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Brass vs Bronze

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 1
Copper (courtesy of Wikimedia) (21498)

How can you tell the difference between brass vs bronze? They look similar to anyone who doesn't know a lot about metals and both have many of the same applications. Many brasses are called bronzes and vice-versa. Bronze and brass are two very similar materials because both are copper alloys. The key to the difference between bronze vs brass is in the other metal; in bronze the primary additive is tin, while brass is made with copper and zinc.

The discovery of bronze was revolutionary to the art of metallurgy. Bronze allowed blacksmiths to craft better metal objects than were possible earlier with stone or copper. Bronze is so important in human history that the period in which many cultures developed advanced metalworking techniques is known as the Bronze Age. It is useful for electrical connectors and springs and is commonly used for bearings, fittings, and latches because of its low metal-on-metal friction. The friction of bronze vs brass and most other copper alloys are low and brass is also used for these applications. Bronze is used to make bells and virtually all professional high-end cymbals. Recently, some companies have begun to manufacture saxophones made from bronze. The acoustical properties of brass vs bronze are similar but brass has found much wider use in musical instrument manufacture. An entire family of musical instruments, brass instruments, which include the trumpet, trombone, french horn, and tuba, are named after the metal from which they are made. Although many brass instruments are plated in silver or gold, these are still made from brass because of it's superior acoustical qualities for wind instrument making.

While many of the applications for bass vs bronze are the same, their appearance is somewhat different. Bronze is often a brownish color, whereas brass is often appears more gray, green, or blue. Polished brass is usually a bright, reflective yellow similar to gold, whereas bronze often has a richer, deeper brownish or reddish golden color to it. Both metals will acquire a dull patina when not maintained. Bronze items are usually more expensive than brass. Brass is softer than bronze and is more prone to cracking. It is also more prone to corrosion and abrasion.

If you are unable to tell whether an object is bronze or brass, one simple test is to drill a small hole in an unimportant area of the object. If the shavings from the drill bit are stringy the material is likely bronze, whereas flaky shavings are more indicative of brass.

While it can be difficult to tell the difference between brass vs bronze, the color, price, and type of object and its application should make it possible to make an educated guess as to which material is used. If you're still unsure, you can usually find an inconspicuous area in which to drill a test hole. However, in modern metals there are many additives and the line between brass vs bronze can often become blurred. In some of these cases, the distinction between the two may not even be worth making.



Sep 3, 2010 2:45pm
Interesting. As a trombonist, I had simply assumed that early instrument makers tried bronze and found it wanting. Now you tell me that there are bronze saxophones! (I'll skip the saxophone joke that would be obligatory on a brass-players' site.)
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