Hammers; they’re not just about steel and raw power.
In a world of delicate work, where accuracy and safety is non-negotiable, brass and copper hammers emerge as unsung heroes.
Moving beyond the typical steel variants, these softer metal hammers come with an array of advantages—from preserving the integrity of work surfaces to ensuring a spark-free environment.
In this article, I will explain the key differences between brass and copper hammers, their shared traits, and guide you in choosing the right one for your work.
Differences Between Brass and Copper Hammers
- Brass and copper hammers are used when you want to avoid marring the workpiece surface and unwanted sparks.
- Copper hammer is softer than brass and is ideal for striking delicate work.
- Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and is cheaper than pure copper.
At first, you may not believe that there is much of a difference between brass and copper given their similarities. But the truth is that there is a significant difference which you need to know to make the right choice.
Composition and Properties
- Copper hammers are made from pure copper, one of the most ancient metals used in the world. The ancient Egyptians used copper tools which included hammers to create great works such as the pyramids.
A typical copper hammer is made from copper that, while largely pure, may contain minor impurities from trace elements getting mixed during the forging process.
- Brass is an alloy that combines copper with zinc. Brass should not be confused with bronze which is also an alloy made primarily from copper with tin. Brass is mostly copper, but the zinc creates a harder metal which makes it suitable for certain applications, although it is not as hard as bronze.
Both brass and copper hammers are non-sparking, making them ideal for use in environments where explosive materials might be present.
However, it’s important to note that while they are less likely to spark than steel tools, no tool can be guaranteed 100% spark-free.
Strength and Durability
- Brass is Harder: Because of the addition of zinc, brass hammers are harder and stronger compared to copper. However, brass is not as hard as tool steel which is the most common material used to create hammers.
The strength and hardness of brass allows it to strike with more force into most materials without creating sparks, which is the primary purpose of using softer materials for hammering.
You’ll often see brass hammers used for lettering in materials such as metal and stone. It not only prevents bruising of the stone, but also reduces the wear on chisels.
- Copper is softer than brass. Hence a copper hammer is a better choice for delicate surfaces that might be damaged by harder materials such as steel.
It is the softness of the copper that makes it most suitable for working with jewelry or thin materials that would bend, dent, or otherwise be damaged from hammers made from brass or steel.
You can also find copper hammers used in automotive and general engineering fields, mostly in repair and maintenance. The soft copper material means that metal body parts can be shaped with less danger of denting or deformation.
You might be wondering, why not use a rubber mallet or a nylon hammer instead of copper and brass. The reason? Soft metal hammers deliver a higher striking force than regular mallets.
The only exception is the dead-blow hammer which has special internal mechanism to deliver extra oomph. But they are generally bigger in size and work best for larger projects. You can find more details on dead blow hammer and its uses here.
You should also consider the wear and tear they face over time, leading us to the topic of chipping.
One key difference I observed between brass hammer and copper hammer is that the edges of brass hammer tend to chip-off. Copper doesn’t have this problem since it is softer and tend to bulge than chip.
It is more obvious once the hammer has undergone several hours of use. I believe it’s due to the tendency of brass to get work hardened as you go.
While chipping is one concern, another is the potential magnetic interference in certain work environments.
In addition to be softer metals that do not create sparks, brass and copper hammers also are not magnetized.
In areas where a magnetic field may create issues, copper and brass hammers excel.
Both metals are denser than materials like aluminum and even steel but not as dense as metals like lead.
I found that, for the same sized heads, the copper hammer is slightly heavier than their brass counterpart. For real life use, the weight difference is negligible and it should not be a deciding factor.
Given their density, both metals provide substantial striking force, advantageous for hammers.
Aesthetics & Patina
- Brass: Over time, can develop a patina or tarnish, which can be seen as either aesthetically pleasing or undesirable, depending on the user’s perspective.
- Copper: Also develops a patina, turning green (verdigris) when exposed to the elements over time.
As non-ferrous metals, both metals do not rust which is added benefit. This inherent property expands the range of applications where they can be beneficially utilized.
Applications and Uses
For the most part, brass hammers are used where steel hammers have been used, driving fasteners, chisels, and metalworking.
The main reason to use a brass hammer is that they are far less likely to create a spark.
When steel hammer strikes a ferrous workpiece or a tool such as a chisel, you risk generating sparks because two hard surfaces coming into contact. Sparks are not wanted if flammable materials are nearby. Copper and its alloys do not pose this threat.
Copper hammers are generally too soft to be used to drive fasteners or chisels, but they can be used on delicate surfaces that would be marred or damaged if stronger metals were used. Jewelry is the most obvious application, but copper hammers are generally used on delicate surfaces.
You’ll find that both copper and brass hammers are used in the following industries.
- Electrical Generation
- Oil & Gas Extraction
Both types of hammers are also used in leatherwork, fiber, and plastics.
While both types of hammers boast a diverse range of applications across various fields, their cost and accessibility can influence the choice between them.
Although an alloy of copper and zinc, brass hammers are far less expensive compared to their pure copper counterparts. While prices vary depending on the availability and location of where such hammers can be purchased, in most cases the brass hammers are inexpensive and easily obtainable while copper hammers are more difficult to find and thus, more expensive to purchase.
Globally, the lower cost often makes brass hammers a more popular choice. However, in the U.S. there’s a marked preference for copper hammers over brass due to the better protective ability, despite the price difference.
In conclusion, while both copper and brass offer strength and durability without the risk of sparking, copper’s softer touch is ideal for delicate tasks. Understanding their individual properties, applications and cost can guide you in selecting the right hammer for your job.
Whichever you choose, ensure it aligns with the task at hand to guarantee safety and precision in your work.