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What does a Brazier do?

By Alan Rankin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A brazier is a craftsperson who works with brass. One of the first alloys discovered, brass has been used since prehistory; the brazier is thus one of the earliest metalworkers. For centuries, brass has been used to create items for architectural and industrial use as well as for luxury items, such as jewelry and musical instruments. In modern times, brass is still widely used for these items as well as machine and electrical parts, but the term brazier itself has fallen into disuse.

Brass is an alloy created by combining the base metals copper and zinc. This process was discovered in ancient times; since the metal is malleable and has a low melting point, it was easy to shape before the invention of modern industrial metalworking methods. Bronze, a similar alloy composed of copper and tin, was used to create weapons and armor because it was more resilient than brass. Brass became the metal of choice for decorative items, and the brazier was an important artisan in early society.

From Roman times to the Middle Ages, braziers created public works, coins, and vessels for eating and drinking. In European nations such as England, brass monuments decorated the tombs of statesmen and important historical figures. These durable decorations lasted for centuries, providing later generations with valuable insights into ancient art and life. It became a fashion to make “rubbings” of these brass sculptures, copying their shapes onto paper sheets that became cherished heirlooms in their own right.

During the Renaissance, refinements in the brass-making process allowed the brazier to create fine art, watches, scientific equipment and musical instruments. Brass was highly prized for its gold-like appearance, while it was cheaper and more practical than gold for most uses. Brass resists rusting and oxidation, so it was also ideal for ship fittings and plumbing. After the Industrial Revolution, it found applications in factories dealing with flammable materials, as it does not create sparks as some other metals do.

The usefulness of brass continued into modern times, but the brazier became part of a larger class of metalworkers, no longer recognized as a unique figure. In the 21st century, brass is used to make electronics, machinery, shell casings for firearms ammunition, and even zippers. Only those brass workers with an exceptional sense of heritage or professional pride call themselves braziers, however. Most classify themselves by some other occupational title, with little sense of the long history of brass artisans preceding them.

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Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Feb 01, 2012

@Iluviaporos - I've got a set of brass masks from Africa which need a good polish. Even though brass doesn't tarnish as much as some other metals might, it still needs to be kept up.

I know they used to use polished brass as a mirror in the old days, but I don't think I'd want the masks to be that bright, since it would look quite garish. I like that they look a bit old and mysterious.

Although I actually got to see one being made while I was buying them. They melted down some old brass coins in order to get the strips of metal which they then hammered over a wood shell.

It was fascinating seeing what was likely the traditional way braziers had worked in that country for centuries.

By lluviaporos — On Feb 01, 2012

@KoiwiGal - Brass is used in a lot of things still, although you're right that instruments tend to be one of the more visible modern uses of brass.

It has very good acoustic properties, so it gets used even in instruments where it's not more visible. I'm told there are brass parts to the inside of our local church organ.

But I know it best from the brass candlesticks my grandmother once owned that got passed down to us when she died.

I used to hate those things, because they were very detailed and intricate and my mother always wanted them to be polished to a shine, so she made me polish them a lot, which I found to be a very boring task.

I've noticed that they aren't as shiny as they used to be now that I'm no longer living at home!

By KoiwiGal — On Jan 31, 2012

I imagine the fact that brass resists oxidation is the reason they used it for things like buckles and buttons. Even today the words "brass buckle" rolls off the tongue easily, although I'm not sure how often you would see brass used in clothing.

In fact the place I see brass most often now is in musical instruments.

I think they tend to use the traditional materials when making the instruments because they were found to be the best for sound after a lot of trail and error over the years and there is no need to change them into modern materials.

Of course, you might be able to find instruments made from plastic now, but they won't sound nearly as good as the more expensive ones that are still made out of brass.

And I don't think I'd want to hear a "plastic band". A brass band sounds much more appealing.

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