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All About Brass

If you’re looking around your home for valuable scrap metal, steel and aluminium aren’t your only options – you can also recycle alloys like brass. Brass is a very versatile metal, used for conductive purposes, in machinery, as a decorative material and even jewellery. Read on to find out more about this incredibly useful metal.

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What is brass?

Brass is an alloy, which is a combination (solution or compound) of two or more elements, one of which must be a metal. Brass is the alloy of copper and zinc, which allows it to exhibit the positive characteristics of both metals, i.e. brass is a stronger metal than copper, and is considered more visually appealing than zinc. Copper is the main component of brass, accounting for 55% to 95% of its overall weight, while the second main component, zinc, makes up 5% to 40% of the total weight. The more zinc present in brass, the stronger it will be, however it will also be more susceptible to corrosion. Brass can also contain other fortifying metals like lead (which improves machinability), iron (which makes the brass stronger and easier to shape) and arsenic and/or antimony (which help prevent against corrosion in zinc heavy brass. Brass can also contain very small amounts of manganese, silicon, and phosphorus.

When was it first made?

It is believed brass was first (unwittingly) manufactured as early as 3000 B.C., by ancient metal workers who were trying to make bronze (a compound of copper and tin). Because tin and zinc are sometimes present together in the earth’s crust, and have similar properties, the metal workers would not have realised they were making a different compound. By 300 A.D., brass was a large part of the metalworking industry in Western Europe, however it wasn’t until 1746 that zinc was identified as a unique element by a German scientist named Andreas Sigismund Marggraf. The process of combing copper and zinc to make brass was eventually patented in England in 1746.

What is it used for?

Because of its durability and decorative features, brass has a very wide range of uses, both around the home and in industry. Brass is used:

As a conductor

Although brass is only 28% as conductive as copper, it is still used as a conductor of electricity, especially in instances where its durability and resistance to corrosion are of an advantage.

In plumbing

Brass is a favoured material in plumbing due to its corrosion resistant properties. Brass pipes usually contain a larger percentage of copper, and brass containing 85% copper is referred to as red brass.

To make instruments

Because of its compound properties, brass is able to produce a unique sound, making it the perfect material to use in musical instruments. While its parent metal, copper, produces a very dead and flat sound, brass is capable of achieving rich tones, and its malleability combined with its durability has allowed it to be used in the manufacture of trombones, trumpets and French horns for many hundreds of years. The brass section has been a key component of orchestras since 1815.

In ammunition

Metal cartridge casings for firearms were first invented in 1852, and although several different metals were experimented with, brass was the most appropriate metal for the job. The brass compound used to make cartridges is even called cartridge brass, and has a 30% zinc content. The softest type of brass, gilding metal, is also used to make ammunition jackets.

In jewellery

Brass is commonly used to make jewellery as it is able to be highly polished. There is even a variation of brass called Prince’s Metal or Prince Rupert’s metal (named after Prince Rupert of the Rhine) used to imitate gold.

To make coins

One of the first uses for brass was to make coins, and it is still used for this purpose many hundreds of years later. Nickel brass (70% copper, 24.5% zinc and 5.5% nickel) is used to make the British pound sterling coin, and Nordic gold (a brass compound made of 89% copper, 5% aluminium, 5% zinc, and 1% tin) is used to make 10, 20 and 50 cent Euro coins.

There are many more uses for brass, which is a testament to its versatility and durability as a metal. If you have any of these brass items lying around your home unused, it may be worth trading them in for cash. Metal Men Recycling will give you cash for scrap metal, and will turn your old brass into something new.