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What is Brass Made of?

Published by Lucy Thurston on

Brass is a common metal that is used across several industries, including in the home. If you have an old front door, there’s a good chance the handle or knocker (or both) are made from brass. It has a distinctive gold colour and has multiple properties that make it a desirable metal to work with. We’ve all seen it, felt it, and probably even used it, but do you know how brass is made and what it’s made of? 

If not, keep reading as we explain everything you need to know about the manufacturing process behind brass and how to know which type of brass is best for your project. 

Brass door knocker

What is brass made of? 

Brass is a copper alloy. It is made of copper and zinc, with copper being the main component and making up anywhere between 55% and 95% of the overall weight. The copper to zinc ratio can be adjusted to suit different applications, with a higher zinc content resulting in brass that is harder and stronger. Whilst this can be useful, it does mean that the malleability of the metal decreases, making it harder to mould and form. It also reduces the corrosion resistant properties brass is known for. In addition, the higher the zinc content, the more yellow the metal appears. 

Where there is a higher copper content, the copper is electrically refined so that it is 99.3% pure. This reduces the traceability of other materials that could hinder the desired properties of the brass. The higher the copper content, the redder the metal is. If there isn’t a specifically high copper content, the copper used is most likely recycled. 

Additional materials 

On occasion, other materials may be added to the brass to enhance specific qualities. These may include lead, tin, iron, and even arsenic. If you need brass that is machinable, lead will aid with this. Small percentages of tin are sometimes added to enhance the corrosion resistance of the brass, but where there is a high zinc content exceeding 20%, arsenic can be added to further amplify the corrosion resistance. Iron can also be added to brass if it needs to be harder. The addition of iron shrinks the internal grain structure, ensuring the metal can be easily moulded and that it can withstand the forging process. 

Brass Properties

Depending on what brass is made of and what the composition of copper, zinc, and other materials is, the properties of brass will change. Overall, it’s a good conductor of heat and electricity. Whilst it’s not quite as good as copper, it’s ideal for plumbing, valves, and electrical sockets. It can also be used in gears and bearings. 

Generally speaking, brass is both stronger and harder than copper on its own, but it’s not comparable to steel which is much harder and stronger. Whilst steel can be added to improve the strength of brass, it doesn’t make it a substitute. 

The benefit of brass not being quite so hard is that it’s easily formed. The malleable properties of the metal make it easy to mould into different shapes, and this is why it’s used across so many industries. From intricate musical instruments, trims on buildings, screws, and firearm cartridge casings to pipes, radiators, tubes and more, brass can be formed into just about anything. 

On top of this, brass is known for having a good level of resistance to salt water corrosion, making it ideal for outdoor use. This is why it’s commonly uses for things like door knockers and ornamental statues. 

One of the more unique properties of brass is that the surface acts like a natural disinfectant. This means when certain bacteria lands on the surface, it dies within hours. This is another reason why brass is commonly used on door handles, light fixtures, and other areas that are frequently touched by lots of people. 

Brass lifespan 

Brass isn’t the most hardwearing metal on the market, but it can be recycled and re-used. It’s common for it to be melted down and reformed, especially in the case of firearm casings. In theory, it can keep going indefinitely, but it does need to be properly cared for. If not, it could undergo a process called dezincification which means the zinc will be lost, leaving behind copper. This can ruin the structural integrity of the metal and result in extensive damage. For this reason, if you’re using brass, you need to make sure it’s properly cared for and coated. 

Buy Brass Online 

Rapid Metals is a leading UK supplier of brass. We provide it many different forms, including tubes and sheets. You can easily place an order online, or you can contact us to learn more about the brass we provide, what it’s made from, and to source bespoke or large quantity orders of brass. 

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