of brass and copper goods and accessories.
Includes product details
and brief specifications
Brass is a metal composed primarily of
copper and zinc. Copper is the main component, and brass
is usually classified as a copper alloy. The color of
brass varies from a dark reddish brown to a light silvery
yellow depending on the amount of zinc present; the more
zinc, the lighter the color. Brass is stronger and harder
than copper, but not as strong or hard as steel. It is
easy to form into various shapes, a good conductor of
heat, and generally resistant to corrosion from salt water.
Because of these properties, brass is used to make pipes
and tubes, weather-stripping and other architectural trim
pieces, screws, radiators, musical instruments, and cartridge
casings for firearms.
Ancient metalworkers in the area now known
as Syria or eastern Turkey knew how to melt copper with
tin to make a metal called bronze as early as 3000 B.C.
Sometimes they also made brass without knowing it, because
tin and zinc ore deposits are sometimes found together,
and the two materials have similar colors and properties.
By about 20 B.C.-A.D. 20,
metalworkers around the Mediterranean Sea were able to
distinguish zinc ores from those containing tin and began
blending zinc with copper to make brass coins and other
items. Most of the zinc was derived by heating a mineral
known as calamine, which contains various zinc compounds.
Starting in about 300 A.D., the brass metalworking industry
flourished in what is now Germany and The Netherlands.
Although these early metalworkers could
recognize the difference between zinc ore and tin ore,
they still didn't understand that zinc was a metal. It
wasn't until 1746 that a German scientist named Andreas
Sigismund Marggraf (1709-1782) identified zinc and determined
its properties. The process for combining metallic copper
and zinc to make brass was patented in England in 1781.
The first metal cartridge casings for
firearms were introduced in 1852. Although several different
metals were tried, brass was the most successful because
of it's ability to expand and seal the breech under pressure
when the cartridge was first fired, then contract immediately
to allow the empty cartridge casing to be extracted from
the firearm. This property led to the development of rapid-fire
The main component of brass is copper.
The amount of copper varies between 55% and 95% by weight
depending on the type of brass and its intended use. Brasses
containing a high percentage of copper are made from electrically
refined copper that is at least 99.3% pure to minimize
the amount of other materials. Brasses containing a lower
percentage of copper can also be made from electrically
refined copper, but are more commonly made from less-expensive
recycled copper alloy scrap. When recycled scrap is used,
the percentages of copper and other materials in the scrap
must be known so that the manufacturer can adjust the
amounts of materials to be added in order to achieve the
desired brass composition.
The second component of brass is zinc.
The amount of zinc varies between 5% and 40% by weight
depending on the type of brass.
A diagram depiding
typical manufacturing steps in 6rass production. Brasses
with a higher percentages of zinc are stronger and harder,
but they are also more difficult to form and have less
corrosion resistance. The zinc used to make brass is
a commercial grade sometimes known as spelter.
Some brasses also contain small percentages
of other materials to improve certain characteristics.
Up to 3.8% by weight of lead may be added to improve machinability.
The addition of tin improves corrosion resistance. Iron
makes the brass harder and makes the internal grain structure
smaller so that the metal can be shaped by repeated impacts
in a process called forging. Arsenic and antimony are
sometimes added to brasses that contain more than 20%
zinc in order to inhibit corrosion. Other materials that
may be used in very small amounts are manganese, silicon,
The traditional names for various types
of brass usually reflected either the color of the material
or the intended use. For example, red brass contained
15% zinc and had a reddish color, while yellow brass contained
35% zinc and had a yellowish color. Cartridge brass contained
30% zinc and was used to make cartridges for firearms.
Naval brasses had up to 39.7% zinc and were used in various
applications on ships.
Unfortunately, scattered among the traditional
brass names were a number of misnomers. Brass with 10%
zinc was called commercial bronze, even though it did
not contain any tin and was not a bronze. Brass with 40%
zinc and 3.8% lead was called architectural bronze, even
though it was actually a leaded brass.
As a result of these sometimes confusing
names, brasses in the United States are now designated
by the Unified Numbering System for metals and alloys.
This system uses a letter—in this case the letter "C"
for copper, because brass is a copper alloy—followed by
five digits. Brasses whose chemical composition makes
them suitable for being formed into the final product
by mechanical methods, such as rolling or forging, are
called wrought brasses, and the first digit of their designation
is I through 7. Brasses whose chemical composition makes
them suitable for being formed into the final product
by pouring molten metal into a mold are called cast brasses,
and the first digit of their designation is 8 or 9.
The Manufacturing Process
The manufacturing process used to produce
brass involves combining the appropriate raw materials
into a molten metal, which is allowed to solidify. The
shape and properties of the solidified metal are then
altered through a series of carefully controlled operations
to produce the desired brass stock.
