Copper, brass, and bronze are all red metals, characterized by their red-tinted color. Copper is a pure metal, and brass and bronze are copper alloys. These three metals have unique properties, making them useful for various industrial applications.
We’ll go over their distinct properties, different grades, and potential applications.
Related: Popular Metals & Their Uses
The Top Metal Alloys: Copper vs. Brass vs. Bronze
Copper, brass, and bronze all belong to the same metal category, but each of them have distinct characteristics, which makes different alloys better for different projects. Across the industry, it’s crucial for designers, manufacturers, and engineers to understand which metal alloys to use for their projects.
- What Is Copper?
Copper is non-ferrous, meaning that it doesn’t contain any iron. Unlike the other two alloys on this list, it’s a naturally occurring metal that’s found on the periodic table. It’s among the few natural metals that are suitable for processing. Copper can be used on its own or combined with other metals to form a different subset of alloys.
- The Properties of Copper
Copper has various properties that make it useful for manufacturing and construction.
- Copper has excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, which makes it ideal for thermal equipment and electrical systems.
- The alloy is resistant to impact, corrosion, and wear. Copper also maintains its strength when drawn, formed, and flexed.
- It has bacterial antimicrobial resistance, meaning that copper resists bacteria naturally without degrading. It’s ideal for manufacturing food-safe equipment.
- Different Grades of Copper
Because of copper’s versatility, it’s available in various grades:
- Alloy 101 is an oxygen-free copper suited for projects that require high ductility and conductivity.
- Alloy 110, also called electrolytic copper, has adequate levels of malleability and ductility but is usually used for its extremely high thermal and electrical conductivity.
- Alloy 122 is similar to 110, but it has superior weldability, formability, and brazing capabilities.
- Alloy 145, also called tellurium copper, has superior machinability, high formability, and excellent electrical and thermal conductivity.
- Copper Applications
Generally, copper offers the benefit of machinability, formability, and conductivity. Those qualities make copper suitable for various industrial applications, including construction, plumbing, architectural, and heat exchanger components and materials. Its high ductility makes it easy to draw copper sheets into wires for electrical systems.
Related: Beryllium Copper Properties
- What Is Brass?
Brass, like copper, is non-ferrous. While copper is pure, brass consists of a mix of copper and zinc. You can also add other metals like iron, tin, lead, silicon, and manganese to the brass to get a unique combination of characteristics.
- The Properties of Brass
Since brass is a copper-alloy, it exhibits many of the same properties as copper. However, it does show some distinct characteristics.
- Brass is stiffer and stronger than pure copper, making it more susceptible to developing cracks from stress.
- Brass is more malleable than copper, and it’s relatively easy to cast.
- The melting point of brass is about 900°C, which is much higher than many other metal alloys.
- Brass is not ferromagnetic, meaning that the recycling process is much easier.
- Different Grades of Brass
Brass comes in a variety of grades. Some of the most common include:
- Alloy 260, also called cartridge brass, has excellent cold working properties and is suitable for use in manufacturing ammunition, hardware, and automobiles.
- Alloy 272, also called yellow brass, contains 33% zinc and typically sees use in architectural and industrial applications.
- Alloy 330 is highly machinable. Its low lead content makes it ideal for cold working and commonly gets used in pipe production.
- Alloy 353, also called clock brass, is used for precision components due to its high machinability.
- Alloy 360, also called free cutting brass, is the most common. It’s highly machinable and formable and commonly gets used to manufacture fittings, fasteners, and valves.
- Alloy 385, also called architectural bronze, sees use in construction and architectural applications. It’s available in various drawn and extruded shapes.
- Alloy C48200-C48500 is leaded brass meant for machining and is typically available in rounds.
- Alloy 464, also called naval brass, has corrosion resistant properties and is suitable for hot forming, drawing, dealing, bending, brazing, soldering, and welding.
- Brass Applications
Brass gets used for practical applications like manufacturing plumbing, musical instruments, and electronics, but it’s also commonly used for architectural and decorative elements because it has a similar appearance to gold.
- What Is Bronze?
Like brass, bronze is a copper-based alloy. It typically consists of around 88% copper and 12% tin, although small amounts of other metals may be present in the bronze alloy.
- The Properties of Bronze
Many of bronze’s properties overlap with copper and brass. Bronze has
- Excellent thermal conductivity
- High ductility
- Corrosion resistance
Bronze also has some unique characteristics, like its brittleness and a high melting point of approximately 950°C.
- Different Grades of Bronze
Bronze alloys come in various grades. The two most common are:
- Alloy 932 is a high-leaded tin bronze that is used for manufacturing non-pressure components, bushings, and washers.
- Alloy 954 is an aluminum bronze that is used for industrial equipment and mounting in various environments.
- Bronze Applications
Bronze alloys are suitable for many industrial applications, including the manufacture of:
- Bearings and bushings
- Electrical springs and connectors
- Marine applications like propellers and ship fittings
- Oil rig components and petrochemical tools that require non-sparking metals
Choosing the Right Metal Alloys For Your Project
Using the right metal alloy is crucial when manufacturing a high-quality product. Although these three alloys all provide some level of thermal and electrical conductivity and offer strength and corrosion resistance, there are distinct differences between them.
Here are some of those key differences to keep in mind when choosing the right metal alloys for your next project:
- Copper, brass, and bronze all have varying levels of flexibility. Oxygen-free copper is the most flexible and offers the greatest ductility and conductivity. Bronze and brass have lower levels, but they offer better machinability.
- Brass is suitable for most general applications. It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to cast, malleable, and low-friction. It’s great for decorative components, things that people will come into contact with regularly, and food-grade surfaces.
- Equipment and tools used in marine environments need to have a higher degree of corrosion resistance. Bronze is best suited for those elements and has the hardness and durability to withstand the stress in these applications.
Related: Bronze vs. Brass vs. Copper
At South Austin Metals, we offer an extensive collection of metals, along with the expertise to design and fabricate anything you need for your project. Partner with South Austin Metals today!