The Fixer

bells – bronze age relics are still valuable

In researching for this article I ran across a site I was looking to to clarify the difference between brass and bronze. What a cool tool they provide… there vs their … flu vs cold … ethnicity vs race … mold vs mildew … and so much more. Check them out. I bookmarked the site in my search/research tab.

Among their differences are that bronze came from around 3500 BC, the beginning of “The Bronze Age”, or when this batch of humans figured out how to make things from metal. That was a pretty big deal. Around 3,000 years later came brass. I have dabbled with brass trombones for 60 years. I love the sound of ringing brass from the bell of my trombone to other brass instruments. I also appreciate the ring of a nice bell that, until meeting I called “brass bells”. Nope. Bronze.

Bell tone and volume directly relates to composition and mass. While there are other design considerations, brass bells will always “bing” or “bong” while similar-appearing cast iron bells will “clunk” and aluminum will “clink”. Even the most untrained ear will immediately be attracted to the ring of a bronze bell over cheap look-alikes.

Weight is a big deal. A 6-ounce dinner bell, gentle to the ears carries the “come to supper” signal to the sitting room. A 90-pound mission bell tells a much wider audience that church services are starting soon, but you certainly do not want to be next to that one when it is ringing.

Liberty Bells, school bells, ship’s bells, marker buoy bells, servant’s bells, fire bells, wedding bells, cow bells … so many variations, applications and design criteria attest to their value for over 5,500 years.

Electronic tools have displaced bells for so long that we rarely hear a bell ring and few people could name one valuable application for a bell. Who needs a bell when we can just yell, “ D I N N E R ! ” from the kitchen or dining room? Much like who needs a suit and tie when a hoodie and blue jeans will keep you as warm?

I purchased and restored a genuine ship’s bell to serve our front-door guests. It was a lot easier to install than an electrical doorbell and usefully repurposed a historic piece. I appreciate its style, as do many of our guests for whom our bell is the only working one they have seen.

I since have picked up a couple more bronze bells including a 70-pounder whose first life was as a shoreline marker buoy bell ringing sailors away from dangerous shoals somewhere… likely the rocky northern Pacific Ocean coast. I’ll show you the restored piece when I finish reincarnating it into its second life. Needless to say, that puppy is loud and its sound carries quite some distance.

I can think of many uses and ringing patterns where our big bell can still have high value. One ring for “come soon” … two rings mean “real soon” … three mean “right now” … any more than that, “DROP EVERYTHING AND RUN”.

It will serve us well as yard art, piece of history and an interesting feature. I expect I will hear it easily calling me in from my shop across the yard from our house. Other functions it may have lie out in an unforeseen future.

If you decide to go bell shopping, weight and composition are crucial. They almost always will be called “brass” if they are any good at all. “Bronze” is a word we just don’t use today. A pound or two is plenty for single-story indoor use. It will take quite a bit more to be heard through walls.

I have found e-bay to be a great source. I rather obviously am not alone, but sometimes the competition misses a gem and I win a round. There you pay for impatience, but even then are likely to get decent value.

On to DIFFEN’s expose’ on brass vs bronze.


Brass vs. Bronze



Brass and Bronze are metal alloys used extensively in everyday objects. While brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, bronze is an alloy consisting mainly of copper, combined most often with tin, but at times also with other metals. Owing to their properties, these two alloys have various uses.

