Copper Annealing Explained: How's it Done

Copper Annealing Explained: How's it Done

Copper Annealing Explained: How's it Done

Cold-working copper to draw it into wires and sheets results in the development of internal stresses that can lead to cracks, breaking the workpiece.

Annealing copper relieves these internal stresses and makes it suitable for further operations eliminating the risk of cracks.

What is copper annealing and why is it performed?

Copper annealing is a heat-treatment process where the workpiece is heated beyond its recrystallization temperature to release internal stresses and then allowed to cool under controlled conditions, thereby regaining its properties such as ductility and malleability. Generally, copper workpieces are annealed at 500° C, followed by controlled cooling.

This article discusses the copper annealing process by going through the steps involved in the process and listing out the advantages annealed copper provides over standard copper.

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What is Copper Annealing?

Annealing process
Annealing process

Copper annealing is a metal processing treatment that enhances the ductility of copper and makes it suitable for various copper machining operations.

It involves heating the copper workpiece beyond its recrystallization temperature and altering its internal properties to enhance ductility and reduce internal stresses.

Performing cold working operations such as drawing into wires, hammering into plates, and electrical stamping can make the copper workpiece brittle and lead to cracking.

Copper stamping involves using a press and dies to cut or shape copper sheets into the desired form. This applied force alters the grains and makes the workpiece brittle.

Annealing aligns the grains of copper to replenish its ductile nature, making it suitable for further applications.

Generally, annealing of wires is performed to relieve internal stresses developed during drawing operation, and making it suitable for applications.

Heat treatment processes generally require tools similar to metal melting tools, such as furnaces, tongs, crucibles, and other safety gear.

How to Anneal Copper: Guide

Recovery StageHeat copper up to its recrystallization temperature (around 140℃)
Recrystallization stageHeat copper up to its annealing temperature (around 500℃)
Grain Growth StageAllow copper workpiece to cool to initiate grain growth (in air or water)
Stages of annealing copper

Annealing is a heat treatment process used to enhance the properties of the metal. Unlike tempering and normalizing, annealing enhances ductility while reducing the brittleness of the workpiece.

Annealing of copper involves gradual heating of the copper workpiece in a furnace up to its recrystallization temperature.

This helps in the reorientation of the grains to eliminate internal stresses developed in the workpiece.

After this, the workpiece is further heated up to its annealing temperature which ranges from 350℃ to 650℃ (700-1200ºF).

In this stage, the new grains replace the deformed grains thereby producing a uniform structure, which enhances the ductility of the copper workpiece.

After holding the workpiece at the annealing temperature for a while, the workpiece is allowed to cool either in a controlled environment inside the furnace or by exposing it to air and water.

Generally, the slower the cooling rate, the better the ductility of the workpiece.

Therefore, quenching of the copper workpiece after annealing is not recommended for applications that require extensive cold working of the workpiece.

A similar process can be followed to anneal steel, brass, and aluminum, but the difference lies in their annealing temperature.

However, you can follow a DIY process to anneal copper for small-scale applications where the extensive cold working of copper is not required.

DIY Guide for Annealing Copper

Prepare the equipmentCopper workpiece and a blow torch
Heat the workpieceUniform heating of copper 
Allow the workpiece to coolQPRD (Quench / Pickle / Rinse / Dry)
Steps involved in annealing copper

Step 1: Prepare the Equipment

Copper annealing of small workpieces can be performed by using a blow torch to heat the workpiece up to its annealing temperature.

Generally, an oxy-acetylene torch is recommended for annealing copper as it provides high temperature, leading to a quick annealing process.

However, you can also use butane and propane torch for the process, but their low tip temperature increases the time taken in heating the workpiece.

Torch TypeTip Temperature o F
Different types of torches and their tip temperature

Apart from a blow torch, you will also need a pair of tongs to hold the workpiece during annealing, and a clean cloth to remove impurities from the workpiece.

Before beginning the annealing process, it is important to ensure that the copper workpiece is clean and free from any impurities as these impurities can catch fire and lead to a poor surface finish of copper.

Heating the Workpiece

Acetylene torch for DIY copper annealing
Acetylene torch for DIY copper annealing

After preparing the workpiece and ensuring all the equipment is available, you can begin the process of heating the workpiece.

