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Brass is any alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses, each of which has unique properties[1]. Note that in comparison bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin.[2]. Despite this distinction, some types of brasses are called bronzes. Brass is a substitutional alloy. It is mainly used for decoration, plumbing and electrical applications, and extensively in musical instruments.

A decorative brass paperweight, left, along with zinc and copper samples.
A decorative brass paperweight, left, along with zinc and copper samples.

Brass has a yellow color, somewhat similar to gold. It is relatively resistant to tarnishing, and is often used as decoration and for coins.

Brass has likely been known to humans since prehistoric times, even before zinc itself was discovered. It was produced by melting copper together with calamine, a zinc ore. During this process, the zinc is extracted from the calamine and mixes with the copper. Pure zinc, on the other hand, is too reactive to have been produced by ancient metalworking techniques. The many references to 'brass' appearing throughout the King James Bible are thought to signify another bronze alloy, or copper, rather than the strict modern definition of 'brass'[3].


[edit] Properties

The malleability and acoustic properties of brass have made it the metal of choice for brass musical instruments such as the trombone, tuba, trumpet and euphonium, as well as the French Horn. Even though the saxophone is classified as a woodwind instrument and the harmonica is a free reed aerophone, both are also often made from brass. In organ pipes designed as "reed" pipes, brass strips are used as the "reed".

Brass has higher malleability than copper or zinc. The relatively low melting point (900–940 °C depending on composition) of brass and its flow characteristics make it a relatively easy material to cast. By varying the proportions of copper and zinc, the properties of the brass can be changed, allowing hard and soft brasses.

Today almost 90% of all brass alloys are recycled. Brass scrap is collected and transported to the foundry where it is melted and recast into billets. Billets are later heated up and extruded into the right form and size.

Aluminum makes brass stronger and more corrosion resistant. Aluminum also causes a highly beneficial hard layer of aluminium oxide (Al2O3) to be formed on the surface that is thin, transparent and self healing. Tin has a similar effect and finds its use especially in sea water applications (naval brasses). Combinations of iron, aluminum, silicon and manganese make brass wear and tear resistant. A well known alloy used in the automotive industry is 'LDM C673', where the right combination of manganese and silicon lead to a strong and resistant brass.

The so called dezincification resistant (DZR) brasses, like alloy 'LDM G563' (known for its brand name 'Enkotal'), are used where there is a large corrosion risk and where normal brasses do not meet the standards. Applications with high water temperatures, chlorides present or deviating water qualities (soft water) play a role. DZR-brass is excellent in water boiler systems. This brass alloy must be produced with great care, with special attention placed on a balanced composition and proper production temperatures and parameters to avoid long-term failures. Drunen, Netherlands, has the only active production facility which makes these high grade brass alloys.

Brass was used to make fan blades, fan cages and motor bearings in many antique fans that date before the 1930s. Brass can be used for cryogenic containers.[citation needed]

[edit] Brass types

  • Admiralty brass contains 30% zinc and 1% tin which inhibits dezincification in most environments.
  • Alpha brasses (Prince's metal), with less than 35% zinc, are malleable, can be worked cold, and are used in pressing, forging, or similar. They contain only one phase, with face-centered cubic crystal structure.
  • Alpha-beta brass (Muntz metal), also called duplex brass, is 35-45 % zinc and is suited for hot working. It contains both α and β' phase; the β'-phase is body-centered cubic and is harder and stronger than α. Alpha-beta brasses are usually worked hot.
  • Aluminum brass contains aluminum, which improves its corrosion resistance.
  • Arsenical brass contains an addition of arsenic and frequently aluminium and is used for boiler fireboxes.
  • Beta brasses, with 45-50 % zinc content, can only be worked hot, and are harder, stronger, and suitable for casting.
  • Cartridge brass is a 30% zinc brass with good cold working properties.
  • Common brass, or rivet brass, is a 37% zinc brass, cheap and standard for cold working.
  • DZR brass is Dezincification resistant Brass with a small percentage of Arsenic.
  • High brass, contains 65% copper and 35% zinc, has a high tensile strength and is used for springs, screws, rivets.
  • Leaded brass is an alpha-beta brass with an addition of lead. It has excellent machinability.
  • Low brass is a copper-zinc alloy containing 20% zinc with a light golden color, excellent ductility and is used for flexible metal hoses and metal bellows.
  • Naval brass, similar to admiralty brass, is a 40% zinc brass and 1% tin.
  • Red brass is an American term for CuZnSn alloy known as gunmetal.
  • White brass contains more than 50 % zinc and is too brittle for general use.
  • Yellow brass is an American term for 33% zinc brass.
  • Gilding Metal is the softest type of brass commonly available. It is an alloy of 95% copper and 5% zinc and is typically used for ammunition components.

[edit] See also

  • Calamine brass — brass alloy and manufacturing process from discovery until the late 18th century
  • Gilding Metal; the softest form of brass commonly available
  • Corinthian brass — an alloy of gold, silver and copper, known to antiquity
  • Pinchbeck — a brass that closely resembles gold in appearance.
  • Bronze — an alloy of copper with tin and optionally zinc, silicon, nickel and other metals
  • Cupronickel — an alloy of copper with nickel
  • Tombac — an alloy of copper with zinc
  • Brass instrument — a musical instrument usually made of brass
  • Brass rubbing — reproduction of brasses, commemorative plates laid down in British and European churches from the 13th Century onwards
  • Brass bed — history of the usage of brass in beds and bedframes

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. ^ Engineering Designer, v 30, n 3, May-June 2004, 6-9
  2. ^ Machinery Handbook, Industrial Press Inc, New York, Edition 24, page 501
  3. ^ Cruden's Complete Concordance p. 55