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Brass is the generic term for a range of copper-zinc alloys with differing combinations of properties, including strength, machinability, ductility, wear-resistance, hardness, colour, antimicrobial, electrical and thermal conductivity, and corrosion-resistance.

Brasses set the standard by which the machinability of other materials is judged and are also available in a very wide variety of product forms and sizes to allow minimum machining to finished dimensions. Brass does not become brittle at low temperatures like mild steel.

Brass also has excellent thermal conductivity making it a first choice for heat exchangers (radiators). Its electrical conductivity ranges from 23 to 44% that of pure copper.

cuprobraze copper-brass radiator

Colours of Brass
Brasses have a range of attractive colours ranging from red to yellow to gold to silver. With the addition of 1% manganese, brass will weather to a chocolate brown colour. Nickel silvers will polish to a brilliant silver colour. Brasses are easy to shape, and with all these colours available it is not surprising that architects and designers have used brasses to enhance the appearance of new and refurbished buildings, both inside and out.

brass door furniture

Brass and Hygiene
Copper and brass are playing a leading role in the fight against hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. It has been shown that these pathogens, which can be spread by touch, will die in a few hours on copper/brass surfaces. This does not happen on stainless steel or plastic.

brass ward door handles

Recycling Brass
The brass industry throughout the world is well organised and equipped to recycle products at the end of their long lives and process scrap (swarf and offcuts). Making brass from new copper and zinc would be uneconomical and wasteful of raw materials so, since new brass articles are made from recycled scrap, brass is said to be sustainable. In the UK brass manufacturers use almost 100% brass scrap.

brass swarf ready to be remelted and turned into new products

The range of copper-nickel-zinc alloys containing 10-20% nickel are known as nickel silvers and can be regarded as special brasses. They have an attractive silvery appearance rather than the typical brassy colour. In most respects they show similar corrosion characteristics to the brasses but the higher nickel versions have superior tarnish resistance and resistance to stress corrosion cracking. They are available in all forms and are used for decorative applications, jewellery, model making, toothbrush anchor wire and pins, musical instruments e.g. 'silver bands', flutes etc, ball point refills, ferrules for woodwinds, bagpipes and fishing rods, test probes and Bourdon springs.

For detailed information on brasses - their properties and applications, please see Pub 117.

Publications and Software

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Pub 117 The Brasses - Properties & Applications web link
Compositions and properties of standard brasses in wrought and cast condition, together with details of BS and European Standards, forms available, fabrication methods and examples of typical applications. 2005. 64pp.

Pub 44 Machining Brass, Copper and its Alloys open pdf
Detailed advice on machining techniques. Guide to choice of speeds and feeds. Comprehensive list of British and European alloys with details of machinability. Advice on the selection of cutting fluids. 1992. 66pp.

Pub 71 The Nickel Silvers open pdf
Copper-nickels are silver/white coloured copper alloys with varying additions of zinc and nickel. This publication gives information on, amongst other topics, mechanical properties, typical applications, joining techniques, heat treatment, fabrication and surface finishing.

Pub 89 Architectural Brass open pdf
Highlights the durable and decorative qualities of brass when used for both internal and external architectural applications. Well illustrated with examples of modern usage. 1991. 8pp.

Pub 103 Hot Stampings in Copper Alloys open pdf
A description of the hot stamping process with advice on design and detailed data on the most commonly used alloys. 1994. 20pp.

Pub 106 Corrosion Resistance of Copper and Copper Alloys open pdf
This large table gives information on the suitability of copper and copper alloys with many different chemicals. Data is given for copper, brass, copper nickel, aluminium bronze and gunmetals at three temperatures: 20oC, 60oC and 100oC . The table shows when specific materials can and cannot be used with the chemicals giving an indication of corrosion resistance. 5pp.

Pub 133 Design in Brass open pdf
Describes briefly the many British Standard wrought and cast brasses available. Gives example case histories of applications and machinability comparisons. 1998. 8pp.

Pub 177 Brass in Focus open pdf
Brasses are versatile and cost-effective materials, ideal for designing complex and long lasting components. Article by Ken Kempson in May/June 2004 issue of Engineering Designer, 2004, 4pp.

TN12 Copper Alloy Spring Materials open pdf
The purpose of this technical note is to set out basic data on the copper alloys used in the form of strip and wire for springs, in order to assist the designer and user to prepare designs of optimum efficiency and economy. 22pp. 1973. Out of print.

TN26 Brasses, Nickel Brass and Nickel Silver - Technical Data web link
These data sheets, prepared by the International Copper Development Council (CIDEC), were originally published 1968 - 1972. They contain an invaluable summary of data relating to the physical and mechanical properties of the materials at low, ambient and elevated temperatures which is not available elsewhere. Tensile, hardness, impact, creep and fatigue data have been abstracted from the relevant original literature.

IS 36 Dezincification Resistant Brass open pdf
Copper and copper alloy tube and fittings are the preferred materials for use in water distribution systems in buildings because of the ease of installation they afford and the reliability of the installed system. In some areas of the UK, however, the presence of otherwise harmless impurities in the potable water makes it aggressive to duplex brass producing a form of attack known as dezincification.

D7 Properties and Availability download software
This disk lists all the brasses and nickel silvers commonly available in Europe together with their compositions and properties. Near equivalents are indicated and the differences are highlighted. Besides the properties normally specified, the disk includes data on long-term properties above and below ambient temperature and in fatigue conditions. 1994.

D9 Component Costing Comparator download software
This interactive program enables engineers and designers to quickly estimate the cost of machined components in brass and other materials and to calculate the savings to be made by machining in brass.

CD3 Design in Brass order printed copy
This CD is an aid to designing cost-effective and recyclable brass components. It contains PowerPoint presentations for practising and undergraduate designers and engineers covering types of brass, production techniques and case studies.

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