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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.


Cleaning Brass Sheet Metal: How to Keep Your Projects Looking Great

cleaning brass sheet

Made from a combination of copper and zinc, brass is one of the most popular materials used in metal works. Brass sheet metal, in particular, is widely used in a variety of applications, from decorative pieces to mechanical applications. In fact, you have probably worked with brass sheet metal as part of a project.

Many hobbyists will likely have more than a handful of their projects on display at home where the properties of the metal tend to shine. However, brass sheet metal will lose its luster over time, requiring you to clean it every now and then. The problem is that sheet metal tends to be quite thin. As such, they require a lot of care when cleaning. Otherwise, there’s a significant risk of you damaging the sheet metal you’ve used.

Fortunately, cleaning brass sheet metal is a relatively simple task. This is especially true if the brass sheet metal you used for your project was sourced from respected suppliers like Rotax Metals, assuring you that the quality of the brass is top-notch. With that in mind, here are a few cleaning tips to help make sure your projects stay pristine.

Cleaning Method #1: Slightly Tarnished

Tarnish generally refers to how dark the brass sheet has gotten since the last time you’ve cleaned it. If the brass is only slightly tarnished or only has several spots that are starting to discolor, set the item aside. For this scenario, you’ll need to prepare a tray that you can use to soak the brass sheet in. You’ll then fill this with white vinegar saturated with a generous amount of salt. Once the mixture is complete, soak the bronze sheet. Stubborn spots may be gently scrubbed, but only do so when absolutely necessary.

Cleaning Method #2: Significantly Tarnished

If the tarnish has left the brass quite dark or essentially black in color, you’ll need to prepare a slightly stronger cleaning solution. Add citric acid and water into a pot and bring it to a boil. You may then use this solution to wash and scrub the bronze sheet. Take note that you shouldn’t soak the sheet in this solution as it is usually strong enough to corrode bronze when exposed for too long.

After the Soak

Once you’ve finished cleaning up the tarnish, make sure you immediately rinse the sheet with water to avoid prolonged exposure to acid. Afterwards, use soft cloth to pat dry the bronze sheet to avoid leaving any scratches. When the brass has dried completely, use brass polish to gently restore the shine of the brass. Brass polish sold commercially is recommended as opposed to making your own polish at home. This is because making a mistake with the proportions of your homemade mixture may make it too acidic, which will only damage the brass.


How to Clean Metal Naturally,

How to Clean Brass,

Do’s and Don’ts in Purchasing Brass Channel or Other Metal Supplies for Your Project

It’s hard to think of construction that doesn’t involve the use of metal. Any project that requires stability and durability will definitely make use of metal, be it for structural or decorative purposes, and it’s easy to understand why. Unlike wood or plastic, metal is capable of withstanding high levels of pressure and stress. With the right alloying and working, metal can last for decades or even millennia.

In choosing metal supplies for your project, however, there are several important things that you need to know and consider. Failure to factor in these things could result in disaster, especially if the metal you will use is intended for structural support. Here are the following dos and don’ts when purchasing metal for your project.

DO determine the type of project you will use the metal for.

Each project has a unique set of specifications. Whether you are building a house or a sturdy frame for your worktable, you have to be very careful in choosing the right material. This is why it is crucial that before shopping around for supplies, you must first be sure of the type of project you plan on working on. This way you’ll know exactly what types of metal you will need, how much it would cost you, and how long it would take for the project to finish.

DO look for a reputable supplier.

The quality of the materials you will use for your project depends greatly on where you purchased them from. Most metal suppliers offer different kinds of products but the quality of those products may differ depending on how they were manufactured. Most reputable suppliers get their products from the best foundries. It helps to know the foundries where the manufacturer gets their supplies from before deciding to make a purchase.

DO study about the metal first.

It wouldn’t be smart to continue with your project completely unaware of the material used to manufacture your products. If you ordered brass channel or bronze tube, you much understand what makes that metal suitable for your project. This is particularly crucial because metals are not made the same. Also, if you know the properties of the metal you are using, you’ll know the right way to work it and which section of your project to use it for.

brass channel or other metal

DO consider the size of the project.

The size of the project is also an important consideration, as it helps determine the amount and sizes of materials you need. If you want to save on material cost, you have to make an estimate that is close to accurate. If possible, ask an engineer to do the estimate for you, especially if the project requires a huge volume of materials. The last thing you need is to find out that your materials are inadequate when it’s already too late. Buying materials in bulk will save you huge sums of money in the end. Poor estimate will only force you to spend a little more if you end up needing to buy additional materials.

DON’T use different metals unless you know they have nearly similar properties.

Each metal has a unique set of properties. While some metals can be used to substitute other metals, there are those that are simply irreplaceable. Brass, for instance, cannot be switched with bronze in applications that require more flexibility. Brass is more malleable than bronze, although the latter’s hardness is crucial for certain applications where brass isn’t too suitable.

DON’T risk using low-quality materials.

Foundries are not made equal. Some are bigger than others. There are also those that use more sophisticated machinery. This is why the products they produce also differ in quality. Make sure to use high-quality materials for best results. Don’t risk using substandard products if you want your output to last. A trusted supplier like Rotax Metals can supply all of your needed materials.


Metal Basics: A Beginner’s Intro to Choosing the Right Material,

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