Brass stock is available in a variety
of forms including plate, sheet, strip, foil, rod, bar,
wire, and billet depending on the final application. For
example, brass screws are cut from lengths of rod. The
zigzag fins used in some vehicle radiators are bent from
strip. Pipes and tubes are formed by extruding, or squeezing
rectangular billets of hot brass through a shaped opening,
called a die, to form long, hollow cylinders.
The differences between plate, sheet,
strip, and foil are the overall size and thickness of
the materials. Plate is a large, flat, rectangular piece
of brass with a thickness greater than about 0.2 in. (5
mm)—like a piece of plywood used in building construction.
Sheet usually has the same overall size as plate, but
is thinner. Strip is made from sheet that has been cut
into long, narrow pieces. Foil is like strip, only much
thinner. Some brass foil can be as thin as 0.0005 in (0.013
The actual manufacturing process depends
on the desired shape and properties of the brass stock,
as well as the particular machinery and practices used
in different brass plants. Here is a typical manufacturing
process used to produce brass sheet and strip.
1 The appropriate amount
of suitable copper alloy scrap is weighed and transferred
into an electric furnace where it is melted at about 1,920°F
(1,050°C). After adjusting for the amount of zinc in the
scrap alloy, an appropriate amount of zinc is added after
the copper melts. A small amount of additional zinc, about
50% of the total zinc required, may be added to compensate
for any zinc that vaporizes during the melting operation.
If any other materials are required for the particular brass
formulation, they are also added if they were not present
in the copper scrap. 2 The molten metal is poured into molds
about 8 in x 18 in x 10 ft (20 cm x 46 cm x 3 m) and allowed
to solidify into slabs called cakes. In some operations,
the melting and pouring are done semi-continuously to produce
very long slabs.
3 When the cakes are cool
enough to be moved, they are dumped out of the molds and
moved to the rolling area where they are stored.
4 The cakes are placed
in a furnace and are reheated until they reach the desired
temperature. The temperature depends on the final shape
and properties of the brass stock. 5 The heated cakes are
then fed through a series of opposing steel rollers which
reduce the thickness of the brass step-by-step to about
0.5 in (13 mm) or less. At the same time, the width of the
brass increases. This process is sometimes called breakdown
rolling.6 The brass, which is now much cooler, passes through
a milling machine called a scalper. This machine cuts a
thin layer off the outer faces of the brass to remove any
oxides which may have formed on the surfaces as a result
of the hot metal's exposure to the air.
Annealing and cold rolling
7 As the brass is hot
rolled it gets harder and more difficult to work. It also
loses its ductility, or ability to be stretched further.
Before the brass can be rolled further, it must first be
heated to relieve some of its hardness and make it more
ductile. This process is called annealing. The annealing
temperatures and times vary according to the brass composition
and desired properties. Larger pieces of hot-rolled brass
may be placed in a sealed furnace and annealed together
in a batch. Smaller pieces may be placed on a metal belt
conveyor and fed continuously through a furnace with airtight
seals at each end. In either method, the atmosphere inside
the furnace is filled with a neutral gas like nitrogen to
prevent the brass from reacting with oxygen and forming
undesirable oxides on its surface.
8 The annealed pieces
of brass are then fed through another series of rollers
to further reduce their thickness to about 0.1 in (2.5 mm).
This process is called cold rolling because the temperature
of the brass is much lower than the temperature during hot
rolling. Cold rolling deforms the internal structure of
the brass, or grain, and increases its strength and hardness.
The more the thickness is reduced, the stronger and harder
the material becomes. The cold-rolling mills are designed
to minimize deflection across the width of the rollers in
order to produce brass sheets with near-uniform thickness.9
Steps 7 and 8 may be repeated many times to achieve the
desired thickness, strength, and degree of hardness. In
some plants, the pieces of brass are connected together
into one long, continuous sheet and are fed through a series
of annealing furnaces and rolling mills arranged in a vertical
serpentine pattern. 10 At this point, the wide sheets may
be slit into narrower sections to produce brass strip. The
strip may then be given an acid bath and rinse to clean
11 The sheets may be given
a final cold rolling to tighten the tolerances on the thickness
or to produce a very smooth surface finish. They are then
cut to size, stacked or coiled depending on their thickness
and intended use, and sent to the ware-house for distribution.
12 The strip may also
be given a final finish rolling before it is cut to length,
coiled, and sent to the warehouse.
During production, brass is subject to
constant evaluation and control of the materials and processes
used to form specific brass stock. The chemical compositions
of the raw materials are checked and adjusted before melting.
The heating and cooling times and temperatures are specified
and monitored. The thickness of the sheet and strip are
measured at each step. Finally, samples of the finished
product are tested for hardness, strength, dimensions,
and other factors to ensure they meet the required specifications.
Brass has a combination of strength, corrosion
resistance, and formability that will continue to make
it a useful material for many applications in the foreseeable
future. Brass also has an advantage over other materials
in that most products made from brass are recycled or
reused, rather than being discarded in a landfill, which
will help ensure a continued supply for many years.
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