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Brass vs Copper: Which One Should You Use in Your Projects?

scrap copper tubes

With so many different kinds of metals available commercially, it is easy to get confused between multiple choices, especially if the variations are very subtle. Metals of the same basic element are even more difficult to classify because they often share qualities.

 

 

Still more frustrating is the fact that you can’t simply resort to choosing one or the other because despite their similarities, the few distinct features they have make them inapt for certain applications. Especially if you will be using them for construction-related applications, random picking materials can be extremely dangerous.

Two metals that are often muddled up are brass and copper. When you visit a supply store and skim through their products, you’ll notice that copper and brass supplies look vaguely similar. Although they slightly differ in color, you can’t immediately identify one from the other and tell which one suits your needs. This is why it is very important that if you are planning to use either metal for your projects, you should read up on them first. Here are some information you might find helpful in establishing the difference between copper and brass or before you even think of where to buy brass or copper.

What is copper?

Copper is one of the first metals discovered, worked, and utilized by man. That’s mainly because it is one of the very few metals that exist in their native state. This means pure copper can be found in nature, unlike most modern metals that are manufactured. Perhaps another reason is the fact that copper was still very abundant at the time.

It existed alongside gold and silver but due to its flexibility, it didn’t take long before it stole the spotlight and became the most widely used metal. It immediately became the preferred material for making all sorts of everyday objects, including furniture, cookware, jewelry, and even weapons.

So what is the difference between brass and copper? Well, you might find the answer by simply learning about their properties and applications. Here are some facts about copper that you might find interesting and, of course, a helpful addition to your research on the material you need for your project.

It has a reddish-brown tint.

They say that the best way to distinguish copper is through its color. This was true in the past until other metals like brass that can be made to have almost the same color as copper eventually come out. Then again, this reddish elegance cannot easily be faked, and despite being a material naturally intended for industrial use, copper can also be fabricated into jewelry thanks to this unique color. Perhaps the most prominent copper-based jewelry is rose gold, which is formed when a little bit of copper is alloyed with pure gold.

It is easy to combine with other metals.

One of the most desirable properties of copper is its outstanding alloying capability. It can be combined with other metals to form materials with better properties. Sometimes, custom alloying is done to meet very specific industrial, mechanical, or electronic needs. Thanks to copper’s high workability, the modern world is being supplied with a new useful material almost every year.

It has high electrical and thermal conductivity.

Copper ranks second, next to silver, in terms of electrical conductivity. However, it doesn’t heat up as quickly as silver so it is safer to use for electrical conduction. It’s no wonder, even if silver is more electrically conductive, copper is still the preferred material for making cores of electrical wires and cables. In fact, this application makes copper the third most industrially utilized metal, just behind aluminum and iron.

It is extremely durable.

While metals are champions when it comes to strength, they are quite inferior to stone and ceramics when it comes to durability, and that’s all thanks to their susceptibility to corrosion. Exposure to moisture can cause their molecular structure to break down or transform into a different, unusable material. Iron, for instance, can turn to rust when exposed in oxygen.

Some metals, however, are not susceptible to corrosion via oxidation. It takes harsher compounds to affect their molecular structure. Copper is a good example of those metals. Instead of forming rust on its surface as a reaction to oxidation, it forms a layer of protective finish called patina. This material protects copper from further damage, and this is why you can still see a lot of ancient copper items that are still intact to this day.

It has antibacterial property.

Copper is one of the very few metals that are capable of releasing ions that target certain proteins in single-celled organisms. These ions destroy those proteins, killing the microorganisms in the process. This property makes copper the most efficient and most suitable material for filtration systems.

What is brass?

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. By knowing that, you already have a clue as to why this metal is often mistaken for copper. Well, you guessed it right—it has copper in it. The only difference is that there’s zinc too, and sometimes small portions of other metals, such as arsenic, lead, phosphorus, aluminum, manganese, and silicon are also added to improve its properties.

Brass was discovered much later than copper, some 3,500 years ago. Its discovery was almost undeliberate when zinc-rich copper ore was accidentally smelted. The zinc in brass lightens up the reddish tint of copper and turns it into a gold-like shade. Many artisans make use of this quality of brass in designs that require gold accentuations. Rather than use real gold, which is very expensive, they can simply use brass. Here are some other useful properties of brass that you should know.

Corrosion Resistance.

