What is Copper?
Copper is a ductile, malleable, reddish-orange metal known for its high electrical and thermal conductivity. It exists naturally in the environment and is a native metal – which means that it is one of the few metals which can occur in nature in a directly usable metallic form.
Its native status led to the very early human use of Copper, from as early as 8000 BC. It was also the first metal to be cast into a shape in a mold, the first metal to be alloyed with another metal and was a traditional coinage metal (along with gold and silver).
Today it remains the key ingredient for highly used alloys, such as Brass, Bronze and Aluminum Bronze, as well as a widely used metal in its original form.
Properties of Copper
Copper is an effective conductor of electricity and heat; it is the ideal metal for electrical wiring – one of its most commonly known and widespread commercial uses. Copper also resists corrosion, which allows for outdoor uses that require resiliency. It is also soft and malleable and has high thermal and electrical conductivity, meaning it is easy to melt.
The natural colour palette of the material changes over time when exposed to the elements, turning from a reflective reddish orange hue, to more matte rich browns and finally to a vivid green patina that is signature to ‘vintage’ Copper. This colour change, or patination, can be advanced and controlled, therefore held at any of these stages using certain treatments and techniques. More decorative effects and a wide range of textures can also be created with the application of different chemical recipes.
It is an easily molded base metal that is often added to other precious metals to improve their elasticity, flexibility, hardness, colour and resistance to corrosion. Copper allows for complex shapes and textures to be created.
The material’s natural antibacterial and antiviral properties of Copper and its alloys are also highly sought after. The ions in Copper are able to kill over 99.9% of bacteria within two hours. It is even more effective than Silver, which requires moisture to activate its antimicrobial properties. It is, however, expensive and harder to clean constantly without causing corrosion, which has so far prevented the large-scale use of copper in medical facilities.
Melting point of Copper
It does have a relatively high melting point of 1,083 degrees Celsius (1,982 oF), but with the right equipment, it can be melted at home. For small amounts of the material, an induction furnace may not be needed, instead, makers often use blowtorches or stovetop methods however, great care should be taken if attempting to melt Copper.
Uses of Copper
Copper’s abundance of properties see it used in a wide range of applications, from electrical equipment to architectural and infrastructural uses. As a result of its exceptional electrical conductivity, Copper’s most common use is in electrical equipment for wiring and motors. On the other hand, its resistance to corrosion has paved the way for a number of architectural and infrastructural applications such as roofing, facade cladding, guttering, window frames and rain-spouts on buildings. Here, Copper plays both a functional and aesthetic role. It is also used extensively in plumbing, heating equipment, cookware and cooking utensils.
Copper is also used in renewable energy systems to generate power from solar, hydro, thermal and wind energy sources around the world. In this way, it plays a significant role in making renewable energy sources as efficient as possible, with low impact to the environment.
Copper and its alloys, such as Brass and Bronze, are frequently used extensively in historic and modern architecture, art and design. Additionally, the material is infused with textiles and fabrics. Copper infused fabrics have been used in medical applications such as hospital linens, medical gowns, socks, towels and now even reusable face masks.
Copper in Art and Design
As for its design applications – from furniture design and lighting, to jewellery, homeware and design products – its ease of fabrication with Copper is also a significant motivation for its widespread use in art and design.
Copper and its alloys are capable of being shaped to diverse forms and dimensions by many common fabricating processes. They can be rolled, stamped, forged, extruded, drawn and headed cold. They are also readily assembled by various mechanical and bonding processes. Punched or perforated forms of the metal are being used widely in interior design and architecture.
Copper has also contributed to art and painting throughout history. While Copper-based pigments were used to create ancient paints, the metal itself was often employed as a smooth and durable “canvas” on which artists painted. It was also used as an engraving plate for etchings and prints by master artists. Since the material was smooth, and had no “tooth” to its surface, it allowed artists to use a liquid brush and create marvelous effects. Many such artworks have survived in excellent condition due to the durability of the material. Modern day artists continue to use Copper sheets as their canvas too, as it is malleable and pigment bonds well to it.
The fact that the material is constantly changing – through its colour changing via oxidation or the scratches, dents or other effects of its use, only add to its character, which is often a draw for artists and designers. Its overall resiliency, coupled with an inherent uniqueness in each and every deployment, made it the perfect choice for ‘mass-produced’ yet luxurious and sought-after designs.