MrTitanium with a Lead Pipe on the Patio

March 17, 2009 | By | 6 Replies More

Original Clue Board GameIf the title didn’t give you a Clue, then I just have to tell you that I like metals. I like melting metals. And I finally did a video of  metal melting.

Why? People are always asking me about how light titanium metal is. I was inspired by Theodore Gray and his Periodic Table Table to collect a set of samples of representative metal bars so as to show people. To let them feel for themselves.

I started with Tungsten, because it is as heavy as gold and the hardest one to shape. I then collected and shaped matching bars of aluminum, titanium, bronze (95% copper), steel (97% iron), and magnesium (lighter than carbon). But absent the lead, I can’t illustrate how much heavier tungsten (gold and platinum) are than lead. Pity I don’t dare use silver, gold, or platinum bars. They would be fun exemplars, but I fear short lived.

But lead (Pb from the Latin Plumbum, as in plumbing, plumb-bob, etc) is now harder to get. This useful material has been in household use for almost 6,000 years. Children who likely drank from lead vessels gave us every advance in our civilization. But about a generation ago, it was declared toxic. So now it is getting hard to find outside of radiation labs, and expensive there.

So, I decided to cast my own piece of fresh lead plate from some crusty and oxidized 19th century lead pipe. To feel the pipe is to understand its utility as a weapon; heavy and rigid, yet soft.

Unfortunately, I didn’t set up my camera to show me chopping up the lead pipe. I used a hammer and chisel to get through the crustiest parts (hundred year old drain pipe, eww). But tin snips work well on ¼” thick lead. It cuts like cold butter. But shiny.

And the piece I ended up with evoked a geological feature I’d visited: Shiprock in New Mexico. Magma oozed up through a crack in the Earth’s crust forming a vane much like you see on my cast plate.  An accidental demonstration in practical geology.


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Category: photography, Science, Video by DI, Whimsy

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (6)

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  1. My vanity google alert found you, and as it happens I'm in need of some lead pipe to photograph, any chance you have some that you have not chopped up and would be willing to send me?

    • Dan Klarmann says:

      I do have such pipe, and am planning to go visit the illustrious Mr. Gray next week to let him have it.

      I used "illustrious" because of his wonderful illustrations of chemistry in many museums and websites.

      Here he cooks up some titanium:

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    A few comments and questions:

    1) Man, I hope you wear eye & face protection (in addition to protective clothing) when you play with molten metal.

    2) Isn't lead still available in the form of weights used to balance car tires?

    3) Where did you get enough tungsten to cast into a bar? Seems like it would take an awful lot of light bulb filaments. 😉

    4) Most people know that titanium products (bicycles, hammers, crow bars, etc.) are very expensive, but most seem to think it's because titanium is a rare material. It's not. In fact, a wide range of inexpensive consumer products (e.g., cosmetics, suntan products, etc.) contain titanium. The reason why some titanium products are expensive is that bulk titanium is exceedingly tough to work into useful shapes. Cutting it, filing it, drilling it, tapping holes in it, etc., will quickly ruin ordinary steel tools. It is this machining cost that makes titanium products expensive.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Grumpy: 1) Lead melts at a very low temperature, so I didn't bother with glasses. Notice in the video that it didn't scorch the wood where it spilled. I have never bothered with glasses when casting bronze or silver, either. I was a trained silversmith before I became MrTitanium. I only once set a teacher on fire with molten silver spray.

    But I did take the precaution of melting the lead outdoors. Fine lead dust (as condenses from vapor) is quite unhealthy. But it settles to the ground quickly.

    2) You can still find lead in various forms. But I needed a 3/8" thick sheet, and browsed for such stock for a couple of years before doing this project.

    3) One doesn't cast Tungsten. It would be a liquid on the surface of the sun. Large pieces are sintered or fused from powder in a white-hot vacuum kiln. I got my Tungsten block as salvage from an airplane wing stabilizer. We are also running out of known reserves. In a few generations, they may be mining landfills for the light bulb filaments (and many other rare yet currently inexpensive materials).

    4) Titanium isn't rare as an element, but it is harder to convert to a metal than are aluminum, calcium, or uranium. It doesn't have a pressure phase change like iron alloys, so it wears tools out quickly. It is more finicky to weld than aluminum, burns brighter than magnesium, and only melts at over 3000°F.

  4. Edgar Montrose says:

    I actually own one of those titanium crow bars that Grumpy mentioned. Having lived through the Cold War, during which Ti was a "Strategic Material" and quite expensive for mere mortals, the thought of a Ti crow bar struck me as the ultimate in "high-tech low-tech". For $30, it's as close to owning an SR71 that I'll ever get.

    Anybody remember the Teledyne Titan bicycle frame? Nowadays Litespeed Ti frames are as common as aluminum.

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    Because of my visit last March with My. Gray, an example of my artwork is in a handsome coffee table book about the elements: The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe

    Here is how it appears on as an exemplar of element #22: "Lovely necklace. An example of the element Titanium"

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