Brass owes a lot of its useful properties to its mother element copper. While zinc also has a high level of corrosion resistance, it pales in comparison to copper, although when combined to form brass that corrosion resistance is even augmented. The addition of zinc, however, has its drawback. Specifically, adding too much of it increases the risk of dezincification, a kind of corrosion in which zinc is leached out of brass, leaving only a porous block of copper.

Electrical Conductivity.

Like copper, brass also exhibits a considerable level of electrical conductivity. This is why it is often preferred to copper for applications that require both electrical conductivity and machinability. Being denser and tougher than copper, brass can withstand pressures caused by repetitive motions, such as in large industrial machinery, and at the same time conducts electricity efficiently.

Anti-Biofouling Properties.

Another useful property brass inherited from copper is its antimicrobial property. As it turns out, this property can be used not just against microorganisms but also against multi-cellular ones, such as marine animals. Certain types of brass are used for making ship hulls, because it is capable of getting rid of marine animals that tend to latch themselves onto the hull. This process called biofouling is particularly troublesome because not only does it increase the weight of the ship, affecting its buoyancy as a result, but it also contributes to the transportation of invasive species all throughout the planet.

By understanding the properties of both copper and brass, you can more easily identify which metal to use for your specific projects. Not only does it help answer the age-old question “which is better brass or copper?” but it also makes you realize that both metals are actually valuable in their own rights. It would also help if you buy your materials from a trusted copper sheet supplier like Rotax Metals. Not only do they specialize in copper-based supplies, but their products are guaranteed the best on the market as well. You don’t want to go to those shabby stores offering no more than a few grades and types of brass supplies, most of which don’t suit your specific needs.

What Are the Uses of Bronze and Why Should You Purchase It from a Trusted Supplier?

bronze making using acetylene Have you ever wondered why the handful of metals you are familiar with are in fact the rarest ones? Gold, silver, bronze, even platinum aren’t particularly the most common of metals. Unlike steel and iron, you don’t see a lot of them inside your home, in the streets outside, or in the workplace. They are simply very rare, and that’s because they are difficult to unearth and manufacture, which is also why they have higher monetary values than more common metals.

 

One of them, however, even though prized similarly, is actually very common. Not in a sense that you can see it everywhere, but certain components of many everyday objects are made from it. That metal is bronze. You’ve probably heard of it at least once or twice. You probably even know what it looks like and how it’s metallic brown color sets it apart from the rest of more pleasant-looking metals. But I’d bet you know only a few object that are legitimately made of bronze.

What is bronze?

Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Its composition varies but most of today’s bronzes are made of around 80 percent copper. Other elements, such as manganese, aluminum, nickel, phosphorus, silicon, arsenic, or zinc, to produce different types of bronze, each having a unique set of useful properties. Here are some of the most common types of bronze produced by adding an extra element to the original alloy.

Aluminum Bronze.

When you mix about 6 to 12 percent aluminum into the original copper-tin mixture, you produce a stronger and more corrosion-resistant bronze, called aluminum bronze. Aluminum is well-known in the construction and mechanical field for its many valuable properties, including high diffuse reflectivity, low secondary heat emission factor, tolerable toxicity range, and reasonable heat and electrical conductivity. All of these properties are adopted by bronze right after the alloying.

Nickel Silver.

Despite not having the word “bronze” in its name, nickel silver is actually a type of bronze. It consists of bronze, tin, and nickel. And despite having the word “silver”, this type of bronze actually doesn’t contain silver. The silver only refers to the metal’s silvery color, which is not characteristic of bronze. This vast difference in appearance is one of the main reasons why identifying products or objects made of bronze can be quite difficult. That’s mainly because consumers are accustomed to seeing bronze as the brown metal.

Phosphor Bronze.

Adding a miniscule quantity of phosphorous can make bronze incredibly strong. It can increase bronze’s yield and tensile strength several times, depending on how much of it you add to the mixture. Ideally, only between 0.01 and 0.35 percent of phosphorous should be added to avoid turning the strength into brittleness. Apart from strength, phosphorus also helps improve bronze’s fatigue resistance, durability, and coefficient of friction. This is what makes phosphor bronze highly suitable for applications that involve constant and rapid sliding of metal surfaces.

Silicon Bronze.

Known for its easy pouring ability, appealing surface finish, and superior corrosion resistance, silicon is almost the perfect alloying metal. Silicon also happens to fit perfectly into the bronze alloy. Even if only about 6 percent of the entire bronze alloy is made of silicon, it is enough to give bronze the self-lubricity it needs to be easily formed or cast into different shapes and intricate details.

Manganese Bronze.

