to make sure there was no residue.

 

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Also, see the work of Arts & Crafts coppersmith Dirk Van Erp, who started his business making vases from empty shell casings he brought home from his job at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where he worked from 1900 to 1908. A Google image search of "Dirk Van Erp" and "shell casing vase" will get you there.

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wow, that is quite a commission.  I am anxious to see the progress as you work through that.  

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You will definitely want to clean up the primer/primer pocket/case.  Primer compounds vary but here is a list of chemicals in my Federal primers sitting on my bench:

 

Normal Lead styphnate

Barium nitrate

Antimony sulfide

Lead thiocyanate

 

I would guess in the height of WWII - they used what was the most efficient and reliable - not what was the cleanest.

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Good day friends, I have a grenade shell here that I have inherited from my grandfather, this one is engraved and has served as a flower vase. It is a Russian grenade shell  (I do not know which caliber) and faded in the WW II. All this, to give Chris an impression what he can expect on the inside (nothing, except the channel of the weft pin)
Also I have a spicy offer of a whopper from the WW I excavated in the Flemish fields. If you are touched by one his missing chips from this boy? I do not know :( - incredibly that once the brass ignition mechanism is polished, you can still recognize the grading of ignition and name of the producer (Krupp) after 100 years.The airtight containment of the Flemish clay has benefited her work well.
As for the coating inside, I will go for a food approved layer of silicone. I hope that I could be a little helpful.
Cheers, Hans
 
 
 
 
 

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If all you are doing is cleaning up the dents I would not anneal it first. Many shell casings were annealed to accept the projectile to begin with. Making it softer will also increase the possibility of deforming the end easier. Get a good measurement below the dents and make a plug that size with a good taper before the straight section on it. If it was me I would turn it out of steel or aluminum, but a very hard wood might work with some gentle bumping of the casing first. Then push it down into the opening. Once it is flush with the end, lightly tap around the casing to help set the shape. With a steel plug it could be done with a torch to just relax the shape. Remember that any hammering you do has the potential to stretch the metal and cause waviness. To do the exterior tapping a matching close fitting outer "U" shaped piece would help distribute the blow without denting the surface up. Basically you just want to "iron" out the dent and not move any metal thickness wise.  If it gets out of hand, just trim the offending section off. It will be a little shorter, but it may not matter.

 

For the primer pocket/drinking.   Copper cups are tin lined as well as pots and pans that may see acidic items in them ; citrus , wine, tomatoes, etc.. as the acids will leach the copper. There are some NSF approved epoxies out now that can be used, besides tinning. Both of these would fill the primer pocket , so I woudn't worry about removing it, just clean the inside really well first.

Pressure washer, round wire brushes used for flue cleaning, bead blasting, etc are just some of the options for cleaning.

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I was wondering how long it would be before you commented on this thread, O ye of the most appropriate username.

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Be VERY careful of WWI stuff as they are still finding unexploaded gas shells which are getting very friable and frangible with age!

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The World War one  gas shells and other shells,  for that matter,  still turn up in

farmers' fields.

In France, the farmers carefully lay them by the roadside.  Ordinance disposal personnel regularly and periodically,  pick up the shells for proper disposal.

Poison gas shells will slosh when they are manipulated. The poison is in a liquid state in the shell. They gasify when released into the air upon impact.

Call the authorities,  (bomb squad) if you come across one of these "wonders of technology". (any shell from any era).

Detonators / primers are comprised of much more sensitive explosives like (e.g. lead styphnate, tetryl, sodium azide, fulminate of mercury,  etc., etc.)

Far more sensitive than the main charge of the shell. Therefor they are highly dangerous

Be very careful whilst handling them;  or better yet have an ordinance person do it for you.

SLAG.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Smithsonian Magazine once  did an article about the people tasked with picking up and disposing of those shells found in France.

Fascinating in a "better you than me" way.

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T. P.,

Most of the information, of my post, above,  was taken from that very same article.

Touche Mon Ami,  et bon soir.

SLAG.

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Sounded like it. Amazing the trivia that will bind to your grey cells when stuff you need to do your day job can escape when you slam your head a couple of times on the concrete...

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