Why Is Brass Useful?—History, Properties, and Uses

brass doorknob
In a not so distant past, our ancestors used to think of metals as a gift from the gods. Metals were, after all, the toughest materials around during those times. They were used to make weapons, armors, cookware, and just about anything that makes life easier. Even today, metals are still a highly regarded material. As the lifeblood of industrialization, their significance is expected to continue for centuries until a new, more efficient alternative is discovered, which is still quite unthinkable.

One of the metals that has stood the test of time is copper. Humans discovered it over 10,000 years ago and yet here we are still exploring its multiple properties. Thanks to copper, we can enjoy safe electricity, take a bath with warm water, travel around in our own vehicles, and more. It’s contributed to society so much that the world might not be able to survive without it.

Copper has many offerings to this world, and one of those is the alloy brass. It’s a metal produced by combining copper with zinc. Although not as popular as bronze (also an alloy of copper, which is produced by combining copper with tin), brass is quite a notable metal, and it is equally useful to boot. Brass’s strange history may have to do with its infamy.

Discovery of Brass

Brass has been widely used even during the latter part of the Bronze Age. It just wasn’t recognized as an alloy of copper similar to bronze because the zinc vapor used to produce it wasn’t identified as a metal. It’s even mentioned many times in the Bible but the term “necosheth” was used, which means “bronze of copper”. It didn’t take long though before brass became renowned, following zinc’s recognition as a metal.

Eventually, during the latter part of the first millennium BC, brass had finally started to ascend to popularity. In some of the manuscripts written by the 4th century BC writer Theopompus, brass was identified as oreichalkos, which could be produced by mixing “droplets of false silver” (referring to zinc) and copper. The production further improved during the collapse of the Roman Empire in the Medieval Period, mainly because of the disruption in the trade of tin for bronze from Western Europe.

Brass Properties and Uses

As the technology used in metallurgy evolved, exploring the properties of brass became easier. It also became possible to create different versions of brass to meet various needs. Now, brass suppliers are more common than ever, thanks to the non-stop production since the industrial revolution. Here are some of the major properties and uses of brass.

  • Malleability

    – One of the qualities of most metals that you won’t find in any other material is malleability or the ability to be flattened into thin sheets without breaking. Of the two metals that make up brass, copper is the more malleable one. Zinc, on the other hand, contributes hardness to the alloy, keeping brass tough even when it’s thin. Thanks to this property, brass metal plates used for machine casing and surface covering.

  • Tensile Strength

    – Most metals have a natural ability to resist tension, so much so that they are often used as reinforcement for structures that involve pulling forces. Due to their malleability, they are not very good at resisting compressive forces. This property makes brass alloys the ideal material for nuts, bolts, and threaded parts.

  • Machinability

    – Brass is also known for its high machinability. It can easily be cut and reshaped without compromising its density and strength. It’s no wonder a lot of machines that require parts with detailed extrusions rely on brass.

  • Acoustics

    – If there’s one thing brass is truly popular for, it’s its great acoustic property. This is why it is a preferred material for musical instruments, so much so that an entire family of musical instruments was named after it. Brass instruments, such as the trombone, tuba, trumpet, cornet, baritone horn, euphonium, and tenor horn create great sound that can hardly be mimicked by the same instruments made from other materials.

  • Antibacterial Property

    – Brass is also known for its ability to trigger an oligodynamic effect thanks to its main metal content, which is copper. It’s one of the few metals that release ions capable of breaking down certain proteins in microorganisms, killing them in the process. This is why brass is the metal of choice for applications such as water filtration and food processing. It is also the most ideal metal for frequently touched home fixtures such as doorknobs, railings, and even countertops.

  • Natural Elegance

    – Seeing brass for the first time can give you the same impression when you first saw gold. That’s because brass appears very similar to gold, except it’s much cheaper. This is why brass is often used for decorations that require gold’s sheen and shade. It is the perfect alternative.

Where to Buy Brass

Surprisingly, despite being not as popular as other metals like aluminum and iron, brass is pretty much accessible. Top North American brass suppliers like Rotax Metals have all the brass supplies you need from angle bars and plates to tubes and pipes. Only get your supplies from a reputable supplier to ensure quality and variety. It also helps to inquire about how or where they source their supplier. Most reputable suppliers have their own foundry.