Manganese can make bronze hard and strong as well. This allows bronze to handle high-load, low-speed applications, which originally are among its few weaknesses. The high bearing strength manganese endows, however, also turns bronze into a non-heat-treatable metal, which is why special lubrication is needed for applications involving the use of manganese bronze.

While each type of bronze has a unique set of properties thanks to the extra element they contain, there are certain properties that they have in common. These are the properties that determine the plethora of uses of bronze metal.

Hardness.

Although bronze is an excellent material for sculpting, it is one of the hardest copper alloys around. Its hardness depends on the proportion of its original content and the additional element it has. Nevertheless, it can withstand pressures ranging from 35,000 psi to 119,000 psi. The hardest of all types of bronze is manganese bronze as it can hold up to the maximum tolerable pressure.

High Melting Point.

Unlike other copper alloys, bronze doesn’t melt very easily. It would take up to over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit of heat to melt bronze. What’s astonishing about this property of bronze is that it gives us a clue as to how resourceful our ancient ancestors were. It’s amazing how they were able to produce heat of that scale using primitive methods to product bronze, and they were able to repeat the process over and over.

Corrosion Resistance.

Having constituents that are all resistant to corrosion, it’s not surprising bronze is corrosion resistant as well. It doesn’t rust like iron or steel and some of its types, such as Muntz metal, can even hold up to saltwater, which is ten times more corrosive than tap water. Instead, it forms a layer of protective finish called patina. This is common among copper alloys.

What are the uses of bronze?

Bronze has seen a sizeable decline in utilization ever since steel and other metals with more suitable construction applications had been discovered. Then again, bronze has evolved to become useful in many other applications, thanks to the metallurgists who have spent their lifetime exploring the virtually limitless potentials of this metal. Here are some of the most common uses of bronze.

Art.

Perhaps the most popular use of bronze is in art, particularly as a base material for sculpture. It is the material of choice for sculptors specializing in metals because of its amazing property, which allows it to slowly expand as it cools down. Although heavy and dense, bronze is quite easy to work, allowing sculptors the freedom to chisel at their hearts’ content.

Construction.

Despite being superseded by steel in an array of construction-related applications, bronze still preserves its place in some of them. For instance, many movable bridge components, wheels in worm drives, and turntables for bridges are made of a certain type of bronze. Modern safety tools such as hammers, mallets, and wrenches, are also made of a type of bronze. These tools were originally made of steel, but because of the risk of fire or explosion caused by the unsafe sparks steel can make, steel was replaced with bronze.

Machine Design.

There are a score of machine parts that are best made of bronze—spur gears, bushings, bearings, valve components, and even valve guides in aircraft engines, all thanks to its high electrical conductivity, thermal resistance, and low-friction properties. Not very many metals exhibit low-friction qualities, which is very crucial in settings where parts slide against each other at a high rate.

Now that you have at least basic knowledge of bronze, we suppose you already know your way around it when you plan on using it for any of your future projects. Of course, the success of those projects also depends on the quality of the bronze materials you will use. Always partner with a supplier who not only specializes in copper alloys like bronze but also has their own foundry. It pays to have a bronze tube and bar supplier who can provide you with the highest quality materials you need anytime.

How Do You Clean Tarnished Brass?

brass musical instrumentDespite its superb corrosion resistance, brass tarnishes considerably fast. It can lose its original luster within hours after being exposed to moisture, or even just to air. Thankfully, the tarnish on brass can be removed just as fast with proper polishing. But before we teach you how to bring your brass items back to its shiny self, let us first get to know brass more.

What is brass?

When we think of brass, the first thing most of us would imagine is a musical instrument, such as a trumpet or a trombone. That’s because brass instruments are perhaps the most famous types of objects made of brass. Very few have a clue that brass extrusions, bars, and tubes are also very common. This is a metal that consists of copper and zinc. Sometimes, a minute quantity of other elements, such as arsenic, lead, phosphorus, aluminum, manganese, or silicon, are added to improve its properties.

Brass owes its corrosion resistance from its copper content, although zinc is itself corrosion resistant. Like copper, brass slowly forms a patina on its surface when exposed to the elements, as opposed to other metals, particularly the ferrous ones, that form rust instead. A patina is a thin layer of material that develops as a reaction of copper molecules on the surface of brass when they make contact with oxygen molecules.

Unfortunately, not everyone is attracted to the rustic appeal of patina. While some want their brass items looking elegantly antiquated, others want to keep them shiny at all times. The initial process of patination is characterized by the formation of tarnish, so those who dislike patination should deal with it when it’s just in the form of tarnish. Unsurprisingly, tarnish is much easier to remove than a full-grown layer of patina.

