Alloys of Lead and Tin

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Lead is a soft metal with high density, malleability, and ductility. Its low melting point allows it to be joined to many other materials by convenient heating methods without damaging heat-sensitive parts or surfaces. Alloying with tin can increase its strength and resistance to corrosion; the most common alloys are used in electrical and plumbing work.

The most familiar alloy of tin and lead is solder, which wets easily with copper, silver, gold, tin, and some other metals and is used to create electrical connections. The most common solder alloy is 60:40 Sn-Pb (short for tin and lead). Other tin/lead alloys include terne coatings, which are used to coat carbon steel sheet and other materials; these products have higher tin concentrations than solders and lower shear and tensile strengths.

Combinations of tin, bismuth, cadmium, and indium with lead form a large family of alloys that are often referred to as fusible alloys because they melt at temperatures very close to that of water. These alloys are used to make fire alarm and sprinkler anodes, seals for temperature-sensitive equipment, and devices that warn of overheating.

Tin is also used for die casting, where its ability to flow and conform to sharp details is useful. Alloys with up to 25 percent tin, and smaller amounts of antimony, copper, zinc, or nickel are commonly employed for this purpose. Tin die castings are found in a wide variety of mechanical parts including gears, wheels, and weights such as those used on postage meters.