If you’re buying and selling metals, scrapping metals, or even if you’re doing home or business renovations, you’ve probably had conversations about brass, copper, and bronze.
Each of these metals is frequently used in construction work, electronics, automobiles, and many other areas, and they’re sometimes used interchangeably.
They’re all different, however, and learning more about each can help you decide which is best for a given application or which will give you the most return for investing or scrapping.
Copper is a naturally occurring element. It has a pink, orange, or red color. Copper can be found worldwide, but many mining locations are in the southwestern United States, particularly Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, and throughout Chile.
Bronze and brass are both alloys, meaning that, unlike copper, they do not occur naturally and are made up of more than one type of elemental metal.
Bronze is mostly made of copper but generally contains between 12 and 12.5% tin. Other metals, such as zinc, nickel, and aluminum, can also be added to adjust the properties of the bronze.
Bronze has a copper or tan color.
Brass is made of copper and zinc. Brass generally contains about 66% copper and 34% zinc, but this is sometimes adjusted, and other metals can also be added to the composition.
Brass has a more silver or gold coloration than either copper or bronze.
Copper has great thermal and electrical conductivity, making it extremely useful for many tasks. Because brass contains such a high amount of copper, it is also excellent as a thermal or electrical conductor, and bronze displays amazing thermal conductivity.
Malleability and Ductility
Copper is known as one of the more malleable metals. It can be rolled or stretched into several forms without losing its strength. Brass is also highly malleable and is often used for casting.
Bronze, on the other hand, is perfect for casting, but it’s generally not as malleable as brass or copper. It does not take well to folding or reshaping and can sometimes become brittle.
It does, however, have high ductility, meaning it can be stretched without losing strength.
Strength and Resistance to Corrosion
Copper is not generally considered to be a strong metal, as it’s not as strong or hard as steel.
However, the relative softness of copper is what makes it so easy to mold, and once copper has been reformed into sheets, wire, or other shapes, it retains its strength.
Brass is stronger and harder than copper, but it’s also more prone to stress cracks, and it can sometimes become brittle.
Copper is prone to oxidization and corrosion. When copper corrodes, it turns blue or green. Brass is less prone to corrosion, and the higher the manganese in a particular brass alloy’s composition, the higher its corrosion resistance.
Bronze is quite resistant to corrosion, particularly saltwater corrosion.
Copper has a melting point of about 1,084 degrees Celsius or 1,984 degrees Fahrenheit. The exact melting points of brass and bronze depend on the composition of each particular alloy, but in general, brass melts at around 900 degrees Celsius or 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit. Bronze melts at around 950 degrees Celsius or about 1,742 degrees Fahrenheit.
Copper has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Bacteria that come into contact with copper are often killed. Bronze also has strong antimicrobial properties. Brass is also antimicrobial, but it’s not quite as effective due to a lower copper content. It will still kill most bacteria on contact, however.
Because it is so conductive, malleable, and ductile, copper has a wide variety of uses. It’s often made into wire or used for plumbing or electrical fixtures or parts. Copper is also used in many electronics or as pieces in vehicles.
Because copper is such an appealing color, it’s also often used for decorating or creating beautiful but useful items. For example, copper is commonly used to make pots and pans.
These items heat quickly and evenly, so they’re incredibly useful, but they also look attractive. Copper is also used for sinks because it’s pretty, but its antimicrobial properties help cut down on bacteria that might otherwise colonize in a bathroom or kitchen sink.
Copper is also frequently used in jewelry. Copper wire is often twisted around stones or gems to create rings, earrings, or pendants.
Brass is also used frequently, and because it’s an alloy and is, therefore, less expensive, it’s used more often for general applications. Brass is used in machinery such as radiators and can also be made into fittings for plumbing or irrigation.
It’s often found as components in musical instruments and electronics. Brass is also commonly used to make ammunition shells.
Brass is also often used for things like doorknobs, door knockers, decorative light switch plates, hooks, and drawer pulls. Brass is particularly good for creating these items because it’s durable, resistant to corrosion, and can be easily molded or cast.
It’s also less expensive than bronze or copper. Because it’s antimicrobial, it’s also a perfect choice for items that are frequently touched.
Bronze is also used for both useful and decorative items. Traditionally, it was used for boat fittings due to its resistance to saltwater, and it’s still commonly used for marine applications.
Bronze is also used to make fittings, bearings, clips, springs, and connectors. Many tools, such as hammers and wrenches, are made using bronze.
Bronze is also used to make piano and guitar strings and some drum cymbals.
Bronze is also ideal for casting sculptures. When bronze is heated, it expands a little bit, so it will fill in even the smallest details in a mold.
Then, as it cools, it shrinks, pulling away from the mold and making it much easier to remove.
The prices for copper, brass, and bronze fluctuate over time and depend on demand, the quality of the metal, and other outside factors.
However, in general, copper sells for between $2 and $5 per pound. Bronze usually sells for around $2.50 per pound, and brass sells for between $1.75 and $2.35 per pound.