Beneficial Properties and True Worth of Brass

brass bowls and incenseBefore brass became one of copper’s most essential alloys, it was first thought to be just the result of a flaw in the manufacturing process, considered as either bronze or copper depending on which it resembles more. Today, brass is identified as a metal on its own just like bronze and copper as well as extensively utilized for a wide array of applications. But where does brass come from and what applications is it used for?

What is Brass?

Brass is produced by mixing zinc and copper. It is believed to have been discovered purely by accident when early metallurgists melted zinc-rich copper ore. Until the post-medieval period, the zinc vapor that such copper ore contains was not recognized as a metal. Various other metals are added into the mixture to produce a variety of brass types. Adjusting the amount of zinc also helps produce brasses of different qualities.

By adding just a little bit of other elements, such as arsenic, lead, phosphorus, aluminum, manganese, and silicon, and experimenting on their proportions, you can produce a wide variety of materials. It’s no wonder there’s an endless list of alloys under the brass category, each of which has a considerable level of industrial function.How much is brass worth?Well, the best way to understand brass’s quick ascent to popularity, and how it caught up with copper and bronze in a heartbeat, is to know its properties. After all, a metal’s usefulness is determined by how many useful properties it has.

Properties of Brass

Compared to bronze, brass has higher malleability and lower melting point, making it very easy to cast. Make no mistake, though, as this does not make brass any less durable. Brass also does not belong to the ferromagnetic class of metals. Meaning, it has a significantly low to no susceptibility to magnetization. This makes it easy to separate brass from ferrous scrap for recycling. Almost 90 percent of all brass alloys are recycled, making brass one of the most eco-friendly metals to use for large-scale applications.

Creating a ferromagnetic type of brass is also possible. You just have to mix a little bit of iron with it. This is often done when trying to increase brass’s wear and tear resistance. Of course, other elements are added along with iron, including silicon and manganese, to reach a desired durability. Otherwise, brass will only adopt iron’s ferromagnetic property without any increment in its durability. With these qualities alone, it wouldn’t make sense to keep asking “What’s brass worth?”

Because of the softness and malleability of brass, it’s very easy to cut and machine after being extruded, eliminating the need for a cutting fluid, which not only adds to the cost of manufacture, but also affects the metal’s overall quality. When mixed with aluminum or tin, brass becomes stronger and more resistant to corrosion. It forms a thin layer of oxide that acts as brass’s shield against corrosion by harsh substances. The resulting material is highly suitable for seawater applications, since seawater is ten times more corrosive than fresh water.

In case you want to force corrosion on brass to produce a particular color or texture, you can apply a variety of chlorides, acetates, ammonia, and certain acids. Unlike other metals, however, the corrosion of brass manifests as an additional layer of material called patina, as opposed to depletion of its surface. Those who are asking the question “Is brass worth anything?” can re-educate themselves of the many beneficial properties of the metal.

Classifications and Alloys

Brasses are classified according to the amount of zinc they contain. Those that contain below 35 percent zinc are called alpha brass. Having a high proportion of copper, these brass alloys are extremely malleable and resistant to corrosion. They are also recognizable in their gold-like appearance. Brasses with 35 to 45 percent zinc, on the other hand, are classified as alpha-beta brasses. They are obviously harder and stronger than alpha brasses, which is why they are often hot worked.

If you increase brass’s zinc content to a little under 50 percent, you’ll create beta brasses, which are harder than both alpha and alpha-beta brasses, and also requires a higher temperature when hot worked. It has the brightest color among all the classifications of brass as well. Increasing the zinc content of brass from this point isn’t advisable as it makes brass too brittle to use.

So far, there are over 60 different types of brass, each of which belongs to one of the classifications discussed above. The most prominent types include the admiralty brass, which has a little bit of tin to fight off dezincification; aluminum brass, which is extensively used for making heat exchanger and condenser tubes; manganese brass, the most ideal material for gold coins in the United States; Muntz metal, used as a lining on boats to prevent fouling; and nickel brass, used for making pound coins.

So is brass worth anything today? There’s your answer. As long as the industries that rely on it continue to grow, the worth of brass won’t diminish. Unlike gold and silver, brass isn’t very popular. Neither is copper and yet it is used for more applications than all famous metals combined. Brass, being an alloy of copper, will remain in demand for a long time. You just have to make sure that you’ll source your brass supplies from a reputable provider like Rotax Metals.

