The Case for Brass in a World of Steel & Aluminum Tariffs

On March 8, 2018, the world watched, stunned, as President Donald Trump declared new tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) in a controversial move that was met with dismay by many and support by some.

Analysts, economists, manufacturers, and trade enthusiasts wondered how this would affect industries domestically and abroad – especially since Canada and Mexico had, in recent years, become two of the largest importers and exporters of steel to and from the U.S.

This issue is still a contentious one whose impact is only beginning to be seen across our industry. China, Mexico, and Canada have since retaliated against Trump’s tariffs with tariffs of their own, including tariffs on steel products.

Some market research organizations have anticipated that a corresponding increase in input costs will lead to higher prices for consumers and businesses in the U.S. Though the total effect of the tariffs has yet to be seen, it is possible that companies who import or export steel will be impacted in the future and that the global price of steel will grow.

Consequently, there has been a renewed focus on the age-old debate of ferrous vs. non-ferrous metals – and in particular, steel vs. brass alloys as materials for precision machined parts.

In a world of steel and aluminum tariffs, it’s important to look at the case for using brass for your parts needs. Here are three reasons to consider using brass for your precision machined parts instead of steel:

1) Brass is resistant to many different types of corrosion.

Brass – an alloy consisting primarily of copper and zinc – resists various kinds of corrosive agents like galvanic corrosion, which is caused by salt water.

Environments brass is well-suited for because of its resistance to corrosion include: industrial and residential water systems, some marine environments (excluding those with high-velocity currents), cryogenic applications, petroleum solutions, and any environments where nonoxidizing acids are present such as hydrochloric acid and hydroiodic acid.

2) Brass conducts heat better than carbon steel and stainless steel.

Brass is known for having good thermal conductivity – more so, for example, than different kinds of steel.

This is important because heat can be transferred easily in parts made of brass alloys, making brass an ideal material for several industries including electronics, aerospace, and defense, where higher thermal conductivity is vital.

3) Brass alloys can be machined at higher rates, bringing both manufacturers and their customers an increase in productivity and cost savings.

In a study conducted in the Cincinnati, Ohio-based TechSolve, Inc. measuring the high-speed machining capabilities of brass vs. steel, several single-point turning and drilling tests were completed on five brass alloys (leaded and lead-free), 304L stainless steel, and 12L14 stainless steel to see which performed the best. Throughout all of the tests, the brass alloys consistently outperformed their steel counterparts.

For example, when comparing machine operating speeds for turning and tool life, the tested brass alloys had significantly better results than the 304L stainless steel and the 12L14 stainless steel.

As TechSolve and Copper Development Association Inc. write: “304L was limited to 800 SFM or 20% of the top speed for brass (4,000 SFM). 12L14 was limited to 1,200 SFM or 30% of the top speed for brass. Notably, tool life for brasses was at least 8X longer at more than triple the speed.”

But this wasn’t just limited to tool life and machine operating speeds during the turning process. The brass alloys showed greater production efficiency during the turning process as well. This trend carried over to the drilling process, where the brass alloys provided higher production speeds and increased production efficiency.

They state in their conclusion: “Compared to 12L14 steel and 304L stainless steel, brass alloys can be machined at significantly higher production rates with longer tool life and higher efficiency… The high speed machinability of brass enables significant productivity gains and cost savings for machined products.”

As a result, brass can often be an excellent – if not superior – material to use to make precision machined parts, with everyone involved benefiting from its properties and its tensile strength. Cost-efficacy is something to keep in mind since the cost of machining stainless steel is often more expensive than the cost of machining brass alloys.


We can only begin to predict how the Section 232 tariffs on aluminum and steel might impact domestic and international manufacturing operations in the future.

But the metals industries are historically volatile and subject to the trends in supply and demand, so seeing a rise in steel prices would not be unexpected.

Escalating steel prices and unpredictable foreign import issues make the switch to brass a smart alternative. You can take advantage of a non-ferrous metal alloy that is corrosion resistant, a good conductor of heat, and the perfect material for ensuring machining efficiency, speed, and cost savings.