Thursday, April 25, 2013

Phosphor Bronze Wire Versus Copper Wire

Copper wire on a spool and coiled phosphor bronze wire

Sure, I'm a little late to the party, but better late than never. I have been meaning to try phosphor bronze wire for a very long time. Truth be told, I was waiting for my favorite source, fellow wire artist, Nancy Wickman, of Wickwire Jewelry, to develop 1/2 round. But, she's had trouble making it herself, so I decided to just go ahead and try it anyway. I got some 1/2 round from It is called bronze. I do no know if it is true phosphor bronze. It looks the same and patinas the same, though.

Let's take a look at what true phosphor bronze is. True phosphor bronze is a mix of copper and tin. A lot of what is called bronze is actually a mix of copper and zinc and is more accurately called brass. This is a crucial difference in health matters. Zinc is very toxic when worked with a flame. Tin isn't.

I got my usual 20g RS and some 26g RS for weaving from Nancy. I got 20 and 21 HR HH from Wire-Sculpture. Both were shipped quickly, packed well and coiled with no waste.

First, let me tell you, phosphor bronze wire has a wonderful feel to it. It feels smooth and somehow slippery, although the wire isn't coated. I want to say buttery, but that's how it looks, too. Where copper is reddish, the bronze is a buttery, rose goldish. It really is very pretty with a light glow and is subtly different from copper. The wire, which mine is dead soft, is actually soft like silver, not soft like copper. I like the workability a lot. It reminds me of my soft copper after being twisted- not quite half hard. It takes a shape well and handles very, very well.

Back track:  What got me started on this adventure was the cab set I recently finished. It is what I thought was bronzite, but is actually Golden Amphibolite from Australia. I posted pictures of it on my rock board and a fellow rock hound from Australia told me that it is Golden Amphibolite, which is more rare and beautiful than bronzite. Most Americans don't know what it is, so it is often misnamed the more common bronzite.  The cabs I have have 3 distinct layers, a bronze layer on top with what looks like metal flake and a clear layer under it, with the bottom layer being more bronze mossy looking material. I tried to capture it in these pictures.

Golden Amphibolite

Golden Amphibolite

Golden Amphibolite

I thought the best choice for these was bronze and that's what finally convinced me to try it. So, wasting little time, I finished up an earring with copper and one with bronze. Let's see if the pictures can pick up the differences.

Notice the bronze on the right has a more vintage and less red look?

The difference is easy to see here. The golden bronze is on the left.

I hope you clicked to blow up the pictures. The copper is obviously more red. These pieces have been tumbled and are clean. The copper just seems so red in comparison to the vintage gold look of the bronze.

Let's look at the patina. I gave the bronze a patina with LOS in the exact way I would for copper. There were no differences in how they take a patina.

Finished pendant with patina.
The patina compared to the raw wire.

Do you see how the patina has a vintage look? It is less dark and rosy than copper and more antique looking.

Let's compare bronze patina with copper patina:

Bronze on the right, copper on the left

I think these pictures give you a better idea of what I mean. The bronze is a more neutral, antiqued tone.

Next, I tried to put a bead on a wire. I got out my small butane torch and a 20 gauge wire. It beaded up nicely and was easy to clean. The ball itself had less of the raisin or prune look that copper can get. I don't use flux when I bead a copper or bronze wire. If I did, then maybe it wouldn't pucker- I don't know.

Bronze headpin

I haven't had the time to see how it ages. I guess you'll have to wait a while for that show and tell. :)

I'll just wrap up by saying that I really love this wire and I believe it has a place on my shelf. I like the workability and the color. But, I especially like the more neutral, vintage looking patina. I can see it being the perfect match for some stones where the red in the copper might clash or overpower the color of the stone.  

Golden Amphibolite earrings in bronze wire with patina

Thanks for reading :) If you haven't tried phosphor bronze wire, yet, I hope you'll give it a try.


  1. I bought phosphor bronze from Nancy a couple of years ago ... yes, it's really nice to work with. She had a blog posting April 21, 2011, comparing two types of patina and no-patina on finished pieces. Very informative.

    I like your comparisons to copper, Tela. Thanks.


    1. Thanks for the heads up, Joyce. I guess I should have looked to see if I was repeating everyone else. But, I get excited about something and run with it. I love this wire. I can't say it will be a replacement for copper and silver, but I will definitely be using more of it.

  2. Great post, Tela, and thanks for the shout-out! And your pieces are beautiful. I also love the patina on bronze. Now if I could just find a manufacturer for chain. Hmm.
    P.S. When I make head pins I don't use flux either. I just quench them immediately and the black stuff flakes right off.


    1. Well..... if you find a good supplier.... put me on your list to buy some. :)

      Thanks for the tip. I wasn't quenching. I air cooled and popped it in the speedbrite.

      Thanks for making this wire available and for making it such high quality. I am the first to complain when I spend money, but I have no complaints, at all. :)

  3. phosphorus,aluminum, manganese, and silicon can also be used to produce different properties in the material, quite helpful your article.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments.