What’s the Difference Between Brass and Bronze?

Red metals are a category of metals that include copper and its various alloys. These metals are typically grouped separately from metals like aluminum and stainless steel, as they are different in many key ways. While alloys of copper like brass and bronze are similar in many ways, they also each have different properties—and understanding the difference between brass and bronze is key to planning any project where either of these metals may be an option.

At Polished Metals, we work with various types of brass and bronze products, including architectural and commercial bronze, yellow brass, and metals such as Muntz and naval brass. Each of these metals may seem similar on the surface, but they possess key characteristics that impact how they’re put into use. So today, we’re breaking down what truly is the difference between brass and bronze, how you can identify these metals, and some of their individual use cases. 

What Is the Main Difference Between Brass and Bronze?

Strictly speaking, the categorical difference between brass and bronze is chemical. While both are alloys of copper, brass is an alloy comprising copper and zinc, while bronze contains copper and tin. Depending on the specific variety, either of these metals may also have trace elements or metals mixed in, including phosphorus, aluminum, manganese, or nickel.  

Difficulties with Distinguishing Brass and Bronze

This seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately, while brass is a mix of copper and zinc, and bronze is a mix of copper and tin, the names of individual metals within these qualities don’t always follow the chemical compositions.

One common example is architectural bronze, also called 385 or C385 brass. As you may be able to guess from these various names, architectural bronze technically isn’t bronze at all. Chemically speaking, architectural bronze is typically made from copper, zinc, lead, and iron. Including zinc rather than tin technically makes this a form of brass, but due to its appearance—more similar to traditional bronze than brass—it’s widely known as architectural bronze.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Brass and Bronze?

With similar compositions, and various brass and bronze types that blur the line between these categories, it can be difficult to tell the difference between brass and bronze. However, there are a few key qualities you can look for that will often reveal which is which.

  • Visual – Brass is a lighter color close to gold or yellowish, while bronze varieties are more reddish-brown or reddish-gold. Bronze may also turn a greenish color when oxidized.
  • Workability – Brass tends to be more malleable than varieties of bronze overall. In contrast, bronze tends to be more brittle and difficult to work into various shapes. 
  • Strength – Some varieties of bronze have tensile strength that rivals even stainless steel, one of the strongest metals available. Brass, on the other hand, is not quite as strong and therefore less suitable for use in structural products (such as architectural tubing).

Which Is Better, Brass or Bronze?

If you’re planning a project, you may be wondering whether brass or bronze will be best. Overall, while these metals share similar compositions and sometimes similar appearances, they each have their own preferred use cases.

Because bronze is stronger overall, it’s generally more suited to structural applications. Similarly, while both of these metals are known for their corrosion resistance, bronze tends to perform better in harsh brine environments. This includes for marine applications and in projects located in coastal areas.

Brass, meanwhile, is exceptionally workable and machinable, making it a better option for many aesthetic applications where finer details are paramount. This is one reason why brass is favored for instruments, for example. Further, while both metals are conductive, brass tends to be a bit more so, making it a good choice for heating elements or many electrical applications.

Reach Out to Polished Metals to Discuss Your Project

Depending on the various structural, durability, and aesthetic considerations for your metal finishing project, either brass or bronze may be better suited to achieve your desired outcome. What’s more, with many varieties such as Muntz, yellow brass, and architectural bronze to choose from, evaluating the differences between brass and bronze can be tricky.

Here at Polished Metals, our team is renowned for our work with all forms of brass and bronze. No matter what the demands of your project are, our experienced craftsmen will be able to produce the right volume of high-quality finished brass or bronze to meet your needs, all within your timeline and budget.

Reach out to our team today to request a quote or to learn more about our finishing capabilities.