What Is a Base Metal? Definition and Examples

Base Metal vs Precious Metal

Copper is a prime example of a base metal.
Copper is a prime example of a base metal. It is readily available, inexpensive, and corrodes easily. D. Sharon Pruitt Pink Sherbet Photography, Getty Images

Base metals are used in jewelry and industry. Here is the explanation of what a base metal is, along with several examples.

Key Takeaways: What Is a Base Metal?

  • There are at least three definitions of a base metal.
  • A base metal can be a common metal (element or alloy), which relatively low value, that is not used as a basis for currency. Examples include bronze and lead.
  • A base metal can be the primary metal in an alloy. An example is iron in steel.
  • A base metal can be a metal or alloy to which a plating or other coating is applied. An example is steel or iron in galvanized steel.

Base Metal Definition

There is more than one definition of a base metal:

A base metal is any metal other than the noble metals or precious metals (gold, silver, platinum, etc.). Base metals typically tarnish or corrode readily. Such a metal will react with dilute hydrochloric acid to produce hydrogen gas. (Note: although copper does not react as easily with hydrochloric acid, it is still considered a base metal.) The base metals are "common" in that they are readily available and typically inexpensive. Although coins may be made from base metals, they typically are not the basis for currency.

A second definition of a base metal is the principal metallic element in an alloy. For example, the base metal of bronze is copper.

A third definition of a base metal is the metal core underlying a coating. For example, the base metal of galvanized steel is steel, which is coated with zinc. Sometimes sterling silver is coated with gold, platinum, or rhodium. While silver is considered a precious metal, it is less "precious" than the other metal and also serves as the base for the plating process.

Base Metal Examples

Common examples of base metals are copper, lead, tin, aluminum, nickel, and zinc. Alloys of these elemental metals are also base metals, such as brass and bronze.

United States Customs and Border Protection also includes metals such as iron, steel, aluminum, molybdenum, tungsten, and several other transition metals to be base metals.

Chart of Noble and Precious Metals