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Bronze and brass are metal alloys that both incorporate copper into their composition. To the untrained eye, the two alloys look fairly similar. However, the color, durability, and application of these metals are actually quite different. Below, we’ve outlined some of the unique properties that define brass and bronze.
- Composition: There are dozens of different brass alloys, each with its own proportion of copper and zinc. There may also be tiny amounts of aluminum, phosphorus, manganese, and other metals.
- Color: Depending on the amount of zinc in the alloy, brass can vary from a dull gold color to a slightly more reddish hue.
- Historical Origin: Used since prehistoric times, brass products became much more popular after the medieval period, when people learned how to create the copper-zinc metal. In the beginning, brass sheets and plates were made by smelting copper ores, which fortuitously has high proportions of zinc.
- Properties: Brass is more malleable than bronze, although certain alloys are considered soft and hard brasses. It’s not complicated to recycle brass alloy, and when collected from scrap yards, it’s also an easy material to cast into billets. It also has a lower melting point than bronze.
- Practical Use: Mainly used for decoration, brass is also harnessed to create musical instruments (trumpets, trombones, etc), doorknobs, plumbing, ammunition, and certain electronics.
- Composition: Like brass, bronze is mainly composed of copper, but also has about 12% tin, along with smaller amounts of aluminum, silicon, manganese, or zinc.
- Color: Depending on the composition, bronze can have a mix of browns, reds, and yellows. It usually looks reddish brown.
- Historical Origin: Discovered before brass, bronze has been used in some form since 5000 BC. The earliest bronze used arsenic instead of tin, and arsenic bronze artifacts were found in the Iranian Plateau between Western and Central Asia. Tin bronze was introduced around 3500 BC.
- Properties: More brittle than brass, bronze has a higher melting point (around 950ºC). Its strong resistance to corrosion makes the alloy useful for coastal, seafaring applications.
- Practical Use: Sculptures, electrical connectors, drum cymbals, boat fittings and propellers.