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The Differences Between Brass and Copper

November 29, 2016

Even for the seasoned metal collector, there are times when telling the difference between brass and copper can be a challenge. To begin with, copper is a so-called “single” metal, which means that all copper objects have basically the same physical properties. As for brass, it’s considered an alloy (a blend) of copper and zinc, and oftentimes, other metals. Because of this blend, there is no surefire way to identify brass. The good news is that brass colour is very distinctive from copper.

Identifying metals by colour

For certainty, it’s advisable to clean the metal first. Since both copper and brass can discolour with age, cleaning is a good first step, wither manually or with a cleaning agent. Examination of the metal should be in direct sunlight or under white fluorescent light (not incandescent light). Copper will always have a reddish brown colour. With brass, different alloy proportions cause different colours, but the most common is a subdued yellow or a yellow-brown combination.

Some types of brass are orange-brown or red-brown - this is when the alloy contains an amount of 85% copper. Any indication of orange, yellow, or gold colour means that the metal is brass and not copper. When the brass alloy contains a very high amount of copper, it may be necessary to compare metals by actually viewing side by side. Finally, brass that contains a high amount of zinc appears goldish or yellowish. These varieties of brass are not that commonly found.

Other ways to identify metal

Sometimes, it’s necessary to identify copper or brass by listening to their “sound”. This is done by striking the metal and listening to the projected sound. Copper is a soft metal, so sound is muted. On the other hand, brass emits a much clearer “ringing" sound.

Stamped codes may also help in identification. Industrial brass is often code-stamped in order to identify the alloy combination and even usage. North American and European metals use code systems, although copper metals are often left without a code.

It sounds simplistic, but copper is far easier to bend manually than brass. And while this may not be 100% conclusive, it may help in combination with some of the other physical tests. At times, it can be difficult to tell the difference between copper and brass.

ABC’s of copper recycling

Copper has been recycled for many thousands of years. Today, recycled copper is used in a wide variety of products and applications.  As a result, scrap copper metal has a very dynamic supply and demand relationship. When scrap copper is uncontaminated, the recycled copper product is very high quality.  It retains all of its original integrity, making for a raw product that has high industry acceptability. As such, copper prices (including recycled product) are at high levels.

For scrap metal collectors, copper represents one of the better options in terms of dollar return. It also helps to have a reliable scrap dealer, with computerized inventory systems and state-of-the art processing machinery – it just makes for a more productive business relationship.

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