How does tarnish form?

As mentioned, tarnish is undeveloped patina, but how does it really form? The best way to find out is to put a piece of brass under an electron microscope and observe how its molecules interact with the air or with any other object or substance placed on its surface.

When copper and zinc are combined, they form a rather unique assembly of molecules. The atoms comprising these molecules share valence electrons with one another. Those that have already lost their valence electrons become ions, and they are the ones responsible for the formation of tarnish. When ions of brass interact with ions of moisture or air, a layer of chemical compounds that have a different color from the metal itself emerges. Occurring in stages, this layer starts out as dull tan and leads to dark gray, blue, or green. Let me give you some good tarnished brass cleaning tips.

How do you get tarnish off brass?

As previously explained, it is easier to remove patina during its early stages, specifically when it’s just in the form of tarnish, so it shouldn’t be difficult to clean your brass item at this point. There are two ways to go about it—naturally, using natural and everyday products, and with the aid of chemicals. Regardless of your preferred agent for cleaning tarnished brass, however, here’s what you should do to get tarnish off your brass items.

Step # 1: Make sure it’s really brass.

Brass is often used for decoration because it resembles gold. This mimicking feature is not unique to brass, though, because other metals can look the same as brass with the right alloying or coating. If you’re not careful and you start cleaning your item without making sure it’s really brass, you might damage it with the chemicals you bought. To determine whether or not your item is really brass, hold a magnet to it. Brass is not magnetic so if the magnet sticks, your item is not brass and may need a different polishing approach. Ironically, if your item isn’t brass, you may not even need to polish it because it wouldn’t have tarnish in the first place.

Step # 2: Find out if the item is lacquered or non-lacquered.

Lacquer is a clear coating applied on the surface of metal to give it a protective shiny finish. It’s quite easy to tell whether your item is lacquer-finished or not simply by wiping it with a clean, dry cloth. If the surface immediately turns shiny again, it means it has lacquer on it. That’s because lacquer is meant to preserve the shiny appearance of brass, like a laminate on your windshield. It only turns dull-looking when it’s already cloaked with dust and grime. The reason you should do this test is because you might damage the lacquer with metal polish. Considering that lacquered brass has its shiny surface preserved, polishing it is not a good idea.

Step # 3: Wash the item very carefully.

Before you start scrubbing the surface of your brass item, wash it first to get rid of excess dust and grime. These contaminants may consist of tiny sharp-edged stones that might scratch the surface of your brass item if they get mixed up with the soap suds that you will scrub with the cloth. After rinsing, dry the item very carefully so no trace amount of water will be left on its surface. Water can dilute your metal polish and reduce its potency.

Step # 4: Prepare the polishing agent.

If you opt to polish your brass item using a commercial product, all you need to do is to go to your nearest hardware store and look for one that is neither too harsh nor too mild for your brass item. The supplier would normally know what you need if you give them as much information about your brass item as possible. In case you want to try natural products, that’s where you need to conduct a little chemistry experiment at home.

There are scores of products around the house that you can use as a polishing agent, of which the most widely used is the baking soda – vinegar solution. Other products that contain a little bit of acid, such as ketchup and lemon juice, are also good for polishing. Just make sure you will mix the right amount of each ingredients to avoid making the solution too harsh for your brass item. You don’t want to scuff a significant layer from the surface of your item as you buff it up.

Step # 5: Buff with a clean cloth.

Slowly apply the solution on the surface of your brass item. Make sure every groove and section is covered with the solution, and then wait for it to dry before you start buffing with a clean cloth. As you scrub through the surface, you will notice the dark, old surface slowly disappearing and the shiny layer underneath finally emerging. Don’t stop until the entire surface of your brass item is free of patina.

How to Prevent Tarnish from Forming Again

The truth is, you can’t prevent tarnish from forming, but you can delay its formation. As previously explained, the only way to preserve the shine on brass is to keep the elements at bay, which is quite tricky. You can, of course, apply lacquer, but even this amazing coating would soon succumb to the elements and disappear. What you can do is either to regularly polish your brass items or allow it to patinate.

Brass’s susceptibility to tarnishing may also have to do with its quality. Low-grade brasses usually have lower corrosion resistance than those manufactured by top brass suppliers, such as Rotax Metals. Therefore, it is important that when looking for brass materials to use in your projects, always go to a supplier that runs its own foundry and has been in operation for many decades to make sure of the quality of the products you will purchase.

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