Blog Copper vs. Brass vs. Bronze – The Difference Between Alloys

By: Scott Derse

Copper vs. Brass vs. Bronze

At MetalTek, one of the elements we work with is copper.  The two primary copper alloys are brass and bronze. Brass is made of copper combined with zinc and bronze is an alloy made of copper combined with other elements, historically tin. MetalTek specializes in bronze alloys and does not typically cast purely brass alloys.  Simply put, cast brass has too large of a grain structure and lacks the strength-to-ductility ratio required in high-wear applications. MetalTek works a lot with the defensepower transfer, and process equipment industries and cast brass is not a good option.  Forged brass is much stronger than brass metal castings. Copper vs. Brass vs. Bronze doesn’t have to be a mystery anymore.

Copper Alloys

Below are two of the primary copper alloys used by MetalTek for various applications.

  • C81100 – Copper Alloy: 99.7% Copper minimum, great thermal conductor, corrosion, and oxidation resistance
  • C81500 – Chromium Copper: 1% Chromium added, added to increase strength and hardness while maintaining high conductivity

More copper alloys can be found on our copper alloys page.

Advantages of Copper

Basic copper or unalloyed almost 100% copper is highly malleable and corrosion resistant and has distinct advantages in thermal and electrical conductivity.  Chrome copper is more than three (3) times stronger than pure copper due to the addition of chromium, but the addition of chromium comes at the cost of lower conductivity.  Typically, chrome copper realizes about 80% of the conductivity of pure copper.  The various standards of copper conductivity are determined by the International Annealed Copper Standard (IACS).

Copper Applications

Copper’s properties give it malleability, corrosion resistance, and conductivity.  These properties make it ideal for “everyday” market applications such as:

  • Endings for large motors
  • Electrical wiring
  • Water piping
  • Conductor components

MetalTek produces almost any kind of copper-based material for countless critical applications.  Food processing is often ideal for chrome copper alloys due to its high-wear nature.  Briquetting rolls are an excellent example.  Chrome copper briquetting rolls make uniform shapes that result in your favorite candy.

Briquetting Rolls
Chrome copper briquetting roll produced by MetalTek for food processing applications

Bronze Alloys

Bronze is a copper-based alloy that features a mix of other metals such as tin, lead, and aluminum.  The primary bronze alloys are aluminum bronze, tin bronze, and manganese bronze.  Tin bronzes come in leaded and non-leaded versions.  Lead is added for lubricity (decreased friction).

MetalTek has a unique added value with higher regulation tolerances for working with lead.  We can pour up to 100% lead several days a year.

Below are some of the common bronze alloys at MetalTek.

  • C91300 – Tin Bronze: high tensile, yield, and compressive strength
  • C95400 – Aluminum Bronze – popular, high yield, and great tensile strength
  • C83600 – Manganese Bronze – high strength
  • Bearium B-10 – Leaded bronze and proprietary to MetalTek
  • MTEK 375 – Aluminum Bronze – unusually high compressive strength, high resistance, and superior non-galling & scratching features

Bronze Applications

Aluminum bronze alloys are noted for their high strength and corrosion resistance.  Common applications of aluminum bronze alloys include:

  • Naval ship materials
  • Components for propellor systems
  • Tail cones
  • Hub bodies for naval or maritime applications
  • Gears for larger parts
  • Forming rolls and dies
  • Pump and valve components
  • Wear rings

Tin bronze alloys have increased wear capabilities, but at a higher metal cost.  Common applications include:

  • Bearings
  • Bushings
  • Piston gears
  • Steam fittings
  • Hydraulic components
  • Impellers

High-leaded tin bronze is often ideal for applications where limited friction or abrasion is required.  For example:

  • Higher speed requirements – holds up better for wear and tear with high friction and/or pressure
  • Pump fixtures
  • Steam fittings
  • Hydraulic components
  • Impellers

Manganese bronze alloys are made with high amounts of zinc and are an excellent replacement for typical brass materials. Their high strength makes them ideal for high pressure applications such as:

  • Jack nuts
  • Bushings
  • Flanges
  • Forming rolls & dies
  • Cams
  • Worm gears
  • Steel mill nuts
  • High strength requirements
  • Large valve stems – they have lower corrosion resistance than lead and tin bronze components

MetalTek has extensive experience using these bronze alloys to produce components such as hub bodies and shaft sleeves.   Our centrifugally-cast hub bodies help power 100% of guided-missile destroyers (DDGs) in the U.S. Navy and must stand up to the demands of 50,000 horsepower in highly corrosive saltwater environments.  Primary alloys used for naval propulsion  applications are C96400 70-30 copper nickel (28% to 32% nickel) and C95800 (10% Al, 5% nickel).  The addition of nickel improves copper’s strength, durability, and resistance to corrosion.

Hub Body For Propulsion System
Nickel aluminum bronze hub bodies produced by MetalTek help power 100% of guided-missile destroyers (DDGs) in the U.S. Navy

For more information on bronze alloys and the History of Bronze, check out this great blog by Dave Olsen from MetalTek.

Brass Alloys

Brass is made from a combination of copper and zinc.  It is usually made using a forging process and is typically not poured as a metal casting.  The properties of brass give it great tensile strength, malleability, and acoustics and is ideal for applications where corrosion resistance and low friction are needed.

Brass Applications

  • Decorative items such as hardware finishes
  • Locks & hinges
  • Musical instruments
  • Gears

Why Work With MetalTek?

MetalTek is a market leader in copper and bronze-based alloys for the world’s most demanding applications.  We can produce the largest casting sizes in the U.S., including parts up to 180 inches in diameter.  Our more than 100 metallurgists and engineers across multiple locations help customers identify the best alloy and metal casting process for their specific material property and application requirements. 

Contact us to learn more.

Sandusky Metal Pour
Centrifugal casting at MetalTek’s Sandusky International Division

About the Author

Scott Derse MetalTek

Scott Derse is the primary bronze metallurgist at MetalTek’s Wisconsin Centrifugal Division in Waukesha, WI.  He joined MetalTek in 2012 and previously held the roles of Project Engineer, Estimating Engineer, and Chemical Lab Technician. From 2002 to 2010 he served as an Intelligence Analyst in the U.S. Army, attaining the rank of Sergeant.  Scott holds a BS in Materials Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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