What is Brass made of?
Brass is an alloy of Copper and Zinc. This bright metal is one of the most widely used alloys across industries. The proportions of Zinc and Copper within Brass can be varied in order to create a range of Brass with differing properties. For this reason, its properties are not universal, however, all varieties have excellent machinability, are ductile, corrosion resistant and have high electrical conductivity. Variations of Brass with lower Zinc content are known to be more ductile and variations with higher Zinc content are harder and stronger.
What are the qualities of Brass?
Aesthetically, Brass is well known for its formability and decorative attributes, in particular, its distinctive bright gold appearance. More technically, the soft, malleable metal can be easily machined, drilled, sawed and punched. It is a low–friction material, making it valuable in applications where smooth, frequent movement is needed, such as in locks, gears, bearings etc. Brass is highly durable and tarnish-resistant and some varieties may also contain Tin and Aluminium to further improve resistance and strength, especially for applications where the material will be used close to seawater.
The malleability of the material depends greatly on its Zinc content; varieties which contain more than 45 percent are not considered workable, either in hot or cold state. Malleable varieties on the other hand can be further classified into those which can be worked while cold and those which require hot working.
Another significant quality of Brass, owed to the presence of Copper in the alloy, is its antimicrobial nature. The surfaces of Copper and its alloys have the inherent ability to kill a wide range of harmful microbes relatively rapidly, often within two hours or less, with a high degree of efficiency. This antimicrobial quality makes the material sought after for high-traffic touch surfaces in locations such as hospitals, schools and other public facilities.
Brass textures and finishes
The material’s malleable nature allows it to be machined to create varied textures, forms and surface patterns. Its colouring and treatment can also be varied to generate a wide array of effects and hues, ranging from light gold, to almost red, to a dark patinaed appearance. The metal can be brushed, polished and burnished, as well as aged and weathered to appear more antique. Depending on its treatment, the metal may continue to age or develop its patina or retain a more lustrous appearance.
What is Brass used for?
Its durability and low-friction nature have made it ideal for mechanical applications ranging from bearings, gears and valves, to ammunition casings and tools. Brass has also been used in technical instruments for centuries, especially in measuring instruments, such as compasses, barometers, chronometers, clocks and watches. Due to its hardness and corrosion resistance, even in the presence of salt water, Brass has been used for centuries in marine hardware, such as engineering tanks and pumps, as well as navigational tools.
Another important application is electronic components. The malleable, non-magnetic nature of Brass and its cost, which is less than gold and silver, makes it an excellent choice for electrical panel board switches and relays, alongside sockets and terminal blocks.
A well-known application is in musical instruments, where its durability, workability, corrosion resistance and its acoustic properties make it an excellent and economical choice, ranging from trumpets, tubas and trombones, to bells and gongs. Due to its visual appeal, durability and also antibacterial nature, it’s also used for architectural fittings and accessories, ranging from doorknobs to lamps.
Brass in Art and Design
As a timeless material, Brass continues to be used by artists, designers and architects alike. It has been used in applications ranging from wall art, cast sculptures and figurines, to jewellery, interior accessories and lighting, alongside larger architectural elements such as screens, meshes, ceiling frameworks, railings and balustrades.
From a grand staircase to a small, accent touch, such as a handle or doorknob, the material can be made as bold or as subtle as creatives like. It is also easily paired with other materials, textures and colours, complementing and adapting to changing surroundings. Both durable and stylish, the material has been used in both indoor and outdoor applications and even more challenging environments such as bathrooms.
Artists today are also drawn to the fact that Brass can be recycled an infinite number of times, which has significant environmental and economic advantages and allows formerly functional Brass objects to be recycled or live on in art and design works. While the elegant material does not rust in its pure state, it can also be treated to oxidize or tarnish over time, giving it a distinct weathered look if so desired. Finally, casting art involves using molten metals that are poured into a mould, a process that allows artists to create a range of complex decorations, statues, jewellery and other pieces. Brass and Bronze are the two most common alloys used for such a process.