Brass astrolabe
Brass lectern with an eagle. Attributed to Aert van Tricht, Limburg (Netherlands), c. 1500

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, in proportions which can be varied to achieve varying mechanical and electrical properties.[1] It is a substitutional alloy: atoms of the two constituents may replace each other within the same crystal structure.

Brass is similar to bronze, another alloy containing copper that uses tin in place of zinc;[2] both bronze and brass may include small proportions of a range of other elements including arsenic, lead, phosphorus, aluminum, manganese, and silicon. The distinction between the two alloys is largely historical,[3] and modern practice in museums and archaeology increasingly avoids both terms for historical objects in favor of the more general "copper alloy".[4]

Brass has long been a popular material for decoration for its bright gold-like appearance, e.g. for drawer pulls and doorknobs. It has also been widely used for all sorts of utensils due to many properties, such as low melting point, workability (both with hand tools and with modern turning and milling machines), durability, electrical and thermal conductivity. It is still commonly used in applications where corrosion resistance and low friction is required, such as locks, hinges, gears, bearings, ammunition casings, zippers, plumbing, hose couplings, valves, and electrical plugs and sockets. It is used extensively for musical instruments such as horns and bells, and also used as substitute of copper in making costume jewelry, fashion jewelry and other imitation jewelry. The composition of brass, generally 66% copper and 34% zinc, makes it a favorable substitute for copper based jewelry as it exhibits greater resistance to corrosion. Brass is often used in situations in which it is important that sparks not be struck, such as in fittings and tools used near flammable or explosive materials.[5]

  1. ^ Engineering Designer 30(3): 6–9, May–July 2004
  2. ^ Machinery Handbook, Industrial Press Inc, New York, Edition 24, p. 501
  3. ^ Bearings and bearing metals. The Industrial Press. 1921. p. 29.
  4. ^ "copper alloy (Scope note)". British Museum. The term copper alloy should be searched for full retrievals on objects made of bronze or brass. This is because bronze and brass have at times been used interchangeably in the old documentation, and copper alloy is the Broad Term of both. In addition, the public may refer to certain collections by their popular name, such as 'The Benin Bronzes' most of which are actually made of brass
  5. ^ "OSH Answers: Non-sparking tools". Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2 June 2011). Retrieved on 9 December 2011.