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Copper and Brass
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Does Copper Rust? Here’s What You Should Know

Over 80 percent of all known elements are metals. Experts classify them according to their physical and chemical properties, such as density, conductivity, melting point, and reaction to certain chemicals. Arguably, one of the simplest ways to classify metals is through their decomposition.

Like any other material, metals decompose when exposed to another element or compound. We call this process corrosion. While all metals corrode, some have higher corrosion resistance than others. In most cases, different metals corrode differently when exposed to the same chemical. For instance, iron turns into rust and zinc turns into a white powder when they come into contact with air or moisture.

In terms of corrosion, there are two broad classifications of metals – ferrous and non-ferrous. Ferrous metals contain iron, while non-ferrous metals do not. Iron is particularly notorious for being susceptible to corrosion. Oxygen is its main catalyst. When exposed to any oxygen-containing substance, such as air or water, oxygen atoms from that substance combine with iron atoms and form iron oxide or rust.

Does copper rust?

Copper is a non-ferrous metal. It doesn’t contain iron, so it won’t turn into rust when exposed to oxygen. Instead, when oxygen molecules land on copper’s surface, they combine with copper atoms and form copper oxide.

Unlike iron oxide, copper oxide does not disintegrate over time. It stays on copper’s surface and gradually thickens until it becomes copper carbonate. This new layer of material, commonly known in the metal world as patina, serves as a shield against the elements, preserving the unspoiled copper inside for a very long time.

The Pros and Cons of Copper Corrosion

Generally, corrosion is considered detrimental to metals because it takes away their useful properties. For instance, rust causes iron to lose its tensile strength, rendering it useless for construction applications as a result.

Corrosion of copper metal, on the other hand, is different. Instead of destroying the metal, it gives it an elegant and unique appearance. Furthermore, it doesn’t diminish copper’s key properties, such as workability and conductivity. If anything, the outer covering produced from corrosion gives copper added protection, allowing it to last for millennia.

Copper Alloys and the Effects of Corrosion

Copper is among the most flexible metals around. It can easily bend and stretch due to its high malleability and ductility. Unlike other metals, copper is an excellent base material for alloys to boot. Of the many different copper alloys available today, the most popular are brass (copper and zinc) and bronze (copper and tin).

To produce different versions of these alloys, metallurgists alter their content proportion. They add a miniscule amount of other metals (sometimes non-metals) into the mixture to create more variations.

Because copper alloys contain other metals, they corrode differently from how pure copper corrodes. For example, most types of brass turn golden brown during the final stage of corrosion, while copper turns green. In fact, one can tell how long copper or its alloys have been corroding by their color. This gives artisans a wealth of choices when decorating with copper-based sculptures and fixtures.

Then again, some applications require copper or its alloys to be in their pristine state. Copper-based machine components such as copper rods and plates, as an example, work optimally when their surfaces are free of patina. The same goes for copper wires; they are most electrically conductive in their purest form.

Copper corrosion is a slow process, so it’s easy to preserve the sheen of a copper, brass, or bronze item. In fact, it takes decades for copper to develop a greenish top layer. In addition, all it takes to polish these metals is an over-the-counter metal polish or homemade mix and a clean cloth. Some copper alloys, however, tarnish fast, so you have to polish them more often.

Forcing Copper Corrosion

As previously mentioned, copper corrodes very slowly. It only begins to change color after months or years of exposure to air and moisture. You may wonder how architects and interior designers are able to find copper fixtures and furniture pieces with the exact shade and color they need for their projects in a short span of time.

There’s no way they’ve been waiting for those items to patinate prior to their project’s commencement. What they actually do is force copper to corrode by applying certain chemicals on its surface. Oxygen is not the only element that can cause patina to form on copper’s surface. A lot of other harsher compounds are actually more effective, turning copper from red to brown in a matter of minutes.

Here are some of the popular methods for creating patina on copper items:

  1. Incubate the item with hot crushed boiled eggs.

    After boiling a few pieces of eggs, place and crush them in a sealable plastic bag. Bury the metal piece into the crushed egg and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. To achieve a dark shade of patina, incubate the metal piece for several hours.

  2. Spray or apply a vinegar-salt solution on your copper item.

    Both vinegar and salt are potent enough to accelerate the formation of patina on copper. With the right mixture, it can even give your copper item a bluish patina. To get a more specific shade or hue, you can add sawdust and chips into the mixture.

  3. Suspend the copper piece in saltwater and non-detergent ammonia vapor.

    Put the mixture in a container with a cap. Find a way to put the copper item in the container without touching the solution. You only need to expose it to the vapor. This means you have to close the container as well.

There are other chemicals that you can use to force corrode copper or its alloys. Ferric nitrate, sodium thiosulfate, and sulfureted potash are the most common. Each of these solutions produce a different patina color on copper. However, other factors such as temperature and humidity may also be at play.

