Who knew? Brass is more malleable than silver.

by shelbyvision on December 8, 2009

I have always been under the impression that silver was more meleable and ductile than brass. This seems to be the common wisdom. In fact, when people have asked me about it, they usually say something like “isn’t brass a lot harder to work than silver?”, and my reply is something like “Well, yes, but not that much”. I have a lot of experience forming brass, and little with silver, other than making small jewelery items. I recently made a larger silver piece, and I was looking foreward to the ease of forming silver after being used to brass. To my surprise, it was no easier, and I could almost believe it was a little harder, but I was using 18 gauge silver, and I’m used to 16 gauge brass, so I decided it was not a fair comparison.
Then a few days ago, I decided to make a silver “bird in flight” ornament, like the brass ones I have made and told about here. After some unsuccessful attempts with 22 gauge silver, I decided to make two, one silver and one brass, both of them 20 gauge, which is what I normally use for the brass ones. I noticed at the very first stage, where the head is punched for the first time, the silver one would not stretch as far as the brass one. When I got to the next stage, after annealing, the head on the silver one split open rather than stretching (see the picture), while the brass one stretched just fine. This is the first side-by-side comparison I’ve had, and it turns the common wisdom on it’s head.
The alloys used were cartridge brass (alloy 260) and sterling silver. I should try it with fine silver to see how it compares, although I don’t really want to spend that much money on something that is likely to fail. Do any of you out there know if fine silver is that much more malleable than sterling?


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Delilah Smith January 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Wow how interesting

Judy Bjorkman December 10, 2009 at 8:03 am

Thanks, Steve, for your positive remarks about brass! I’ve made brass jewelry for years, and on the first occasion when I used sterling, I expected it to forge more easily. It did not. Brass is also nice because it doesn’t have a picky annealing temperature (as does silver) and one does not have to collect filings, etc. (I do collect sawn brass scraps to use in other designs.)

jason December 9, 2009 at 2:58 pm

That’s wild, bras has always seemed harder to me than sterling. Then again, I don’t even know what alloy of brass I’m typically using, or do head to head comparisons.

You should ask James Binnion, he would know the actual values, or know what resource to look them up in.


shelbyvision December 9, 2009 at 11:51 am

Great idea! Maybe David Huang has a leftover scrap the right size. 😉

Michael Johnson December 9, 2009 at 10:48 am

You could try gold, maybe 20k :oD

shelbyvision December 8, 2009 at 10:19 pm

you didn’t read carefully enough; the two I did that are in the picture are both 20 gauge. I don’t think I could anneal any more often than I already do on these. I’d love to be able to melt it down and roll it out anew, if I had a rolling mill. That’s one of the first things I’d get if I ever have that much money to spend on something besides bills. I think I could figure out a way to make the flying bird in sterling, but it would take so much more time that the cost would be outa sight.

Michael Johnson December 8, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Oh yes, pure silver is way easier, but its softness is also a negative. The finished work is more likely to bend, dent, and ding. That little bit of copper added to sterling makes it harder. Of course, I don’t form the same way that you do, but I have thought that the brass that I use occasionally is about the same as sterling. I just feel like I have to anneal sterling more often. It’s like brass is gummy and sticky by comparison. It clogs up my files and burs more so than sterling. Maybe this is what allows you to push it as far before you would normally have to anneal sterling.

Instead of using pure silver, try the exact same gauges in sterling that you use in brass. You never waste silver, it can always be melted and reformed into sheet again. But, you might try annealing the sterling more often. I can tell when it gets stiff by feel now. But, when it has been annealed, it works very well.

I hope this helps. I’d love to see that bird in sterling. Please keep us informed :o)

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