Passing the Torch


The ASM Materials Education Foundation

By Dan Shea

I’m writing this in the first person for a reason; I want to speak to our readers as directly as possible about a great influence in my life that I hope they can share in. After my Army time I went back to college in the mid-1970s—a much more serious young man than I had been in the 1960s. Courses in business and mechanical engineering were started. Unfortunately, I never finished—necessity was that I had to go to work, then wanted to start a family and finally start into business. The work I did included electrical and electronic. I integrated the first PCs into a robotic production line for one company and designed controls for DuPont’s robotic plywood manufacturing. This was all pioneering tech. My company did alternative energy homes and business construction, and it became a good-sized electrical contractor in New Hampshire. All the while, I was studying and working on weapons—military weapons. I designed my first suppressor in 1981. This is not a brag sheet; the readers have a general idea of the work I’ve done for military, governments, industry and the historical record.

What it is about is that I’m a guy who never completed my college degree. I’ve been offered honorary PhDs a number of times and didn’t take them because, well, I didn’t do the doctoral thesis to earn a PhD and didn’t believe I was really qualified anyway. I felt like I would be insulting people who spent 10 years excelling in academia while I was essentially in the dirt and working manual labor.

So, here’s a guy who was an Army grunt and then a cook, didn’t finish college, and yet over 45 years, I was able to work inside several complex technical industries and work at top levels. No subterfuge; I’ve always been upfront about not having a degree. Aside from all the other reasons for this success, such as having a loving wife/partner and great family, there has always been an organization I could turn to.

That is ASM International. It started in 1905 sharing the lore of steel making and blacksmithing, and by WWI it had become a shaker and mover; a Colonel from U.S. Army Ordnance joined to help sort the group a bit and gain direction. In 1933, the organization became the American Society for Metals (ASM).

In 1952, ASM formed the ASM Materials Education Network, then the ASM Metals Engineering Institute, and in 1957 seminars were started. Heat treating conferences were started in 1974. By 1989 the Ninth Edition of the Metals Handbook had grown to a 17-volume set comprised of 15,000 pages, 25,000 illustrations and 7,500 tables. In 1999, the now 20-volume set went onto 4 CDs.

I was introduced to ASM in the late 1970s. It has been a guiding light to me, even though I have not attended their countless professional seminars. They have amazing courses for beginners as well as for advanced professionals. What they have that I’ve been able access all this time is an unending pool of specific technical information and guidance. (Usually purchased second-hand, because, well, I’m frugal at times.)

Need to study up on failure in metal structures like firearms? ASM has fracture analysis and failure analysis handbooks, databases and courses. Trouble with heat-treating a new product? They have a whole society devoted to Heat Treatment. Crystallography—do you want to understand alloys and surface issues and what happens as you create a new product? You’re covered.

Need to really know what 7075 T6 means, on a gut level, not just reading words in some gun magazine written by an author who is parroting what a manufacturer said? How about the ASM Handbook Volume 2A: Aluminum Science and Technology (latest edition 2018)? It’s only $297, member price is $225. Sometimes members sell collections of the handbooks when they retire or whatever. At night you can sit and read the technical issues that will continue your life-long education. Many people think I have my PE, ME or EE, and I quickly explain I didn’t finish college and then tell them about ASM International.

This article in Small Arms Defense Journal is simply me trying to pass on to you, the reader, a place where you can get the real information on materials, metals, working with them and identifying issues. I hope you at least look up their website and explore a bit ( You might find a new home for your future growth. And not only that, when you join, as you should, you get a subscription to one of their magazines. I’ve always been partial to Advanced Materials & Processes.

The real subject of this article is passing on knowledge. I’ve spent a lifetime passing on that research and lore from the military/machine gun world. When we started “The Archive Project” on it was to digitize and preserve the hundreds of thousands of manuals, test reports, photos, articles, etc., that had been preserved in my library as well as those of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England and Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, Shrivenham. The goal? To ensure future generations could do research quickly and surely and that this information would not be lost.

Likewise and on a much larger scale, ASM International has met that calling and is very actively promoting STEM subjects to high school students. That’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The United States is falling far behind other countries in the STEM areas, and it’s critical that we keep our youth interested and charging forward into innovation and new designs. My grandparents were born with a horse and buggy, then early automobiles and lived to see cars everywhere. I started with little tiny black and white TV screens and testing tubes at the hardware store on Saturday mornings with my father (an Electrical Engineer on nuclear power production in the 1950s-60s), and now I have a computer-integrated flat screen that covers a wall. The United States was a shaker and mover (not to disparage the brilliant people around the world; I’m an American and well, as world-traveled as I am, it still affects my perspective a bit). To get back in the saddle, the U.S. needs to teach the new generations that they can take part in exciting worlds to come—new innovations, new solutions, a better world, if they’re strong enough.

The ASM Foundation is a key to this. I encourage all of you to go to the ASM Foundation website and see what you can do on a local level to help students meet the STEM subjects—how to grow stronger, how to learn, how to participate in the future on a real level, not a superficial, snowflake level of selfies and symbolic gestures. Real, solid research and innovation that they can sink their teeth into, regardless of race, creed, color or sex. STEM doesn’t discriminate; it rewards commitment and hard-core study as much as natural talent. There is the high level of satisfaction that comes from personal initiative and success.

See how you can help the new generations …