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.

scrap copper tubes

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.

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