Most porous-metal bearings consist of either bronze or iron which has interconnecting pores. These voids take up to 10 to 35% of the total volume. In operation, lubricating oil is stored in these voids and feeds through the interconnected pores to the bearing surface. Any oil which is forced from the loaded zone of the bearing is reabsorbed by capillary action. Because these bearings can operate for long periods without additional lubricant, they can be used in inaccessible or inconvenient places where relubrication would be difficult.

Adding from 1 to 3.5% graphite frequently enhances self-lubricating properties. High porosity with a maximum amount of lubricating oil is used for high-speed light-load applications, such as fractional-horsepower motor bearings. A low-oil-content low-porosity material with a high graphite content is more satisfactory for oscillating and reciprocating motions where it is hard to build up an oil film.

Powder producers can control powder characteristics such as purity, hydrogen loss, particle size and distribution, and particle shape. Each of these properties in some ways affects performance. In the bronze system, for example, shrinkage increases as particle size of tin or copper powder in the mix decreases. Graphite additions result in growth but always lower the strength of the bearings. Lubricants used in the mix have only a slight influence on dimensional change, but a more pronounced effect on the apparent density and flow rate.

After sintering, the bearing must be sized to the specified dimensions. Sizing reduces interconnected porosity and produces greater strength, lower ductility, and a smoother finish.

Bronze: The most common porous bearing material. It contains 90% copper and 10% tin. These bearings are wear resistant, ductile, conformable, and corrosion resistant. Their lubricity, embeddability, and low cost give them a wide range of applications from home appliances to farm machinery.

Leaded bronzes: Have a 20% reduction of the tin content of the usual 90-10 bronze and 4% reduction in copper. Lead content is 14 to 16% of total composition and results in a lower coefficient of friction and good resistance to galling in case the lubricant supply is interrupted. These alloys also have higher conformability than the 90-10 bronzes.

Copper iron: The inclusion of iron in the composition boosts compressive strength although the speed limit drops accordingly. These materials are useful in applications involving shock and heavy loads and should be used with hardened shafts.

Hardenable copper iron: The addition of 1 1/2% free carbon to copper-iron materials allows them to be heat treated to a particle hardness of Rockwell C65. They provide high impact resistance and should be used with hardened-and-ground shafts.

Iron: Combine low cost with good bearing qualities, widely used in automotive applications, toys, farm equipment, and machine tools. Powdered iron is frequently blended with up to 10% copper for improved strength. These materials have a relatively low limiting value of PV (on the V side), but have high oil-volume capacity because of high porosity. They have good resistance to wear, but should be used with hardened-and-ground steel shafts.

Leaded iron: Provide improved speed capability, but are still low-cost bearing materials.

Aluminum: In some applications they provide cooler operation, greater tolerance for misalignment, lower weight, and longer oil life than porous bronze or iron. The limiting PV value is 50,000, the same as porous bronze and porous iron.