Tin Bronze and Phosphor Bronze

These alloys of copper and tin were the first metallic alloys to be developed by mankind, about four thousand years ago, and were used for coins, weapons, tools, jewellery and ornaments. They revolutionised the way man lived, leading to archaeologists naming the period the Bronze Age.

In modern times wrought bronzes have been developed with 4-8% tin which are harder, stronger, and stiffer than wrought brasses and, in strip and wire form, are produced with a combination of high yield strength and good corrosion resistance. The addition of small amounts (0.01-0.45%) of phosphorus increases the hardness, fatigue resistance and wear resistance, leading to their use in applications such as springs, bellows, flexible tubing, fasteners, masonry fixings, shafts, valve spindles, gears and bearings.

Alloying elements with copper, in this case tin and phosphorus, can result in lower electrical conductivity compared to pure copper. The most widely used phosphor bronze for electrical purposes contains 0.2% phosphorus and 5% tin and has an electrical conductivity of 15% IACS (Copper is 100% IACS). However, the combination of high yield strength, which gives a good contact force, and good corrosion resistance make this bronze ideal for a wide range of small electrical connectors, switches, current carrying springs and rotor bars. These properties are retained at high operating temperatures.

Wrought leaded phosphor bronzes (3-4% lead) combine the above properties with outstanding machinability and significant self-lubrication, self-seating and alignment in bearing applications and excellent resistance to seizure. Applications include thrust washers, bearing bushes, cams, clutch plates, intricate machined fasteners and other turned parts, clock and instrument parts, gears, pinions, pump and valve spindles and engraved components.

Phosphor bronzes with higher tin contents are available in all the common cast forms. They have up to 13% tin and 2.5% lead (for machinability) and nickel (for strength and hardness) and are widely used for bearings and gears.

Bell Metal
A phosphor bronze with 20 to 24% tin has been used for centuries for the sand casting of bells of all types such as church bells, hand bells and ships’ bells. The bells are carefully machined and polished to give the exact notes required. In the atmosphere, the bells will slowly patinate, which protects the surface from further corrosion, leading to a very long service life.

Bronze bells being cast
Bells at Whitechapel Foundry (Courtesy Whitechapel Foundry)

Aluminium Bronze

These are alloys of copper with 5-12% aluminium, some having additions of iron, nickel, manganese and silicon, available in cast and wrought form. They are stronger than brasses or tin bronzes with better corrosion resistance due to a hard, adherent, protective alumina film (Al2O3). They have an attractive golden colour, with very little tarnishing with time. The major use for aluminium bronzes is in seawater applications, such as:

  • Fasteners
  • Pumps and valve components
  • Pipe fittings
  • Heat exchangers
  • Bearings
  • Propellers.
1500mm butterfly valve in aluminium bronze (Courtesy Severn Leeds Valve)
1500mm butterfly valve in aluminium bronze (Courtesy Severn Leeds Valve)

For marine applications they meet exacting Def Stan (Defence Standard) specifications (previously Naval Engineering Standard – NES), and are widely used for MOD applications.

Bronze propeller
95 tonne bronze propeller

The durability and golden colour makes aluminium bronze an attractive proposition for architects, for example as cast upright balustrades for the Sackler Crossing in Kew Gardens, London. The alloy used for this project was CuAl8Fe3; the balustrades were polished to the required finish and waxed in situ.

Aluminium bronze balustrades on Sackler Crossing, Kew Gardens, UK
Aluminium bronze balustrades on Sackler Crossing, Kew Gardens, UK (Courtesy Copper Alloys Ltd)

Nickel Aluminium Bronze
Of the aluminium bronze alloys, the nickel aluminium bronze group is the most widely used. These alloys have high strength, corrosion, wear and galling resistance and have been adapted over time to optimise performance. They can provide a combination of properties offering an economic alternative to other types of alloy systems, and their applications include landing gear bearings in commercial aircraft.

The CDA publication Guide to Nickel Aluminium Bronze for Engineers offers practical guidance for engineers wishing to specify, design or produce nickel aluminium bronze components for marine, aerospace and other sectors.

Click here to view the publication page, with individual sections available for download.

Click here to download it in full.

Silicon Bronze

This is an alloy of copper with 3% silicon and 1% manganese. It has a good combination of strength, ductility, corrosion resistance and weldability. It is used in architectural applications such as:

  • Door fittings
  • Railings
  • Church doors
  • Window frames
  • Hinges
  • Wall ties
  • Fastener material for marine applications.

The alloy is a firm favourite with sculptors and metalsmiths because of its workability, longevity and attractive golden bronze colour.

Silicon bronze is also widely used for marine hardware and fasteners such as bolts, clamps, screws, nuts, rivets and U bolts.

Silicon bronze rigging toggle for mast support
Silicon bronze rigging toggle for mast support

Manganese Bronze and Architectural Bronze

By composition these alloys are brasses but have picked up the ‘bronze’ name because of their colours. Manganese bronze CuZn40Mn1Pb1 (CW720R) is a brass used for architectural applications where the manganese leads to the formation of an attractive chocolate brown colour.

