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Zamak vs Brass - Choosing Door Handle Base Metal

Zamak vs Brass

Architectural Ironmongery can be a confusing place - filled with different terminology and jargon that can quickly become confusing. The More Handles Technical Guides series of articles aims to break down confusing industry jargon, and help explain the differences between similar items where confusion can easily occur.

Let’s put the spotlight on an oft-overlooked factor when choosing door furniture – The Base Metal, also known as the Base Material, or ‘Substrate’. When choosing architectural ironmongery such as Door Handles, Door Knobs and Cupboard pull handles, it is very easy to look at the glossy finishes, glamorous designs, and interesting shapes, and not give a second thought to what lies beneath these beautiful designs. Some people ask us the question: “Does the base metal even matter at all?” The answer is most certainly yes. Let’s take a look at what difference Base Material can make.

Today we’ll examine the two most widely used base metals for door handles, Door Knobs, and Cupboard Handles – Brass and Zamak. We will compare these two materials against each other; because they are the two materials most widely used in our industry, and as such, compete against one another in the market most often. Brass-based door furniture products retail for around 30-80% more in price than their Zamak-based counterparts. We are often asked, “What is the difference?” To answer that, first let’s look at what these two metals are, and the difference between the two.

Raw Solid Brass Ingots

Brass is a metal alloy* comprised of copper and zinc.  Brass is both wear and spark resistant and has been used for centuries, valued for its high strength, easy workability, resistance to corrosion, and its attractive appearance. Brass is used in applications where low friction is required, including locks, gears, bearings,  and ammunition casings. It is used extensively in moving parts and across the architectural ironmongery industry, and for plumbing and electrical applications.  Brass is valued for its machinability while retaining integral core strength. Brass is known for its susceptibility to plating and provides a stable base for plating with materials such as Chrome or Nickel.

Zamak

 Zamak, also commonly known as Zamac, Pot Metal,  White Metal, or simply Zinc (Zinc being its prime  constituent.) Zamak is a family of alloys with a base  metal of zinc including elements of aluminium, magnesium, and copper. Zamak alloys are part of the zinc aluminium alloy family. The name ‘Zamak’ is an acronym of the names of the metals of which the alloys are composed: Zinc, Aluminium, Magnesium and Copper (or Kupfer, in German.) Zamak alloy was first developed during the 1920's by The New Jersey Zinc Company.

Zinc alloys are popularly referred to as pot metal or white metal, referencing early zinc die-casting issues with ‘zinc pest’ (from German Zinkpest), also known as zinc rot, which is a destructive corrosion process of zinc alloy, that contain lead impurities. Zamak is held to much higher industrial standards, and Zamak managed to avoid Zinc pest by the use of 99.99% pure zinc metal. As far as finishing process, Zamak can be electroplated, powder coated, wet painted, and chromate-conversion coated. Zamak cannot be left un-finished, as it will corrode quickly due to environmental factors.

So, what is the core difference between the use of these two materials in the architectural ironmongery industry? It comes down to four factors: 1) economic cost, 2) product weight, 3) finish-longevity, and 4) indoor/outdoor application.

1) Cost: The cost of Brass as a raw material is far higher than the cost of Zamak. This means that the manufacturing cost of brass products, is higher than that of Zamak products.

2) Weight: Brass weighs 8.4 grams per cubic centimetre, whereas Zinc ore weighs 3.4 grams per cubic centimetre. With the addition of other materials you can expect a Brass product to weigh around double that of an identical product made from Zamak.

3) Longevity: First of all, Brass as a metal is far less prone to corrosion than Zamak. Zamak is never left un-plated in the ironmongery industry for this reason, whereas Brass can be, and is, used regularly with no plating or coatings applied, and is often seen as more desirable this way. Probably the most common question we are asked when discussing the base metals is “What about when the product is plated? Surely the once it’s finished in plating it doesn’t matter?” Well, Brass provides a much more stable platform for the plating process, and so a plating such as Chrome or Nickel will adhere to Solid Brass substrate far more firmly than it does Zamak. When a plating finish is applied to a Solid Brass product, that finish is approximately 300% more durable than when it is applied to Zamak. This brings us to our final point,

4) indoor/outdoor application. Quite simply, Solid Brass-based items can be used externally, and Zamak based items cannot. If used outside, Zamak-based products will deteriorate in a matter of weeks or months, as factors such as extreme temperature change, UV exposure after rain, frost, and chemical or salt composition in the air will attack the finish and cause the plating to flake off, exposing the vulnerable Zamak base metal beneath. This is both horribly unsightly and will result in the structural decay of the door furniture. By contrast, Solid Brass-based door handles and knobs will last for many years under normal external circumstances.

Zinc Ore Ingots

This longevity is also repeated across the interior of home. For example, items of jewellery, such rings will attack a Zamak-based door handle and eventually scratch the finish. This attack occurs far more easily on Zamak than it would a Brass-based door handle. Another example is in the kitchen - the use of kitchen cleaning agents and sprays should be avoided on all kitchen cupboard, cabinet, and drawer handles. Sometimes, overspray from counter-top cleaning sprays can occur. These cleaning agents can degrade a plated finish, but plating is much more likely to corrode when a Zamak base is used.

Therefore, we can say with some certainty that a Brass substrate is superior to a Zamak one. That said however, you will find many very reasonably priced Zamak door handles that will provide years of good service for the interior of the home. Two examples of this are the SZM range of Lever Door Handles from Carlisle Brass, and the ZPZ range of Lever Door Handles from Zoo Hardware. These Zamak-based ranges use the very latest plating technologies to make Zamak the best it can be.

If you’re looking for door furniture with a Brass substrate, we carry many fantastic products that may be of interest. Our Heritage Brass V Range comprises Brass-based Door handles, Door Knobs and accessories in many different finishes. For modern Lever-on-Rose handles with a Solid Brass base metal, take a look at the Carlisle Brass SZM Lever Handle Range. For Kitchen Cupboard knobs and Handles, take a look at our range of solid brass knobs, or our premier Armac-Martin cupboard furniture collection, which is exclusively Brass-based.

We hope to have outlined and explained the difference between Brass and Zamak in this article. If you would like to discuss this topic further, or talk about the suitability of one or the other of these metals for your specific project or application, please do not hesitate to contact one of our friendly and knowledgeable specialists at our HQ and showroom in Carlisle.

TEL - 01228 516 516

WEB - morehandles.co.uk

EMAIL - sales@morehandles.co.uk

Annotations:

*Alloy: A mixture of two or more metals, or a mixture of a metal and another element. Some examples of alloys are steel, zamak, brass, and pewter.