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Featured metal – Brass facts from expert brass suppliers

What, exactly, is brass? What’s it made of, how does it behave under various circumstances, how’s it used and what for? Here are some brass facts for you, fresh from your metal supplies experts. If we can help you with brass supplies or insight into the metal, we’ll look forward to hearing from you. 

What is brass?

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. The amount of each metal used to make brass determines its mechanical, electrical, and chemical properties. Most contemporary brass contains 67% copper and 33% zinc, but the copper element can be as low as 55% and as high as 95% by weight. The zinc content varies from 5% to 45%. 

Adding a small amount of tin makes brass both harder and stronger. Lead plays a vital part in the story of brass, too. Most modern brass contains about 3% lead, added to boost the metal’s machinability by making it softer. And arsenic plays a part in the brass story, added to make the final alloy more stable in some environments.  

What is brass used for? 

As popular brass hexagon bar suppliers UK, brass square bar suppliers, brass flat bar suppliers and brass round bar suppliers UK, we know our brass. So what do people like you and businesses like yours use it for? 

Thanks to its excellent acoustic properties and malleability, brass is used to make a variety of wind instruments including trumpets, trombones and flutes. It’s used to cast cartridges for weapons, to make radiators, for pipes and tubing, marine engines, pump parts, clock and watch parts, electrical terminals, in shipping, and to make screws. It’s also used to create decorative items and artworks. 

What are the properties of brass? 

Brass is beautiful, a relatively soft metal with a pale golden finish. Add a higher than average percentage of copper and it turns reddish, not unlike rose gold. Adding more zinc makes the metal turn silvery. 

Brass is very malleable, formed into shapes and extruded without losing its strength and more malleable than bronze or zinc. It’s a low-friction metal and a good conductor of heat, and comes with a low melting point. It is great at resisting corrosion, including highly-corroding salt water. And it isn’t magnetic so if a magnet sticks to it, it’ll be brass plated rather than solid brass.  

The metal is nice and easy to cast, which is why so many sculptors and artists love it. Ernst Fuchs, the Austrian artist and founder of the Vienna school of fantastic realism, worked in brass, as did the English surrealist painter, sculptor and writer Leonora Carrington. And Trench Art, made by soldiers during both world wars, was made using brass shell casings, bullet casings and brass shrapnel.  

Examples of types of brass 

360 brass is also called free machining brass, containing quite a lot of lead to make it easy to shape and cut, great for making bars. The brass most used in sea conditions, called Naval brass, is also called 464 brass. 

Red brass, containing around 88% copper and as much as 4% tin, is particularly strong. Cartridge brass, also called 260 brass or yellow brass, is mostly sold as sheets and is great for making weapon shell casings. 330 brass is particularly workable and easy to machine, ideal for making tubes and pipes.

Brass in the English language 

The nation’s long relationship with brass is clearly revealed by the English language. Are you brassic? Hopefully not, since in some parts of the UK brassic means broke, in the same way as brass means money: where there’s muck, there’s brass.  In Old English the Latin word ‘aes’, which means bronze, was transformed into ‘brass’ over time, which is why ‘brass’ means money to this day, especially up north. 

Brass instruments get their name simply through being made from brass. And how about the temperature? Is the weather as cold as brass monkeys?  The phrase was first recorded as being cold enough to ‘freeze the tail off a brass monkey’, and while its origin is shrouded in mystery it could simply be a fun reference to the fact that outdoors, brass items become very cold to the touch in chilly weather. ‘Top brass’ describes military bosses, originating with the older phrase ‘the brass hats’, which in turn came about thanks to the shiny metal insignia on an officer’s hat.  

What brass alloys do we sell?

As metal suppliers to industry and individuals, we sell brass flat bar cz121, brass round bar cz121 (CW614N), brass hexagon bar en 12165, brass square bar en12165 UK and more: 

If you’re not certain which alloy you need, we’re always happy to help. 

Please complete the enquiry form located on this page, call +44 (0) 330 223 2653 or email us to discover how Metalex could be supplying you with premium metal products and professional metal processing services.

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