Beryllium Copper and its Uses: Explained

Beryllium Copper and its Uses: Explained

Beryllium Copper and its Uses: Explained

Beryllium copper (BeCu) is a copper alloy having 0.5-3% beryllium as the primary alloying element. It is extensively used to fabricate tools, bearings, electrical wires, springs, musical instruments, etc. Its unparalleled strength, electrical conductivity, and non-sparking properties make it a valuable copper alloy.

Metal alloys combine pure metals with other elements such as nickel, zinc, silicon, phosphorus, titanium, tin, etc., offering distinct physical and chemical properties desirable for various applications.

This article discusses beryllium copper, its unique properties, and its applications.

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Beryllium Copper - What's Special about it?

Beryllium copper, also known as alloy 172, beryllium bronze, copper beryllium (CuBe), or spring copper, is a family of high-strength copper alloys.

It has 0.5% to 3% beryllium, which makes it as strong as alloy steel. Sometimes, other elements like nickel and cobalt are also added.

You can benefit from its high thermal and electrical conductivity, non-magnetic and non-sparking properties, high ductility, good corrosion and oxidation resistance, and excellent formability.

In its age-hardened state, beryllium copper alloy achieves the greatest strength and hardness compared to all other copper alloys.

Furthermore, beryllium copper's strength, durability, and electrical conductivity can be improved by subjecting it to heat treatment.

Depending on the amount of beryllium, it can be classified into different grades.

The first family, with 1.6% - 2.0% beryllium, provides high strength with moderate conductivity.

The second family, with 0.2% - 0.5%, gives medium strength and high conductivity.

Applications of Beryllium Copper

Beryllium copper has numerous specialized applications, including precision measurement devices, ammunition, communication, aerospace, and marine applications.


Beryllium copper open end wrench
Beryllium copper open-end wrench

The risk of random sparking in the petroleum and chemical industries is a major safety concern because it can cause explosions.

For example, one spark can seriously harm people and property in places like coal mines and oil rigs.

Beryllium copper's non-sparking and non-magnetic properties make it a highly secure material for tools in such environments. 

Hammers, wrenches, and screwdrivers made with beryllium copper are often labeled with "BeCu" to identify they're safe to use in such environments.

Moreover, this high-strength alloy is well-suited for applications that experience repeated pressure, including springs, spanners, load cells, cold chisels, pliers, and spring wire.


Beryllium copper bearings
Beryllium copper bearings (Source: Specline)

Bearings must possess good wear resistance to counteract the friction they generate and ensure longevity. 

Beryllium copper alloys exhibit exceptional wear resistance, making them suitable for bearings in many applications.

Moreover, wires for electric locomotives and trams often use beryllium copper due to its good conductivity and corrosion-resistant properties.

Musical Instruments

Tumbling with beryllium copper double jingle synthetic head
Tumbling with beryllium copper double jingle synthetic head

Percussion instruments are instruments played by hitting or scraping them with something, usually a beater.

Copper beryllium is often used in high-quality percussion instruments because it creates consistent sounds with strong resonance.

It is used to make tambourines and triangles, which have a uniform tone and timbre that remains constant even when the instrument is used a lot.


Beryllium copper injection mold
Beryllium copper injection mold (Source: John C. Jackson Woodworks)

Beryllium copper is ideal for producing pressure, precision, and plastic casting molds due to its exceptional strength, hardness, high castability, and thermal conductivity.

These molds offer a better finish, precise patterns, shorter production times, and are more cost-effective due to their reusability.


Beryllium copper valves
Beryllium copper valves

The capability of beryllium copper to dissipate heat also makes it a preferred choice for valve seats and guides in high-performance four-stroke engines.

This alloy has a heat dissipation rate that is similar to that of iron or powdered steel.

Additionally, its soft nature provides cushioning, which reduces friction and increases durability.

Electrical Wires

Beryllium copper electrical wire
Beryllium copper electrical wire

Beryllium copper is an ideal material for making wires since it has excellent conductivity, is resistant to non-oxidizing acids like hydrochloric and carbonic acid, and does not break down under plastic decomposition.

Different wires, such as flat cables, coils, and spools, can be made with beryllium copper.

Cryogenic Equipment

Beryllium copper can maintain superior strength and thermal conductivity even under icy temperatures, making it ideal for cryogenic equipment.

For example, dilution refrigerators, which operate at extremely low temperatures, utilize this alloy due to its high mechanical strength and thermal conductivity.

Other Applications

Beryllium copper is used to making armor-piercing bullets and elastic parts like reeds, bellows contacts, switches, etc.

It also makes gaskets resistant to radio frequency leakage, perfect for electronic seals, EMC testing, and non-echo-free chambers.

Club heads made with beryllium copper also help golfers with chip shots and putts around the green.

Pros and Cons of Using Beryllium Copper

High strengthExpensive 
Non-sparking and non-magneticToxic dust and vapors
Abrasion and galling resistantCan corrode under specific aqueous solutions
Can handle extreme temperaturesRelatively weaker than steel
Resistant to corrosion and biofouling
Good machinability
Dimension stability
Good electrical and thermal conductivity
High elastic modulus
Good hysteresis properties
Pros and cons of beryllium copper

High Strength

Beryllium copper alloys possess unparalleled strength that exceeds all other copper alloys. 

