How to Identify Copper Metal

Updated November 21, 2016

Copper is one of the noble metals found on the periodic table. It is identified by the abbreviation Cu. This highly ductile metal usually occurs in nature in the form of ore, but is sometimes also found in nugget form. Copper has been used by humans for thousands of years as a material for tools, kitchenware, sculptures, construction and more recently, electrical conduction. One of copper's most important properties in relation to modern use is its extremely high level of electrical conductivity. Copper is relatively easy to identify through several means.

Look at a piece of metal's colour first. This is the quickest and simplest way to identify copper. Pure, untarnished copper has a shiny reddish orange colouration. Once the metal is exposed for a prolonged period of time to the elements, its surface can partly or completely change colour from the original shiny reddish orange to a dull red or even bluish green tone. Copper is the only metal whose natural colour isn't silver

Hit the piece of metal with a hammer (if you're not worried about damage). Copper is the only metal on the periodic table whose natural colour is reddish. However, certain less expensive metals may be plated with copper for decorative reasons. Hammering a piece of metal you suspect to be copper is helpful because pure copper is quite soft and should dent easily. If the metal in question doesn't, then it's probably something else.

Use a magnet on the metal. One of copper's characteristics is that it isn't magnetic. Thus, if you touch a magnet to your piece of metal or object, and it sticks, you're either dealing with impure ciopper that contains iron, or an entirely different metal. However, this step alone does not guarantee identification. Numerous other metals, such as gold and silver, are also non magnetic.

Melt a sample of the metal in question. Most metals have fairly specific melting points, and copper melts at 1,083 degrees Celsius. This will also be useful in identifying your metal more clearly. If other means of identifying copper all check out, and the melting temperature fits the metal's characteristics, you can be reasonably certain that you've identified copper.

Things You'll Need

  • Hammer
  • Torch with precision temperature meter
  • Magnet
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About the Author

Stephan Sawyer is a writer and translator from Vancouver, Canada, currently living in Central America. He has been writing and translating for various clients since 2007, specializing in topics related to business, marketing and finance. Sawyer studied communications in university and is a fluent Spanish speaker.