Annealing Brass

Have you ever built one of those model ships that have brass wire that you are suppose to use to make the chainplates and the brass proves to be impossible to work with because it's so stiff and brittle?

Have you ever built a model ship that came with long strips of brass moulding that you have to bend around the bow area to form rails that go up underneath the catheads and the brass won't bend without breaking?

Photo 1 shows mouldings as I have just described. See how the have to be bent and twisted to flow up underneath the cathead or around the sides of the ship?

Photo 1

It can be very frustrating trying to fit these brass mouldings because they just don't want to bend. Try drilling holes through them to attach the nails such as the ones shown underneath the cathead. Bet you break a lot of drill bits and hardly make a dent in the moulding.

There must be something you can do to make this part of the ship's construction less frustrating and easier, right? There is. It's called "annealing."

What is annealing? Annealing metal such as brass is a simple process that softens the metal making it much easier to work with. It works well with brass especially, or what is often referred to as piano wire -- a silver looking wire that is long and straight and often found in kits used to make chainplates.

Like most everything associated with model shipbuilding, you just need the right tools for the job. In this case, the right tool is a small propane blowtorch such as the one shown in Photo 2.

Photo 2

The process of annealing metal is quite simple. Start up the blowtorch according to the instructions that came with it, adjust the flame according to those instructions, and point the torch at the wire or metal you want to anneal. Hold it on the part until the part glows red, then immediately remove the flame from the part and let the part cool down.

I like to use a special "carbon felt welding blanket" I bought years ago to place my parts on when I do this. You can find the one shown in Photo 3 on Amazon.

Photo 3

Of course, the trick is to remove the blowtorch flame the moment the metal turns red hot. If you don't, chances are you'll melt the metal completely which is not the outcome you are trying to achieve. But if you're successful, after the metal cools it will bend easily and hold the shape you bend it into.

Annealing wire can make it much easier to shape chainplates such as the ones shown in Photo 4.

Photo 4

This photo shows a scratchbuilt model of the ship Confederacy, an early frigate of the Revolutionary War. When I built this model, I was following a practicum written by my mentor in my early days of model shipbuilding, Father William Romero. His practicum came in a binder and was printed in black and white on normal copy paper. This was in the days before the internet and PC's became popular. Can you see the horse shoe parts beneath the gunports? Those are hinges for oar sweep ports.

The metal I made those from was flat brass bar, about 1/16" wide and 1/32" thick. Like a real horse shoe, the ends on the right hand side as shown in this photo, had to be bent. at a 90 degree angle.

Try bending brass bar consistently like that without annealing. Can't be done! But once I annealed the wire, it was a piece of cake making those special oar sweep hinges. Same with the chainplates which I made using a very thin, long and brittle brass wire I bought from Micro Mark as recommended by the practicum. But once I annealed the wire, it was easy to bend the metal with needle nose pliers and form the shapes I needed before soldering them.

Once you learn this method, you'll wish you had known about it sooner. It will sure make your life easier when it comes to making certain parts for a model ship whether it's a kit or a scratchbuilt model.

I hope this little tip will be useful to you for many years to come.

Bob Hunt

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