Brass vs Copper 101: A Closer Look Into Medieval Metals

brass vs copper 101

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Brass and copper hold a venerable place in human history as two of the oldest and most vital metals. With roots tracing back 11000 years ago in what is now modern-day Iraq, their significance transcends cultures and civilizations. Copper, cherished for its malleability and excellent conductivity, played a pivotal role in shaping the ancient world. From early tools and utensils to architectural elements, copper’s versatility fostered technological advancements and artistic expression. Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, revolutionized craftsmanship with its enhanced malleability and thermal conductivity. This alloy’s emergence marked a transformative era, catalyzing the shift from Stone Age tools to sophisticated implements, weapons, and sculptures. 

We continue to use brass and copper in great quantities to this day, in both their ancient and modern applications. Let’s break down exactly why these two precious metals are so important and where their properties are most often used and celebrated.

What Are the Main Differences Between Brass and Copper?

Brass and copper are distinct alloys, each possessing unique characteristics and applications. Brass is composed of copper and zinc, whereas our copper is 99.99% pure metal. This fundamental compositional difference results in distinct physical and chemical properties. Brass tends to have a brighter, more gold-like appearance due to its zinc content, while copper has a reddish-brown hue. In terms of applications, brass is often utilized for decorative purposes due to its aesthetic appeal and malleability, making it suitable for items like musical instruments, jewelry, and ornamental fittings. On the other hand, copper’s exceptional electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance make it an essential material for electrical wiring, plumbing, and industrial applications. Copper’s antimicrobial properties also contribute to its use in healthcare settings. Overall, while both brass and copper share a rich history and valuable properties, their differences in composition and characteristics lead to diverse uses in various industries.

Let’s break down the core differences between brass and copper.

Brass vs Copper Alloying Metals

Most commercially available copper is at least 99% copper, which means there are no distinguishable alloying materials found anywhere in the metal. Here at SendCutSend, our C110 half-hard copper is electrolytic, meaning it’s actually over 99.99% pure copper. This is the highest quality, purest copper commercially available. 

Brass has a variety of alloying elements to increase its strength and conductivity, with the primary elements being copper and zinc. You may also find trace elements of iron, lead, manganese, and aluminum in some brass alloys. 

Brass vs Copper Conductivity 

Copper is the yardstick by which we measure other metal’s conductivity rating. This means that copper is considered to have 100% electrical conductivity. Using standard measurements, copper has a conductivity rating of 58 milliSiemens per meter (mS/m).

Brass is significantly less conductive than copper, with a rating of about 16 mS/m. This is due to the zinc found in most brass alloys. Zinc has one of the lower conductive ratings found in metals, so it lowers the overall conductivity of the brass by a significant margin.

Brass vs Copper Strength

Copper has only relatively moderate strength. With a tensile strength of around 210 megapascals (MPa), copper demonstrates a balanced combination of ductility and malleability. Copper’s strength, while not exceptional, is augmented by its impressive corrosion resistance, which further enhances its suitability for various environments.

The tensile strength of brass varies widely based on the proportion of copper and zinc, typically spanning a range of 300 to 800 MPa. Brass’s strength advantage, compared to pure copper, makes it a preferred choice for applications where increased structural integrity is crucial.

Brass vs Copper Applications 

Copper is most often used in electrical applications or industries where conductivity is of the highest importance, as it’s second only to silver in its electrical conductivity. It’s found most often in wiring, battery busbars, plumbing, and electroplating.

Brass is more often used in aesthetic applications for its malleability and similar look to copper. Brass is also the more affordable option, making it a first choice for projects where aesthetics are more important than mechanical properties. This material isn’t only found in jewelry and appliances, however. Thanks to ductility and malleability, brass is also a great option for automotive fittings, home repair fixtures, and musical instruments.

Brass vs Copper Material Properties 

Material properties can tell us a lot about the boundaries and abilities of each individual metal. Be sure to check out our article on understanding material properties so you can get the best information out of tables like the one shown here.

Material PropertyBrassCopper
Tensile Strength300-500 MPa210 MPa
Hardness37-155 MPa89 MPa
DuctilityGoodExcellent
Elastic Modulus14100 ksi16000 ksi
Yield Strength18000 – 45000 psi4830 psi
Melting Point1710°F1,984°F
Corrosion ResistanceGoodExcellent
Electrical Conductivity16 mS/m58 mS/m

What Are the Benefits of Brass vs. Copper?

We’ve compared some of the commonalities between brass and copper, but although these two metals are often lumped together, they have hugely different benefits that can impact your project depending on which one you choose. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of brass and copper.

