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Author Topic: Why are we obsessed with brass?  (Read 576 times)
NoirMagus
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New Zealand New Zealand



« on: November 10, 2016, 09:40:57 pm »

I'm about 2000 words into my new novel and I was about to describe a new machine. Naturally I was going to describe the polished brass, but then I thought is that cliche? Why are steampunkers obsessed with brass? What other materials would make an interesting alternative? Please feel free to share your thoughts if you don't mind me stealing them.  Wink
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2016, 10:10:32 pm »

Because it's shiny! Ever so shiny!  Grin

But in all seriousness, brass was a commonly used metal for sacrificial/decorative pieces in the 19th century mainly because it was cheap, reasonably hard wearing and looked nicer than iron/steel.

In terms of alternatives you're looking at pewter (which is softer and requires a lot more treatment to keep shiny), gunmetal (which suffers from much the same problems as pewter since its' also a lead alloy, though not as shiny) or white metal (which although shiner than pewter or gunmetal is still a lead alloy so wears away easily).
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Kensington Locke
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« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2016, 10:50:56 pm »

Don't forget Copper, which if I recall was part of the alloy for brass (forget which other material, but you can google).

The assumption is that the 1800's (and thus Steam Punk) is restricted (original time-line wise)  to materials of that time (duh).  Off the top of my head, that's usually:
copper
brass
tin
lead
cast iron
glass
leather
wood
mercury
asbestos (maybe, check timeline)
porcelain
gold
silver
bronze
clay/pottery/ceramic
pewter
concrete
steel
vulcanized rubber
aluminum

Check out this time line I googled.  It seems pretty helpful. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_materials_technology
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2016, 11:25:52 pm »

Don't forget Copper, which if I recall was part of the alloy for brass (forget which other material, but you can google).

Zinc is the other other part of the copper alloy that makes brass. Not to be confused with bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin.
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Prof Marvel
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learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it


« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2016, 06:53:56 am »

Brass , Bronze, and Cast Iron are the ubiquitous metals of the Steam Era.

But Iron rusts  Tongue

There are any number of Brass and Bronze Alloys that make up the lion's share of fittings for the Victorian and Steam Era.
They were used because of good strength; ease of casting and machining complicated parts; "self lubricating" properties
which cut down on friction;  but most especially for the resistance to corrosion, which is essential in real-world steam
applications.

Brass and Bronze can be cast at temperatures below 2000 deg F, which is easily achieved even in a home foundry, as opposed to steel
which melts at ~ 2500 deg F and iron which melts at ~ 2750 deg F.

Certain Bronzes, especially Phospher Bronze and Nickel Silver Bronze, have tensile strengths exceeding that of mild steel.

yhs
prof marvel
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Clym Angus
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« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2016, 05:47:41 pm »

Brass doesn't rust......
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RJBowman
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« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2016, 03:01:41 am »

Don't forget Copper, which if I recall was part of the alloy for brass (forget which other material, but you can google).

The assumption is that the 1800's (and thus Steam Punk) is restricted (original time-line wise)  to materials of that time (duh).  Off the top of my head, that's usually:
copper
brass
tin
lead
cast iron
glass
leather
wood
mercury
asbestos (maybe, check timeline)
porcelain
gold
silver
bronze
clay/pottery/ceramic
pewter
concrete
steel
vulcanized rubber
aluminum

Check out this time line I googled.  It seems pretty helpful. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_materials_technology


Add to the list:
horn
bone
ivory
mother of pearl
composition (early plastic material made of sawdust and glue)
celluloid
cardboard
lacquered paper or cloth
rubberized cloth

Exotic steampunk adventurers might have things made from exotic natural materials; green Martian tusks, dinosaur bone, etc.

As for why BRASS is steampunk: it is a beautiful shiny material that was once used for ornamentation, clock gears, and many functional objects, but it required some maintenance to keep it shiney, and it lacks the durability of steel, and it is more expensive than plastic, so by the mid twentieth century, the once ubiquitous metal had largely disappeared from our world in favor of more modern or more practical replacements. In short, brass has ornamental beauty and is suggestive of a bygone mechanized era; the perfect steampunk material.
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Prof Marvel
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learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it


« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2016, 10:49:00 am »

Brass doesn't rust......

And Rust Never Sleeps

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SeVeNeVeS
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England England



« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2016, 11:04:51 am »

Rust never sleeps......

Anyone that has purchased a Harley Davidson motorcycle in the past 20 years knows this only too well. cheap rubbish Chinese chrome, you breath on it and watch the rust appear.

Copper and brass are your friend, Steampunk or not........... And it looks more attractive.

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Atterton
Time Traveler
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Only The Shadow knows


« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2016, 06:10:49 pm »

It's a simple visual shorthand for victorian.
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Resurrectionist and freelance surgeon.
NoirMagus
Deck Hand
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New Zealand New Zealand



« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2016, 08:45:51 pm »

Some great stuff here. Very useful. In the end I have gone with Phosphor Bronze because that suits my needs perfectly in this case but I am compiling a list of all the other suggestions for future use.

Thanks for the help. Cups of tea on me at the tea bar!
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Atterton
Time Traveler
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Only The Shadow knows


« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2016, 11:44:23 pm »

I think what a lot of peope are missing is that brass was sort of decorative. For large-scale structures they'd more likely have used copper or cast iron.
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Hez
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aka Miss Primrose C Leigh


« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2016, 05:37:11 am »

Brass was also the affordable alternative to gold.  As today we would use laminate flooring instead of hardwood.
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RJBowman
Zeppelin Captain
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« Reply #13 on: November 13, 2016, 04:17:34 pm »

Rust never sleeps......

Anyone that has purchased a Harley Davidson motorcycle in the past 20 years knows this only too well. cheap rubbish Chinese chrome, you breath on it and watch the rust appear.

Copper and brass are your friend, Steampunk or not........... And it looks more attractive.

Back in the eighties, Harley convinced the American Congress that, as the last remaining American motorcycle manufacturer, they needed special protection, so Congress put a tariff on imported, mostly Japanese, motorcycles.

Within a couple of years, Harley Davidson sales were strong, and they were swimming in cash. They reinvested that cash into their factories, purchasing the finest Japanese-made machine tools available.

But I hadn't heard about the imported Chinese chrome.
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