How to Tell If a Key Is Made of Brass

Hunker may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.
Brass key

You might wonder why anyone would be concerned with the difference between solid brass keys and brass plated ones. But antique stores and collectors of these items attribute value to solid brass. Furthermore, a very practical advantage of having solid brass keys is that they will never rust.

Brass is created by combining two metals--zinc and copper--to make an alloy. Brass is a versatile material that can be wrought, forged, cast or spun. It is used for home-decorating purposes--such as being employed in lighting fixtures and candleholders--or for very practical items like locks and keys. A clear lacquer coating is usually applied to brass to protect it from becoming oxidized.

Step 1

Head for the toolbox or your child's collection of school supplies and take out a magnet. A refrigerator magnet will also work. Any hardware store or home-improvement store will have magnets.

Step 2

Dangle your keys next to the magnet. If they are pulled in the direction of the magnet, they have failed the test. Solid brass will not be pulled by magnetic force, because it contains no lead or steel. Steel keys with brass plating, however, will respond to the magnet test.

Step 3

Convince yourself further by scratching a tiny spot on the key with a sharp metal tool. If it leaves a yellow scratch, your key is probably brass. If it leaves a shiny silvery scratch, your key has been brass-plated. The core metal of your key is probably iron, steel or white metal.

resources

Ingrid Hansen

Ingrid Hansen has been published in "Twin Cities Business" magazine, the "Murphy Reporter," "Twin Cities Parent" magazine and the "Southwest Journal" newspaper. She has also written more than 30 non-fiction books for the K-12 library and education market, and has been a subject matter expert and a course designer for online college curriculum. She teaches English Composition at a local college, and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Hamline University.