Bill Mitchell

How Can I Identify Lead Fittings?

I am beginning to restore an old ship model which has some metal fittings.  I am aware of the problems that can occur with

old lead fittings and plan to replace any that may be on the model.  The question I have is - how can I tell if the metal fittings

currently on the model are made of lead or Brittania metal? 

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We might have a metallurgist pitch in with pure facts, but in my experience if the model is old enough to need restoration and the metal parts are in good condition they are either pure lead or another metal.  Pure lead doesn't seem to be a problem as there are lead containers several hundred years old and civil war musket balls are not rare to be dug up in fine condition.  Bad lead fittings have a feathery sort of growth on them - some call it a "bloom".  I have seen the lead be almost completely replaced by these growths.  Had a pyramid of cannon balls on a very dirty and abused HMS Victory model that were covered with the white growth and when I took a tweezers to the pile to see if I could lift it off the deck there was virtually nothing under the whitish growth of feathers.  In every instance of lead disease I have seen, the metal bends, breaks or crumbles if it's touched

 

I would make sure the fitting you use for the restoration are not lead but I wouldn't remove good fittings be they lead or Britannia.  Just my opinion and what I have done with restorations.

 

Kurt

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Kurt, thank you for your feedback.  My experience with lead fittings is that they may be just fine for many years and if the environment changes, the

'lead rot' may be triggered.  I once restored an old model that had never been in a display case and the fittings looked just fine so I kept them

on the model.  But after putting the restored model in a display case, about 3 months later, 'lead rot' began.  So the fittings weren't a problem

for the first 50 or so years because the model was not confined to a display case.  But once it was put in the display case, (from what I have read)

the lack of oxygen and the gasses put off by the wood of the case, triggered the 'lead rot'. 

 

So I would like to avoid this by being able to somehow test the fittings to know in advance whether or not they are made of lead and may develop

'lead rot' in the future.  Do you or anyone else know how to examine/test metal fittings to know if they are made of lead or not?

 

Thanks, Bill Mitchell 

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Bill:

Thanks for sharing your experience with the lead fittings.  I didn't have the same experience thus my opinion.  Your experience has changed my approach if I ever do another restoration - something I have vowed to have retired from.  Luckily I know another modeler not too far away who wants the work I can refer people to now.

 

How about a lead test kit from the hardware store?  Might work.

 

Kurt

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Hi Bill, years ago in my first job. The chemical lab was asked to identify a lump of

metal. It turned out it had a high proportion of lead.

 

Everybody not directly connected with the lab was amazed that the chief chemist had

initially 'drawn' a line using the lump of metal on paper. Of course there was a lot of

other elements to be analysed but this was a good initial check. The lump of metal was

part of the structure of a shipwreck by the way.

 

Cheers, Nick.

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