Under tensile stress, high-strength beryllium copper alloys can demonstrate a tensile strength that surpasses 200 ksi (200,000 psi), or approximately 1,400 MPa. 

This impressive strength arises from the precipitation hardening (heat treatment process), which involves the precipitation of beryllium from the alloy mixture.

Non-Sparking and Non-Magnetic

Beryllium copper has an incredible non-sparking quality. When it's struck against other metals, it won't create sparks.

This makes it an excellent choice for tools used in high-risk environments like coal mines and oil rigs.

Also, when hot particles are dislodged from tools, they cool quickly and don't ignite nearby flammables.

You can feel confident using beryllium copper tools in hazardous workplaces.

Additionally, its non-magnetic properties make it ideal for MRI machines where ferrous metals can be problematic.

Abrasion and Galling Resistant

Beryllium copper is highly durable and can withstand constant use without losing strength. This makes it reliable for long-term use without any significant damage.

Unlike most metals, beryllium copper produces very little friction and damage when it comes into contact with other metal elements, even when exposed to extreme pressure and vibrations.

This helps protect it from galling, a common problem when two metals rub against each other under pressure, such as with fasteners.

Can handle extreme temperatures

Beryllium copper can stay strong and durable even in very hot or cold temperatures over a long period.

It is also better than other copper-based materials in high temperatures.

With its added hardness, beryllium copper is often used for molding tools and welding electrodes.

Resistant to Corrosion and Biofouling

Beryllium copper is great for resisting corrosion in harsh environments, even better than the stainless steel of the same weight when exposed to high-chloride conditions.

You can also use it for safely handling ketones, esters, hydrocarbons, and glycols and for resisting biofouling.

This makes beryllium copper an excellent choice for instruments and tools used in gas plants, oil plants, and saline environments.

However, contaminants like sulfides, acids, and salts in aqueous solutions can speed up their corrosion.

Also, fumes from curing polyvinyl chloride and room-temperature vulcanized silicone can cause it to corrode.

Good Machinability

Beryllium copper is an alloy that is moderately hard and highly machinable, which makes it easy to work with and form.

Before it is hardened, it is even easier to shape, as it has a lower hardness level and is more ductile.

Additionally, beryllium copper is resistant to hydrogen embrittlement, making it less likely to crack under stress than other copper components.

Dimension Stability

The age precipitation process helps to reduce stress and gives beryllium copper increased strength and hardness. This makes it more dimensionally stable when you stamp or cut it.

Beryllium Copper vs Copper

FactorBeryllium CopperCopper
StrengthVery HighLow
Electrical Conductivity10 - 30% of copperHigh
CarcinogenicDuring ManufacturingNo
Typical ApplicationsMusical instruments, springs, molds, cryogenics, non-sparking tools, etc.Power transmission lines, electrodes, utensils, jewelry, door knobs, etc.
Beryllium Copper vs Copper

The most striking feature of beryllium copper is its strength, which is about 600 times greater than pure copper. It also has lower electrical conductivity, but it's easy to machine.

Beryllium copper is usually more expensive than copper, but it's worth it due to its age-hardening ability and strength.

Copper is great for electrical applications, like motors and transformers, because of its good electrical and thermal conductivity. You can also find copper in jewelry and architecture.

On the other hand, Beryllium copper is ideal for petroleum, aerospace, and defense applications since it's solid and hard. It's commonly used to make non-sparking tools and springs.

Final Thoughts

Beryllium copper is a copper alloy renowned for its strength, hardness, and other desirable qualities, making it an excellent choice for engineering and design practices.

However, handling beryllium copper has potential health hazards, and some agencies have labeled it carcinogenic.

Therefore, proper safety protocols are essential when working with beryllium copper.

To stay safe while working with beryllium copper, use coolants and lubricants during machining, and wear a respirator, gloves, and foot protection.

Also, approved safety glasses or goggles should be worn for all operations, and food should be kept away from the work area.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to develop skin reactions or rash from routine handling of solid beryllium copper? 

Generally, physical contact with copper beryllium alloys will not cause any problems. But, if you have prolonged skin contact with copper beryllium alloys, you may experience a skin reaction because of some of the metal elements in some alloys. For example, nickel and cobalt can cause allergic dermatitis, and copper can lead to greenish-black skin discoloration.

What factors are essential when selecting a copper alloy?

When choosing a copper alloy, you should consider factors like the purpose of its use, the environment it will be used in, and any desired properties. For example, if you need a copper alloy for a marine environment, you should look for one with high corrosion resistance.

Which copper alloy is an excellent alternative to beryllium copper?

Titanium copper is a good alternative to beryllium copper. It is a high-strength copper alloy with superior properties compared to beryllium copper. For instance, it offers better resistance to stress relaxation and can be bent around a radius without cracking.

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Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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