Copper vs. Brass vs. Bronze: What’s the Difference?

Roane Metals Scrap Metal

Copper vs. Brass vs. Bronze: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever looked at a piece of scrap metal and thought, “Is this copper, brass, or bronze?” These three metals can sometimes be a little confusing to tell apart if you don’t know what differences you’re looking for. After all, they’re collectively referred to as the “red metals” and are often used in similar applications. While they may look the same initially, these metals are all actually quite different from one another. Here’s how you can make the distinction between copper, brass, and bronze when you come across these scrap metals.

What is Copper?

Copper is a metallic element found in the periodic table. This means it is a natural resource that can be found in the earth. Copper mines extract raw copper from the earth’s surface and can be found all over the world. Because this metal is highly conductive and capable of withstanding heat, it is often used in electrical systems and computers. Copper pipes are also frequently used in plumbing. Some of the most common items made from copper that are recycled at scrap yards include copper wire, cable, and tubing. Copper is one of the highest valued metals at scrap yards.

What is Brass?

Brass is a metal alloy, which means it is a metal made up of multiple elements. Alloys are not found naturally in the earth. Brass is a mixture of the elements copper and zinc. Differences in the percentages of copper and zinc can produce variations in the color and properties of brass. More zinc makes the metal stronger and more ductile, and it makes the color more yellow than red. Because of its durability and workability, brass is commonly used in plumbing fixtures, mechanical components, and musical instruments. It is also often used for decorative purposes because of its bright gold appearance.

What is Bronze?

Like brass, bronze is also a metal alloy that is made up of copper and other elements. Tin and copper are the most common ingredients, but bronze can also be made with arsenic, aluminum, silicon, phosphorus, and manganese. Each element produces different properties in the resulting alloy. The addition of other elements makes bronze much harder than copper alone. Because of its dull-gold appearance and strength, bronze is used in sculptures, musical instruments, and medals. It is also used in industrial applications like bearings and bushings because of its low metal-on-metal friction. Bronze has additional nautical uses due to its resistance to corrosion.

Differences Between Copper, Brass, and Bronze

Brass and bronze are both partially comprised of copper, which is why it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the metal and its alloys. However, each one has certain characteristics and properties that make it unique and distinguishable from the others. Here are some ways to tell copper, brass, and bronze apart from one another.

Color

Copper has a distinctive reddish-brown color. Brass has a brighter yellowish-gold appearance. Bronze, meanwhile, is a duller gold or sepia color and will typically have faint rings on its surface.

Sound

You can lightly strike the metal to test whether it is copper or an alloy. Copper will produce a deep, low sound. Brass and bronze will produce a higher pitched sound, with brass sounding brighter.

Composition

Copper is an element in the periodic table, which means copper metal should be made entirely of the single element. However, it sometimes will have impurities or traces of other materials mixed in. Brass is an alloy of the elements copper and zinc. Bronze is an alloy of the elements copper and usually tin, though sometimes silicon, manganese, aluminum, arsenic, phosphorus, or other elements are added.

Magnetism

Copper, brass, and bronze are all technically non-ferrous and should not be magnetic. However, since brass and bronze are alloys, sometimes traces of iron can make their way into them and may be able to be detected by a strong magnet. If you hold a strong magnet to the metal in question and it responds, then you can rule out that it is copper.

Codes

Check the metal item for an engraved letter “C” followed by three or five numbers. If you see an engraving like this, then you will know it is brass. Copper and bronze will not include such an engraving.

Durability

Bronze is hard, sturdy, and not easily flexed. Brass is the least durable, with copper in the middle. Brass can crack much more easily than the other two. Copper, meanwhile, is the most flexible of the three. Brass is also more resistant to corrosion than copper, but not as resistant as bronze. Copper will oxidize over time and form a green patina to protect it from further corrosion.

Recycle Your Scrap Copper, Brass, and Bronze at Your Local Scrap Yard

Whether the scrap metal in your possession is copper, brass, or bronze, you can sell it at Roane Metals Group to make some extra cash. Copper scrap is one of the most valuable metals at the scrap yard, and bronze scrap is a little more valuable than brass scrap. However, selling any of these or your other scrap metals at Roane Metals Group will still add some extra weight to your wallet. Whatever scrap metal you have on hand that you no longer need, bring it to one of our two Tennessee scrap yard locations to receive the highest and fairest price possible for it. If you have any questions about scrap metal recycling or want to know the current scrap metal prices, give us a call at 865-354-4282 or reach out to us online today.