Properties and Applications of Copper Sheet Metal

Metals are classified into two types. Those that contain iron and are widely utilized for large-scale construction and industrial applications are classified as ferrous metals, while those that don’t contain iron and are often exploited for their electrical conductivity, corrosion resistance, and antibacterial properties are classified as non-ferrous.

The latter is regard as high-end for a number of reasons apart from the above-mentioned properties. Most of the metals that belong to that class are quite elusive or hard to come by. Their ores are either entrenched deep into the earth or simply rare. Furthermore, the industries that utilize them also belong to a sophisticated bracket, including electronics, telecommunication, and aerospace.

Of all the non-ferrous metals, copper is arguably the most influential. There’s gold and silver that everyone knows about, but when it comes to usability, they don’t come close to copper. The fact that this metal has been around for longer than all the timelines of all other metals combined is a proof of that. Man has used copper for over ten thousand years and its reign is far from over. It’s not difficult to understand why copper is still extensively used despite the emergence of numerous other non-ferrous metals. It has to do with its amazing properties.

Properties of Copper

Our dependence on copper for many of our daily necessities comes from its many properties, which allow it to be turned into materials that are valuable in manufacturing basic commodities and utilities. There are many other metals that have similar properties but they are either not as stable or far less abundant. Let’s take a look at some of the properties that make copper a great metal.

  • Malleability

    – Copper can be hammered or rolled into thin sheets or plates without breaking. In fact, there’s a vast range of thicknesses copper can be manufactured into that distributors have made an entire copper sheet thickness chart. Each option can be used for highly specific functions from machine plating to surface embellishment.

  • Ductility

    – Copper can be drawn into small wires as well. Most of the electrical cables used in buildings have a copper core. Unlike other metals that become breakable in strips, copper remains hard even when it’s drawn into strands of very small diameters.

  • Corrosion Resistance

    – Many artifacts that date back several thousands of years are made of copper, which gives us a clue how long this metal can last. Copper, surely, corrodes just like any other metal. It’s just that the substances that can corrode it aren’t as common as those that corrode other metals.

  • Electrical Conductivity

    – It’s not just copper’s ductility that makes it a favorite material for making wire cores. Copper is also known to have superior electrical conductivity. It’s the second most highly conductive metal on the planet, next to silver.

  • High Heat Capacity

    – Copper can withstand very high temperatures, including heat produced by high voltages, which is also a reason why it’s the ideal material for making electrical wires. While silver has a higher electrical conductivity, it heats up very fast, causing fire hazards.

  • Antimicrobial Property

    – Most non-ferrous metals have the ability to release ions that damage certain proteins in microbes, killing them in the process. Copper, being the king of the non-ferrous, can decimate a great deal of bacteria in a short span of time, which is why it is ideal for making tubes and containers for water distribution and food processing.

Copper Sheet Metal Applications

Copper can be manufactured into different forms but it’s most popular in sheet form. After all, there are tons of applications that require copper sheets. Regardless of the copper sheet thickness, there will always be a use for it. This metal product is so popular you have trouble identifying where to buy copper sheets whenever you find the need. Here are some of applications of copper sheet metal.

  • Welding Fixtures

    – Before welding product parts, their geometry must be secured using welding fixtures to ensure the quality of the final product. Copper alloys are ideal for such application. In case you are building your own welding setup and asking “how thick should my copper sheet be?” there are guides online that you can follow.

  • Ground Straps

    – Any system or machine that runs on electricity must have a ground strap to protect essential components and people from electrostatic discharge (ESD).

  • Plumbing Fitting

    – Copper, being resistant to corrosion, is an ideal material for flashing. It’s even perfect for roofing but, since copper is expensive, many people don’t find it practical.

  • Power Transmission

    – Most sprockets, sheaves, belt pulleys, and bushings used in power transmission systems are made of durable and wear-resistant metals. Many alloys of copper fit the criteria.

  • Heat Exchanger

    – The majority of components of heat exchangers are made of copper or its alloys, thanks to copper’s high heat capacity.

If you are planning to use metal sheet or plate in your project, copper sheet metal must be first on your list of options. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if you get expert advice from a world-class copper sheet supplier like Rotax Metals to know which metal is most suitable for your project or whether or not the standard copper sheet thickness would suffice. Moreover, you can easily get lost in the plethora of choices available so it pays to have a detailed discussion with the supplier.


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