Comparison chart

Brass versus Bronze comparison chart
Edit this comparison chart Brass Bronze
Properties Higher malleability than zinc or copper. Low melting point (900 c); flows when melted. Combinations of iron, aluminum, silicon & manganese make brass corrosion resistant. Susceptible to stress cracking when exposed to ammonia. Not as hard as steel. Hard and brittle. Melts at 950 centigrade but depends on amount of tin present. Bronze resists corrosion (especially seawater corrosion) and metal fatigue more than steel and is also a better conductor of heat and electricity than most steels.
Composition Brass is any alloy of copper and zinc. Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive, but sometimes with other elements such as phosphorus, manganese, aluminum, or silicon.
Color Muted yellow, somewhat similar to gold, but duller. Reddish brown.
Uses Decorative; Low-friction applications (locks, gears, doorknobs, ammunition, valves); Plumbing/electronics; Musical instruments for acoustic properties; Zippers & uses where it’s important to negate spark(fittings & tools around explosive gas). Used in boat and ship fittings, propellers and submerged bearings because of resistance to salt water corrosion. Widely used for cast bronze sculpture; Bearings, clips, electrical connectors and springs; For top-quality bells and cymbals.
History Brass was first known to exist in about 500 BC. Bronze dates to about 3500 BC.
Brass Statue


Brass Statue


Brass has higher malleability than zinc or copper. It has a a low melting point (900 centigrade) and flows when melted making it easy to cast in molds. Combinations of iron, aluminum, silicon and manganese make brass wear and tear and corrosion resistant. Susceptible to stress cracking when exposed to ammonia.

Bronze Sculpture


Bronze Sculpture

Bronze is hard and brittle. It melts at a slightly higher temperature at 950 centigrade, but this depends on the amount of tin present in the alloy. Bronze resists corrosion (especially seawater corrosion) and metal fatigue more than steel and is also a better conductor of heat and electricity than most steels.

The composition of both alloys depends on the particular use. For instance, Cartridge brass contained 30% zinc and was used to make cartridges for firearms. Naval brasses had up to 39.7% Zinc and were used in various applications on ships. Bismuth bronze is a bronze alloy with a composition of 52 parts copper, 30 parts nickel, 12 parts zinc, 5 parts lead, and 1 part bismuth. It is able to hold a good polish and so is sometimes used in light reflectors and mirrors.


  • Musical instruments:

The malleability and acoustic properties of brass have made it the metal of choice for brass musical instruments such as the trombone, tuba, trumpet, cornet, euphonium, tenor horn, and the French horn. Even though the saxophone is classified as a woodwind instrument and the harmonica is a free reed aerophone, both are also often made from brass.

Bronze is the most popular metal for top-quality bells, particularly bell metal, which is about 23% tin. Nearly all professional cymbals are made from a bronze alloy. The alloy used in drum kit cymbal bronze is unique in the desired balance of durability and timbre. Phosphor bronze is also used in guitar and piano strings.

  • Sculptures and statues:

Brass is often used for decoration, statues and coins for its bright gold-like appearance and its relative resistance to tarnishing.

Many common bronze alloys have the unusual and very desirable property of expanding slightly just before they set, thus filling in the finest details of a mould so widely used for cast bronze sculpture.

  • Machine parts:

Brass is used for applications where low friction is required such as locks, gears, bearings, doorknobs, ammunition, and valves. It is used for plumbing and electrical applications.

Bronze is ideally used today for springs, bearings, bushings, automobile transmission pilot bearings, and similar fittings, and is particularly common in the bearings of small electric motors. Phosphor bronze is particularly suited to precision-grade bearings and springs. Bronze was especially suitable for use in boat and ship fittings prior to the wide employment of stainless steel owing to its combination of toughness and resistance to salt water corrosion. Bronze is still commonly used in ship propellers and submerged bearings


The first known existence of bronze dates to about 3500 BC and the Sumerians and lends its name to the Bronze age. The discovery of bronze enabled people to create better metal objects than before. Tools, weapons, armor, and various building materials, like decorative tiles, made of bronze were harder and more durable than their stone and copper.

Brass came later dates back to about 500 BC. Zinc is practically never found naturally in its pure state, but people had realized that copper smelted with calamine — a zinc ore — produced a golden-colored tarnish-resistant metal that was useful for all sorts of things due in part to its low melting point and malleability. The zinc itself is not seen but is released from the calamine ore by heating and combines immediately with copper.