Brass Benefits 

Durability

Whether it’s being used in mechanical and plumbing applications or jewelry and home fixtures, brass has to be able to stand the test of time. Brass inherits most of its durability from the zinc, iron, and aluminum often found in its composition, allowing it to withstand constant wear and tear and maintain its signature gold-like appearance.

Antibacterial Properties

Thanks to the trace amounts of copper found in all brass alloys, brass is inherently antibacterial. Copper is toxic to many harmful microorganisms, making brass surfaces an inhospitable environment to dangerous bacteria and viruses. Brass is often used in healthcare equipment and other similar applications where utensils and surfaces are being handled and potentially transmitting viruses, contributing to a safer and cleaner environment.

Aesthetics

It’s no secret that brass is a beautiful, affordable metal option for aesthetic projects. Its gold-like luster and malleability contribute to its thousands of applications in the jewelry and fashion industries. As brass begins to wear, it may lose some of its shine but it maintains a gorgeous color and takes on an antiqued patina which only adds to its character.

Copper Benefits 

High Thermal and Electrical Conductivity

Copper has a high melting point, so it can withstand extreme temperatures and its thermal conductivity allows it to experience rapid changes in temperature without compromising its mechanical integrity. Copper’s electrical conductivity is second only to silver, making it perfectly suited to use in electrical components and systems. 

Good Machinability

Copper is soft and malleable, making it easy to machine and form without experience work hardening or stress. We use high-powered lasers here at SendCutSend to laser cut your copper, and because of its thermal conductivity, it experiences none of the structural changes from the heat of the laser that some other metals do. 

High Corrosion Resistance 

Copper boasts exceptional corrosion resistance, making it a formidable contender in the battle against degradation. When copper does begin to experience corrosion, it takes on a gorgeous aquamarine green patina which protects the underlying material from further exposure and gives your decorative projects an effortless antiqued appearance.

Recyclability

Copper is one of the most recycled metals in the world. From old pipes and fittings to traded-in cell phone components, copper can be melted down and reformed dozens of times without compromising its structural integrity. Because it retains all its properties even through reforming and reuse, copper can be recycled and resold at almost the same cost as when it is bought new.

Which One Should You Choose?

As we’ve seen, copper and brass boast a wide range of desirable characteristics and mechanical properties, making them suitable for the products already mentioned plus a host of others. These include electrical connectors, marine components, heat exchangers, and signage and architectural parts. Which material you choose depends entirely on the needs of your individual project. If you’re looking for electrical conductivity, ductility, and corrosion resistance, copper is probably the metal for you. But if your project requires strength, durability, or is purely aesthetic, brass is most likely the better option. 

Regardless of which metal you choose, you can trust that we will machine and form it with care and to your exact specifications. Once you’ve designed your brass or copper part, all you have to do is upload it to our website and get an instant pricing! Just make sure your parts fit within our guidelines and material min/max charts first. 

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We proudly use hardware by PEM

Flush Standoff, 4-40, .250" Zinc plus Clear Chromate

Aluminum: 5052, 6061, 7075 Steel: Mild, G30

SKUSO-440-8
Thread Size4-40 x .250″
Hole size in sheet (+0.003/-.0.000).168″
Minimum sheet thickness0.040″
Maximum sheet thickness.125″
Fastener materialSteel
Minimum distance hole C/L to edge0.230″
When determining the distance between two or more fasteners, you can calculate the distance by the formula, C/L to edge + 1/2 the diameter of the second mounting hole..345″
Recommended panel materialSteel/Aluminum
Coating typeZinc
Length.250″
Aluminum material ranges (5052, 6061, 7075)0.040″-0.125″
Steel material ranges (CRS, HRPO, HR)0.048″-0.119″

We proudly use hardware by PEM

Flush Standoff, 4-40, .250" Passivated

Stainless Steel: 304, 316

SKUSO4-440-8
Thread Size440
Hole size in sheet (+0.003/-.0.000).166″
Minimum sheet thickness0.04″
Maximum sheet thickness.125″
Fastener material400 Stainless Steel
Minimum distance hole C/L to edge0.230″
When determining the distance between two or more fasteners, you can calculate the distance by the formula, C/L to edge + 1/2 the diameter of the second mounting hole. Example shown with x2 of the same hardware..313″
Recommended panel materialStainless Steel
Coating typePassivated
Length.250″
304 Stainless Steel material ranges0.048″-0.125″
316 Stainless Steel material ranges0.060″-0.125″