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Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.[1] In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin.[2] Bronze does not necessarily contain tin, and a variety of alloys of copper, including alloys with arsenic, phosphorus, aluminum, manganese, and silicon, are commonly termed "bronze". The term is applied to a variety of brasses and the distinction is largely historical.[3] Brass is a substitutional alloy. It is used for decoration for its bright gold-like appearance; for applications where low friction is required such as locks, gears, bearings, doorknobs, ammunition, and valves; for plumbing and electrical applications; and extensively in musical instruments such as horns and bells for its acoustic properties. It is also used in zippers. Because it is softer than most other metals in general use, brass is often used in situations where it is important that sparks not be struck, as in fittings and tools around explosive gases.[4]

Brass has a muted yellow color, which is somewhat similar to gold. It is relatively resistant to tarnishing, and is often used as decoration and for coins. In antiquity, polished brass was often used as a mirror.

Although forms of brass have been in use since prehistory,[5] its true nature as a copper-zinc alloy was not understood until the post medieval period because the zinc vapour which reacted with copper to make brass was not recognised as a metal.[6] The King James Bible makes many references to "brass".[7] The Shakespearean English form of the word 'brass' can mean any bronze alloy, or copper, rather than the strict modern definition of brass.[citation needed] The earliest brasses may have been natural alloys made by smelting zinc-rich copper ores.[8] By the Roman period brass was being deliberately produced from metallic copper and zinc minerals using the cementation process and variations on this method continued until the mid 19th century.[9] It was eventually replaced by speltering, the direct alloying of copper and zinc metal which was introduced to Europe in the 16th century.[8]


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