Generally, thick copper workpieces require more heat to reach the annealing temperature, while heating a thin workpiece requires extreme caution as it can melt when subjected to extreme heat.

Therefore, when heating the workpiece by using an oxy-acetylene torch, it is advised to maintain a minimum distance of 4" to 6" between the workpiece and the flame.

This ensures gradual heating of the workpiece and minimizes the risk of overheating the workpiece.

The flame should be moved along the surface of the workpiece in a constant to-and-fro movement to ensure uniform heating of the workpiece and avoid heat spots.

As the temperature of copper rises, different colors appear on the surface of the hot copper workpiece.

A swirling black-orange color on the surface indicated recrystallization temperature and a bright red color indicates annealing temperature.

Therefore, it is advised to anneal copper in a dark environment where the distinction between the black-orange and red is clearly visible.

Cooling the Workpiece

Generally, annealing requires controlled cooling of the workpiece where the temperature is gradually dropped inside the furnace until the workpiece reaches room temperature.

However, for DIY applications, you can either allow the workpiece to cool in the ambient air or quench the workpiece in water.

While quenching provides a faster cooling rate, ambient air provides a more refined grain structure with comparatively better ductility.

Annealing leads to black spots or fire scale on the copper workpiece after it cools. To remove this fire scale, pickling is done.

Pickling involves immersing the workpiece in a vinegar and salt bath, followed by brushing the surface to clean the scale.

After completing the pickling of the workpiece, you can rinse it with water and dry them.

Copper Annealing: Why is it Needed?

Cold worked copper tubes
Cold-worked copper tubes

Annealing of copper is generally performed before cold working to enhance its ductility, making it easier to bend and form into the desired shape.

Although copper is a ductile metal that can be easily formed into basic shapes without the need for annealing, the process of cold working disorients the grains of copper rendering it brittle.

As a result, annealing of copper is essential for applications that require extensive cold working on the workpiece.

This can be understood from the fact that, beating a copper plate with hammer results in the deformation of the workpiece while enhancing its hardness. It leads to the stiffening of the plate, losing its flexibility.

Heating the deformed plate up to the annealing temperature and then allowing it to cool results in the reorientation of the grains, replenishing the ductility of the workpiece, and making it suitable for further application.

This prevents the workpiece from cracking or fracturing under load, making it suitable for various applications such as making architectural components, musical instruments, fasteners, locks, ammunition parts, hinges, wires, coinage, etc.

Apart from that, when drawing copper into very thin wires, the process requires intermediate annealing of copper to replenish its ductility and make it suitable for drawing thinner wires.

Advantages of Copper Annealing

Rolled copper sheets
Rolled copper sheets

In comparison to standard copper, annealed copper has a larger grain size which improves its surface finish, making it suitable for making musical instruments and artifacts.

Annealing also improves the thermal and electrical conductivity of copper workpieces.

As a result, annealed copper is used for making electrical wires and radiators for heat exchangers.

Annealing also enhances the cold working ability of copper by enhancing its ductility, making it possible to draw copper into thin wires without breaking.

Final Thoughts

Copper is a ductile metal that generally does not require annealing. However, if your application requires enhanced ductility, copper annealing is your go-to process.

When subjected to extreme cold working, the reorientation of grains can render the copper workpiece brittle, and annealing enhances its ductility, making it suitable for further application.

Annealing copper by using a blow torch can be dangerous and it is strictly advised to wear safety goggles and follow fire safety guidelines when using the torch.

Finally, an improper annealing procedure can lead to overheating and melting of the workpiece. Therefore, it is advised to maintain good process control to achieve a perfectly annealed copper workpiece.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How to anneal copper without a flame torch and furnace?

Copper can also be annealed over the flame of firewood. However, the temperature of the flame is not suitable for annealing thick workpieces and is only suitable for annealing thin wires.

Can you anneal copper with a propane torch?

Yes, a propane torch can be used to anneal thin copper workpieces. However, acetylene flame has a higher tip temperature, making it suitable for annealing thick workpieces.

What other metals can be annealed by a blowtorch?

Metals such as aluminum and steel can be annealed by using a blowtorch. However, annealing steel requires more heat, which increases the processing time.

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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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