Copper Sheet Buying Guide

We are going to cover some rather technical terms like: alloy, temper, hardness, gauge and finish. Please stick with me through this brief article and you will really know what kind of copper you need for your application.

Alloy. Copper sheet, foil, bar, rod and tube is available in many different alloys. These different alloys give certain physical properties to copper it doesn’t usually have, but those new properties often bring new limitations as well. What makes the alloy discussion a little easier is that 99% of the copper sold in the United States is represented by the three alloys listed below.

Most of the copper sold today in the United States is alloy C11000, also known as Electrolytic-Tough-Pitch. Plain and simply, C11000 is 99.9% pure copper. It is an excellent electrical conductor, makes a fine looking kick plate on your front door, does a great job as a back splash in your kitchen, makes a very classy looking rain gutter and adorns some of the finest looking roofs in the world.

Copper used for tube and pipe is usually alloy C12200. copper kattle You get this alloy by adding a very small amount of phosphorus to pure copper. This makes the copper easier to weld and braze. Unfortunately, it also makes the copper considerably less conductive. Generally speaking, you rarely see this alloy being used for electrical applications, but if you need to weld or braze, this alloy is your best option.

If you are going to turn or machine copper, C14500 is your alloy. If copper is alloyed with a small amount of tellurium it greatly improves the ability of copper to “make chips”. Pure copper (alloy C11000) tends to be “gummy” (I apologize for using such a technical term) when machining. This gumminess means you have to slow the machining process down quite a bit. Pure copper is also hard on machine tools, which adds to the expense of machining. C14500 is not quite as conductive as pure copper, but it is relatively close.

An interesting fact about copper alloys, if you add a little zinc to the metal – you get brass.

Temper. Basically, the Temper of a metal refers to its hardness. The two extremes of Temper are denoted as “hard” and “soft”. While the Copper Development Association has installed a numbering convention H01(soft) to H04(hard), most people in the industry simply refer to the degree of hardness. “Hey, I’ll take some ‘quarter-hard’ copper sheet,” is really all you have to say to your local copper mill* to call out the Temper.

So, why does anybody even worry about Temper? To a large degree, the hardness of the metal determines the application. If you were to make a beautiful pot rack out of soft Temper copper bars and chose to hang your grandmother’s favorite cast iron frying pan on your new creation, the weight of the frying pan could well deform the rack. Bottom line, if your copper project involves supporting any kind of weight, stick to harder Tempers.

On the other hand, if you are interested in making a copper etching or simply forming the copper by hand, you would be much better off with a softer Temper. Softer Tempers are also easier to cut as well. For decorative and craft applications that do not require supporting much weight, soft Temper should be your choice.

One final point about Temper, because of the end use of the product, copper bar is generally available only in the harder Tempers and copper sheet in softer Tempers. This has to do with how the two different forms of the metal are used.

Gauge, Oz. and Inches. Calling out the gauge of the metal is another way of saying the thickness. It is important to keep in mind that with gauge, the larger the number the thinner the material. 30 gauge copper sheet is much thinner than 16 gauge. To make matters even more confusing, the roofing industry measure copper thickness in ounces per square foot! 16 oz copper sheet is a very common size of roofing copper.

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