The term ‘architectural bronze’ is sometimes applied to a leaded aluminium brass CuZn41Pb1Al (CW620N) which, due to the aluminium, develops an attractive golden lustre. Like all brasses, this alloy combines longevity with an aesthetic appeal which improves with time and gives a feeling of luxury and prestige to any building both inside and out. It is available as profiles and rectangular bar and is used for window frames, cladding, doors and curtain walls. It is usually finished by waxing to maintain the appearance.


I require an aluminium bronze with a very low iron content (0.5-0.7%). The application is a holder in an induction furnace. It is important that the holder does not become heated in service.

Suggest DEF STAN 02-834, which is a naval grade of aluminium bronze with a low magnetic permeability. This meets MOD requirements.

Brass is said to be non-magnetic, but a sample reacts to a magnet. Why?

Probably due to the high iron content from recycled scrap. If a non-magnetic copper alloy is required use a nickel aluminium bronze to Def Stan Specifications (were NES).

I am designing a cast architectural feature as part of a town centre display board, which the public can access. I have been offered LG3, leaded gunmetal CuSn7Pb4Zn2 for the project.. Please advise.

This alloy has been widely used for some notable contemporary statues since it patinates easily and is capable of being deformed to remove any distortion produced on casting. However, since no current standard exists for this alloy there might be a problem since the public has access to the structure, so it is suggested that leaded gunmetals CC491K (LG2) or CC492K (LG4) are used.

I am designing a hinge in a lock gate which is under water and, since access is difficult, I am looking for a maintenance free bearing for a hinge. What do you suggest?

Cast tin bronze bearing which will have the required corrosion resistance. These are available with carefully machined holes which are filled with a solid lubricant consisting of graphite plus oil. During service a thin film of lubricant is produced as the bearing slowly wears.

I am in charge of a large renovation project and I have to recommend surface treatments to protect a number of outdoor copper, brass and bronze objects including hand rails, wall plaques, door handles and statues?

Brasses will slowly tarnish in the atmosphere; outdoors the process is more rapid due to the effect of moisture, salt (in marine environments) and pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (acid rain) in industrial areas. The tarnishing can be greatly delayed and the range of colours, which give copper alloys their aesthetic appeal, maintained by either lacquering or waxing (or both).

Lacquering: one of the most effective lacquers is Incralac. Lacquers must be applied in dry, factory conditions and are not suitable for protecting components which are handled by the public, such as handrails, since acid levels of moisture in the skin (pH 5.5) damage the lacquer.

Waxes: copper alloys may be more cheaply protected by waxing. It is important to use natural non-reactive waxes such as Carnauba or Beeswax, not synthetic waxes which will eventually granulate and absorb water. Natural waxes are not affected by UV light.

I am producing electrical connectors with a requirement for good springyness and fatigue resistance. I am also concerned about the effects of corrosion. What should I use?

A good choice would be tin-plated (2-6 microns) phosphor bronze strip, (CW450K) CuSn4.

I have a number of machined aluminium bronze components which are to be packed in wooden boxes and shipped to Australia. How do I avoid corrosion/staining?

The key is to clean thoroughly, remove water, protect and keep dry:

  1. After cleaning dry thoroughly using a de-watering fluid such as WD40.
  2. Remove displaced water with forced warm air.
  3. Coat with protective coating such as benzotriazole inhibitor or a block copolymer.
  4. Pack into benzotriazole treated paper lined wooden boxes. Moisture absorbent granules may also be used to keep the air inside the boxes dry.
  5. Remove the coatings with a phosphoric based solution.
  6. Dry thoroughly.
I have been asked to produce 22 valves in gunmetal from a drawing which originates from 1958. The company has been taken over and the patterns and casting drawings lost. Due to the small quantity that will have to be made from bar, what should I use?

Suggest that you use continuously cast CC491K (LG2) bar or a wrought free-machining phosphor bronze.

Is it just pure copper that has an antimicrobial effect?

No, copper alloys also do. Tests have been performed on pure copper, high coppers, brasses, bronzes, copper-nickels and copper-nickel-zincs (sometimes referred to as nickel-silvers because of their shiny white colour, even though they contain no silver.  Alloys with higher copper content kill organisms faster but, as a general rule, alloys with >60% copper have good efficacy.

‘Antimicrobial Copper’ is shorthand for these efficacious alloys.  When choosing a copper alloy for a product it is important to balance the requirements for mechanical properties, manufacturing process and, of course, colour.  Copper alloys provide a palette of attractive colours from the yellow of brasses to the dark browns of bronzes.

We have purchased castings in CC333G (AB2). The standard BS EN 1982:2008 suggests in Annex A, clause A6, a stress relief heat treatment, but gives no details. Do you have a recommendation?

Heat to 450oC for one hour and air cool. This should be agreed between you and the manufacturer when ordering.

For equivalents of copper alloys worldwide, their chemical compositions, material designation and national standards