Graphite - Its Uses and Durability as a Paint

Manufacturer and builder, 9/1893

An address by John A. Walker, Vice-president of the Joseph Dixon Crucible Co., delivered before the convention of the Master Painters' Association, held July 12 and 13 at Jersey City, N. J.Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Master Painters' Association of New Hersey: I appreciate the honor of tis ocacsion, and have some deference in speaking, as I do at this time, on the subject of paint, after the mode of bringing coals to Newcastle. Possibly every one of you, if you are worthy of the title of master painters, know as much about the subject as I do. Graphite paint is about thirty years old. About thirty years ago graphite was found by some prospectors in the rocks of Ticonderoga, near Lake George. At that time there was formed the agreement of the Graphite Company, and this company was sformed exclusively and specifically for the purpose, at that time, of making graphite paint, and this was about twenty-eight or thirty years ago. I saw, two weeks ago, on a visit to Ticonderoga, a piece of machinery lying there that had been painted twenty-three years ago with some paint in an offhand way, and, expect fot abrasion made by rubbing against another piece of machinery, to all observation the result oft he paint was just as good as it was a dozen or fifteen years ago.

In the early days, while making their experiments there, certain roofs were painted in the village of Ticonderoga, and observation of the roofs shows they are intact to-day.

Graphite itself is one of the forms of carbon. Charcoal is another carbon form, and the diamond is still another. Graphite has a large number of peculiar qualities. In the first place the graphite itself will stand any change of temperature; it doesn't make any difference how cold the cold is or how hot the heat, the flake of carbon is inert, and suffers no change at either extreme of the temperature. And again, it is indestructible and inert, so that the strongest acids have no effect on it. You can put a piece of graphite in any dilute acid, and after awhile remove it, and you will find no harm has taken place. It is there in its original form, and has not given up any of its properties. The entire piece has remained intact and impervious to that powerful and destructive solution. Made up in this way it has proved to be one of the most valuable of the recent additions to the lines of pigments. It is found in a good many quarters of the globe. The most productive deposits are in the island of Ceylon. The graphite that comes from there is almost all foliated graphite; the flakes come in a granulated form, and these two specimens are the forms of the element as it comes from the island. The largest quantity of graphite used comes from that island. Next in rank as to source of production comes Ticonderoga. There is a third source of graphite in the kingdom of Bavaria, in Germany, where a large quantity of amorphous graphite is found mixed with clay and other kinds of minerals, and so intimately mingled that it cannot be separated. The Ticonderoga quartz interposes no difficult in this respect.

Outside of these three places, graphite is found in Canada; but these deposits have not, or, at least, not very largely, been developed or explored, so no considerable output has come from that territory yet. All over the South specimens have been found, but none of these occurences have proven to have merchantable value. Nine-tenths of all these that have come, so far have been of the amphorous form, in which the impurities could not be separated, so the débris and graphite have to be ground down together, giving uncertain results.

It occurred to the people who had charge at Ticonderoga to work that material up into a paint; but other ideas took up the company's time, and this became a tradition, and that branch of the business was not followed out. Later on, within the last ten years, the graphite paint has been largely manufactured. It has been made a specialty, and its manufacture has been made the subject of careful study. The paint, so far as experience and knowledge of the manufacture goes, has been very useful as applied to roofs, to all classes of bridges, smoke-stacks, boiler fronts, gas holders, machinery in sugar and paper factories, where acids are used in the work. The graphite has proved to be the best anti-acid pigment that could be placed on them, and so on through the line of outdoor iron-work and electric-light poles, and shingle roofs, some remarkable results have been ascertained.

Some years ago a Boston and Colorado smelting company, with their works at Argo, in the neighborhood of Eldorado, had their large plant, which was a quarter of a mile long, covered with a corrugated iron rood, and five hundred fires were blazing away within. As the acid rose, the roof was affected, and it was not a great while before it became honeycombed, and it meant protection or a new roof. These people saw some account of the graphite paint and its characteristics in that direction, and they wrote on the subject, received the information desired, and had the roofs painted with graphite paint.  Since then those roofs have remained intact, and the only thing that has happened to them in the last fifteen years has been a new coat of paint. The graphite paint was successful in defending the before-victorious attack of the acid fumes. If I recollect, at the convention at Harrisburg last year some statements were made by a man there who had taken observations of roofs, oil-painted, that lasted six to eight years without rusting, and another made a statement of a roof that lasted from ten to twelve years without rusting. Of course we all know that linseed oil is presumably the best vehicle with which to convey the pigment. There may be something better in the future, but up to date the linseed oil is the best vehicle. Mineral oxides, and that class of pigments, are ground down to a powder and deposit themselves on a surface; graphite preserves its flaky character in powder form, so that by the overlapping of these a very thorough covering of the surfaces to be protected is assured. There are a good many qualities to the paint that appear in an off-hand way. Concerning the durability of graphite, there are innumerable testimonials on record in its favor. There is, to my knowledge, a boiler front which was painted in 1885, on Thanksgiving afternoon, and it has not since been repainted, and is in good condition. I remarked to the attendant, or stoker, that the front looked as if it had been repainted recently, but he answered that nothing was done to it since 1885, and he had kept a waste rag, and when the paint got dull he would rub it up with black lead and some oil. The high quality of the paint is shown by its ability to stand the wear and tear of a boiler front, and remain thus, after the lapse of eight years, almost as good as it was the first year.

This is about the sum and substance of graphite paint. There is no doubt it will figure more prominently in the future than it has in the past. One of the handicaps it must bear is the color. Of course, being made of a black pigment, its colors are largely somber. When it comes in its natural form it has a tinge of a natural slate. It can be covered with other materials so that it will become a jet black. Experiments have been recently made by which , by blending other materials, light green and dark green are added to the color; also dark brown and dark red, which will be very likely to produce a good effect.

With one little incident I will close. Some three years ago the iron for the elevated road was made at the Pencoyd Iron Works. The iron for the whole structure was brought to Jersey City, and lay there. The work was commenced, and in two months the structure was completed; but six months elapsed before they commenced to operate the road. It had been painted with a mineral paint, and was rusty from top to bottom, and it was necessary to take the rust off. You could pull it off in scales. This work has hurriedly put through the painters, and the result was when the north and south tracks were up a year they were both painted with graphite paint. With the engineer, Mr. Brooks, I walked the track down to the train shed, and there was not a place on the one side of the track where one could put a knife blade, whereas, on the other side, where it had been painted and not carefully scraped off, and not carefully prepared, the painting was more or less imperfect, and there were large pieces and flakes that came off. The engineer and I went up and down the track, and saw the paint on one side and the blisters on the other side, and he was frank enough to admit that the difficulty lay, not in the paint, but in the application of the paint. The paint as it stood on the south track stands there to-day, a living evidence of the durability of graphite.

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