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Niobium

Niobium

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Published by Cary Brief
a basic description of how to anodize niobium and titanium
a basic description of how to anodize niobium and titanium

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Published by: Cary Brief on Sep 08, 2012
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Niobium, Titanium and Tantalum – The Reactive Metals.
 The reactive metals have been used in jewelry and art for decades. Theiruse in commercial products have also risen over the last 20 or 30 years aswell. Titanium bicycles, watches, and more. Within this group of metallicelements the most common are titanium and niobium. Titanium remains the most popular for commercial jewelry, followed by anexpanding use of niobium. Niobium is both more ductile and more colorful. These metals can be cut, formed and finished with standard hand andpower equipment. The high colorations can then be achieved through asimple anodizing process.
Note:
In the following discussion of the techniques and processes forpreparing and coloring these metals, titanium will be used as the referencemetal with notes to any variation as they apply to niobium.
Introduction to the reactive metalsTitanium
 Titanium is the fourth most abundant structural metal and ninth mostcommon element in the earth's crust. It is refined from rutile (TiO
2
) oresmined in the United States, Australia, Africa, China and Russia. Rutile ismost commonly recognized as the gold color fibrous crystals in rutilatedquartz. Titanium metal weighs 45% less than steel and melts at 3,045°F. Titanium can be TIG and MIG welded in inert gas. Fusion welders are usedto attach ear posts and other findings. In most applications, rivets, nuts andbolts, and bezels are used for mechanical joining. Titanium cannot besoldered in a studio situation. A smooth inert oxide film is present on thesurface of the metal and it resists solders.Due to its high strength (especially the alloys) and light weight, titaniumhas many applications in the aerospace industry. Excellent corrosionresistance makes this metal highly desirable for chemical and foodprocessing, also bone replacement and other body implants. This hypo-allergenic metal is safe for sensitive wearers. Titanium is available in some 20 standard grades and alloys. Grade #1,commercially pure (C.P.) titanium is the best suited to jewelry applications.It is ductile and surprisingly slow to work harden. Although the other alloysand less pure grades will color, they are too hard for jewelry work. Titaniumneeds to be freshly etched to produce its most vivid colors. Titanium may be either hot or cold forged. At approximately 1640°Ftitanium goes through a structural phase change and becomes very ductile.As it drops below this temperature it will suddenly harden. The maindisadvantage to hot work is the build up of very tough surface oxides. These are dark and may extend deep into the metal surface. They must beground off and the surface finished before coloring.Cold forging can be a very rewarding technique. Grade #1 metal will feel
 
very firm under the hammer but it will continue to move over a very longrange. Often a simple design can be completed in a single forging withoutneed to stop, anneal, and clean. Annealing requires inert gases or hardvacuum.
Niobium
Niobium (formerly Columbium) is a light gray, very ductile and highlycolorable metal weighing about twice as much as titanium. It is used inelectrical devises, high temperature alloys (melting point 4,475°F),chemical handling and super conducting alloys.Niobium is extremely ductile and slow to work harden. Cold forging can bevery fast. Simple die forming can be done with masonite dies and evenwood tools. Its formability, price and very broad coloring range make it thefriendliest of the reactive metals for jewelry.
Interference colors
 The colors produced by these metals are known as interference colors. There are no pigments or dies involved. They are generated by atransparent oxide film grown on the metal surface. The colors develop whenpart of the light striking the surface reflects and part pass through the filmto reflect off the metal below. When the delayed light reappears andcombines with the surface light waves they may either reinforce or cancel. This generates a specific color. The thickness of the oxide film dictates thecolor. In nature these colors can be found in the eddies of an oily wet streetand in the iridescent colors of some insects.
Surface preparation and forming
All forming and surface finishing must be done before coloring. Most surfacefinishing techniques can be adapted to these metals. Die cutting, bending,stamping and surface textures can be achieved with standard tools. Workcan be vibrated, tumbled, sanded and polished. Finishing will be more timeconsuming than with traditional metals. Consideration should be given tosanded and textured surfaces. Light gathering scratches and marks will addflash and variety to the work. Textured surfaces also add some protectionagainst abrasion.
Chemical etching
 Titanium requires a chemical etch to prepare the surface for high voltageanodizing.
Multi-Etch
is available in our current catalog and provides anexcellent alternative to hazardous Hydrofluoric acid solutions.
No acidfinishing is required by niobium.
Note: All chemicals should be used under strictly controlled conditions. Hydrofluoric is an insidious acid and requires special 
 
handling equipment, safety precautions and disposal.
Forming
 Tools of hardwood, nylon and steel can be used to dap, bend, chase, textureand form Grade #1 annealed titanium and niobium. Niobium will easily dieform and may be chased or repousse'd. Surface textures can be cut with aflex shaft, sandblasted and engraved. Roll printing is most effective withniobium. (Protect the rolls with copper or brass when roll printing titanium.)Both metals require lubrication when drilling and machining. The lowthermal conductivity of titanium can cause heat to build up and damagecutting tools. Use cutting oil or soapy water as a lubricant to lengthen toollife.
Coloring
Coloring can be achieved in two ways; thermal oxidation and electrolyticoxidation (anodizing). Both processes do essentially the same thing. Through electron excitation, the metals react with oxygen to form a thintransparent film. Thermal oxidation (heat coloring) is simple, but difficult tocontrol. Anodizing is infinitely more predictable and is the only effectiveway to color niobium. The colors produced appear in up to five repeating orders. Most of thecurrent jewelry is produced with the first two orders. All the colors of thelight spectrum are not produced. True red and forest green are notgenerated.When the oxide is of a thickness to generate interference colors, its depth ismeasured in angstroms (Å=1/100,000,000 centimeter). This layer can varyin thickness from 500 to 1,000Å+ depending on the color. It is not the oxideitself that is perceived by the viewer but its effect on light.Although harder than the parent metal, the extreme thinness of this oxidedictates that it is not a strong wearing surface. Bracelets, belt buckles, ringsand items that normally receive heavy abrasion should not be consideredunless the metals are protected by other design elements.
Thermal oxidation
 This is the type of coloration that most metalsmiths start with on titaniumbecause no special equipment is necessary. At temperatures as low as640°F titanium will begin exhibit its first golden colors. Then, withincreasing temperature and time, a variety of hues will appear. A torch orsmall kiln can be used. Throughout the thermal coloring process cleanliness is an absolutenecessity. Dirt, dust, oil and finger prints will discolor the oxide as it isgrowing. It is possible to contaminate the surface for special effects.Refinishing a piece that has discolored during the heating operation isdifficult and time consuming.

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