Probably the least noticed but one of the most influential factors is the quality of the metal piece. Even the tiniest impurities within the metal could have a serious effect on patina formation. This is the reason why it’s crucial to only obtain your materials from the right copper sheet supplier. Here in North America, your best option is Rotax Metals. They have nearly a century of experience with copper and its alloys, so you can be sure that they provide the highest quality copper plates, sheets, rods, and anything in between.

Common Uses of Metals in Our Daily Life

Humanity’s 6 million years of existence represent a tiny fraction of the evolution of life on Earth as we know it. Surprisingly, our ancestors kept their primitive lifestyle for most of this period. Progressive civilizations only started to emerge around 12,000 years ago when the first metals were finally discovered.

Our ancestors called the first metals “native metals”. These include gold, copper, silver, tin, lead and iron. They were initially use to make weapons, shields, cookware, jewelry, and furniture pieces. Eventually, advancements in metalworking technology allowed for even more sophisticated applications.

The discovery of metals paved the way for industrialization to which we owe the modern world we live in today. If metals were discovered much earlier, we’d probably be a Type 1 civilization in the Kardashev scale by now. That’s because metals hold the key to limitless innovations.

Major Uses of Metals

When you think of metals, the first thing that would probably imagine is the Kinzie Street Railroad Bridge. After all this prominent landmark in Chicago is made mostly of steel, one of the most popular metals around. Structures like this bridge show us how essential metals are to modern world infrastructure. To elaborate, here are some of metals’ major uses.

  • Transportation

    – Metals like steel and titanium account for about 80 percent of the total weight of the average vehicle. Same goes for trains, airplanes, ships, and other modern-day transports. The roads, bridges, and railways these vehicles run on are either reinforced or completely made of metals, too. It’s hard to imagine the world’s transportation systems completely devoid of metals.

  • Construction

    – Metals play a major role in construction of vertical structures as well. For instance, columns and beams of low and high-rises are reinforced with steel bars. So are the hollow blocks that comprise walls and partitions. Depending on your home’s architecture, the roof trusses and the roof itself may be made of metals, too. All the equipment and tools used for construction, including power tools, hand tools, and excavators are all made mainly of metals.

  • Telecommunication

    – The towers and dishes that feed signal into your electronic devices are all made of metals. Even if they only provide structural support, metals are safer and more reliable to use than other materials due to their natural toughness and high tensile strength.

  • Security

    – Ever seen a padlock, deadbolt, knob lock, or even a bank vault made of plastic or wood? I bet you haven’t because metals, with their immense strength and toughness, are the preferred material for this application. Prison cells consist of metal bars, too, because not only are metals hard to wreck, but they are also easier to extrude into bars and plates than other materials.

  • Electricity

    – If you peel off an electrical cable’s plastic jacket or insulator, you’ll be greeted by a metallic core. Metals are an ideal wire core material because they are electrically conductive. In fact, around 95 percent of an electrical system consist of highly conductive metals, mostly copper, to allow for maximum distribution of electricity.

Uses of Metals in Our Daily Life

A lot of objects and products you use on a regular basis are made of metals or have metallic components. Identifying these everyday items can help you get a good sense of the importance of metals in our daily life. These items may range from small furniture pieces to large fixtures like the ones you can purchase from a copper sheet supplier. Here are some major examples.

  • Cutlery

    – Family meals won’t be complete without a set of shiny spoons, forks, and knives. While you can opt to use plastic or wooden cutlery, it doesn’t give off that sophisticated vibe that you can only experience with its metallic counterpart. If anything, non-metallic utensils are unappealing to most people, especially when used in a formal setting. Furthermore, metal cutlery lasts longer and is easy to maintain.

  • Money

    – Ever seen a coin made of rubber or stone? I bet you haven’t, because all modern coins are made of metal. In the past, coins were made of gold or silver, but as the value of these metal increased, they were replaced by other less valuable metals, such as copper, nickel, and zinc. These metals are both lightweight and corrosion-resistant, so they are perfect for this application. During war times, however, coin manufacturers used steel because the usual metals were hard to come by.

  • Decoration

    – The trims along your door frame, the lovely curls and shapes on your railings, or even your engraved curtain rods all complement the modern look you desire for your home. Metallic decorations have long been incorporated in interior and architectural designs because they are both elegant-looking and durable.

  • Jewelry

    – The majority of jewelry items, if not all, have metallic components. Even bracelets or hair clips that are made mostly of stone or ceramic usually have metallic chains, cords, or clasps.

  • Containers and Packaging

    – Some of the groceries you usually buy, such as preserved food and soda, come in metallic containers or wrappings.

