Differences in Brass & Copper

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Building materials vary based on the desired properties. Builders use both copper and brass as building materials, but each exhibits subtle differences. Brass is a copper alloy mixed with zinc. Copper is a metal that is used widely in electronics and construction. Since copper is an element, it can be found in nature. Brass is not found in nature and is instead made from mixing copper with other metals.

Copper

  • The periodic table of elements is organized in such a way that those in the same column will share similar characteristics. Gold, silver and copper all share characteristics, such as softness and a metallic luster. Copper is known as a transitional metal, which has different ionic states. Cuprous copper has a +1 ionic charge and cupric copper has a +2 ionic charge. This metal is malleable -- similar to silver and gold. Copper is also known for its ductile property, this allows the metal to be drawn out into a very thin wire.

Brass

  • Brass is an alloy, or mixture, of copper and zinc. Other metals are also used to change some of the properties of the brass, such as nickel and manganese. Common applications are in building, manufacturing and engineering. The colors range from red to yellow, gold to silver. There is not a single brass alloy; instead there are many different formulations, depending on the final application. Brasses are used commonly to make decorative pieces, brass instruments and countertop surfaces.

Property Differences

  • One notable difference between pure copper and brass is the difference in color. Copper has a very distinct orange color; brass can come in a variety of colors, depending on the content of different metals. Copper is well known for its electrical conductivity, brass is about 23 to 44 percent that of copper in this regard. Brasses also conduct heat transfer slightly less than pure copper. Copper is mostly used in electrical applications, while brass is most commonly found in household items instead. Due to the contaminants of zinc found in brass, it is harder to mold than copper.

Similar Properties

  • Brasses are manufactured from copper, as such, they both share a few properties. One unique property is that copper and brass can be used to help kill bacteria. According to the Copper Development Association, research has shown that MRSA and clostridium difficile can be spread through touching contaminated objects. Copper and brasses can kill bacteria over the course of few a hours. Another similarity is in their use for making musical instruments. Copper can produce lower tones, brass brings out higher pitched tones. Large timpani drums are typically made of copper, while trumpets are made of brass. Even though they resonate at different pitches, both are soothing for producing music.

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