  • Gadgets and Appliances

    – Just about every device or equipment you own is either partially or mainly metallic, be it your entertainment system, laptop, cellphone, or kitchen appliances. Non-metallic cladding or casing is often used to enhance their aesthetics.

Should you need metals for your own handicraft or architectural projects, make sure to look for a company that offers high-grade metal supplies. Premier copper, bronze, and brass suppliers in North America, such as Rotax Metals, are your best bet. Find out how long they’ve been in the business and where they source their materials. Visit their foundry to get a glimpse of the metalworking methods they use if possible.

What Properties Make Copper the Best and Where to Get Copper Rod and Other Supplies

copper in machines

If there’s one metal that has stood the test of time and has played a crucial role in the creation of the modern world, it has to be copper. Not only is it the first metal discovered and utilized, but even as new metals are being introduced on the industrial market every five years or so, it remained a highly relevant material, and for good reasons.

Apart from possessing a number of extremely valuable properties, copper is also recyclable. Even if copper mining stops at some point in the future, there’s enough scrap copper to resupply the market with and the cycle will continue. Unfortunately, not very many people are familiar with copper. If you ask a random person on the street to name a metal they’re familiar with, they’d probably say steel or aluminum, and there’s a good explanation to that.

Unlike steel and aluminum, which are commonly used for building visible structures like bridges and vehicles, copper is often found inside devices and machines, making it less familiar. There’s also the fact that copper is frequently used in its alloy form, which is typically far from its original appearance. Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that copper is an amazing metal.

Applications

To get a feel for how amazing copper really is, let’s examine its applications based on its properties and form. Especially if you are planning to start a metal supply and distribution business or your project involves the use of copper, it pays to know what this metal can do and where it is utilized for. Reputable copper and brass suppliers like Rotax Metals can give you insights that can help you make the right choices.

According to Properties

Copper’s enduring relevance is predicated by its multitudes of levered properties. Here are some of the prominent ones and their applications.

Natural Elegance

Copper has a reddish-brown color, which changes into different shades of gold or tan when combined with other metals. The resulting alloys are perfect for cutlery, sculpture, architecture, and even jewelry.

Anti-Biofouling

Barnacles, weeds, and other saltwater lifeforms cannot attach on the surface of copper or its alloys, which is why it is used for ship hulls, hydraulic systems, and offshore oil and gas platforms.

Corrosion Resistance

Unlike steel and other ferrous metals, copper does not rust. Combining it with other non-ferrous metals makes it even more corrosion-resistant. Copper makes a great material for plumbing tubes and fittings, roofing, and distillation systems.

Electrical Conductivity

Copper is extremely conductive. It’s no wonder most communication, electrical transmission and distribution, resistance welding systems are made of copper.

Ductility

Copper and its alloys are easy to work, too, but they can preserve their mechanical strength. This property is perfect for general engineering, marine, defense, and aerospace applications.

Heat Capacity

Thanks to copper’s high heat capacity, it makes up most of cryogenic, liquid gas handling, heat exchange, and combustion systems. This metal can maintain form and strength even when exposed to high temperatures for a long period of time.

Antibacterial

There’s a reason why the doorknobs and railings in buildings are typically made of copper or its alloys. Copper has a natural antimicrobial property. Its molecules produce ions that can harm certain proteins in microorganisms, leading to their demise.

According to Form

Copper and its alloys can be manufactured into virtually anything, thanks to their high malleability and machinability. However, non-customized or mass produced raw copper supplies usually come in the following shapes and forms.

  • Sheet

    – Copper sheets are great for covering surfaces to add protection and aesthetic value. You can purchase a copper sheet from a local copper sheet supplier and use it on your kitchen countertop or backsplash to take advantage not just of its natural elegance but more importantly of its antimicrobial property.

  • Plate

    – If you want something thicker, try a copper plate instead, although it’s more commonly used for engraving purposes. Copper plates are great for device and machine casing, too. Pure copper, however, isn’t suitable for any application requiring metal plating as it forms patina after long exposure to air and moisture.

  • Tube

    –Copper is also a favorite material when making tubes and pipes. Not only is it extremely malleable, but it’s also antimicrobial, as previously discussed. Most copper tubes go to water filtration and distillation systems, food containment systems, and other structures with prohibitive sanitation requirements.

  • Bar and Rod

    – Typically produced through extrusion and tensile tested, copper bars and rods are later manufactured into auto parts, medical or electrical accessories, and other precision machine components. Whether you need a copper square rod, a copper round rod, or a copper bar for your project, large suppliers like Rotax Metals have you covered.

Copper is, without a doubt, a super-metal. Even with today’s technology, there are still aspects of this metal that we haven’t fully explored, and exploited for that matter. We expect to discover more new copper-based alloys in the coming decades and it’s going to benefit a vast array of industries.

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