Metal Matters: A Complete Guide to Metals Used in Steel Fabrication

steel fabricationDiscovering the right compositions of steel for a given task drove empires in the ancient world. The secrets of Damascus steel blades took nearly 400 years to understand.

You don’t need individualized artisanal steel to get a job done. What you need is the right alloy for the job. These days we know that commoditization outstrips the rarities of an individual crafter.

The steel fabrication industry showed 10% growth from 2017 to 2018. That kind of volume requires well tested and well-regulated materials to produce a dependable product every time.

Still, even in the modern age, we know that no one steel alloy fits all tasks. Read on to learn more about the current steel options and what goes into using them.

Factors to Consider for Steel Fabrication

Two categories of consideration go into choosing a fabrication metal. These represent front-end and back-end considerations.

For a consumer, the front-end decisions related to the project results. How they want it to look, how long they want it to last, and how to get the most out of it for the lowest cost. With the variety of steels available, cost often works as the sole limiter.

Back-end considerations represent methods of working with each of the metal materials. These break down to how cutting, crafting, and casting of materials will work to deliver a finished project.

Cutting

Cadet Steel uses all the latest steel cutting methods when utilizing steel.

Cutting methods differ by the thickness of sheet metal material. Intricate work that requires long or thin pieces to be cut might need special attention.

Choosing the right cutting method is influenced by the steel chosen, not the other way around.

Cost, again, becomes the limiter in choosing an alloy for steel fabrication where cutting is involved.

Crafting

Metal was once limited to what could be beaten into shape from raw materials. Forging has a long history that doesn’t completely disappear in a modern fabrication shop.

Punching and casting techniques also produce shaped materials to specifications. Punching pushes out a finished shape from a sheet, this differs from cutting in speed. Casting requires molten or liquid materials to be pushed into a mold and hardened.

Spinning and brazing techniques come next. Spinning resembles wood lathing in that a part is turned and shaped with a combination of force and speed. Brazing puts different pieces together through joining with or without a 3rd material.

These techniques require different know-how to implement but have no limitations in creating a final form.

If you can envision it, it can be fabricated of metal materials. Cost of the labor to work the metal becomes the limiter once more.

Steel Fabrication Variants

Let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of the most common steel varieties. This will highlight which metal to choose to most easily get the results you want.

Remember that steel is an alloy. It is not a naturally occurring element. It is made from iron and carbon with other additions.

Different compositions of chemicals create different properties within the steel. This will result in changes to the strengths, weaknesses, and overall workability of a steel type.

Carbon

The most basic steel comes in three general varieties based on the carbon concentration. These are low carbon (0.3%), medium carbon (0.6%), and high carbon steel (1.5%).

The higher the concentration of carbon, the more difficult the steel becomes to work with. The general strength of the steel also increases.

Other ingredients, such as silicon, copper, and manganese can be found in carbon steel.

Carbon steel has a dull or matte appearance. It is more vulnerable to corrosion, especially rust, over other steels.

Alloy

Alloy steels feature the largest range of materials and resulting properties. Alloy steel is more of a catch-all category than a specific material.

Alloy steel runs cheap because it can be made in so many ways with so many mixtures. Nickel, aluminum, and copper lead in terms of additional ingredients.

While alloy steel sees use in pipelines, motors, and mechanical works, it is a jack-o0f-all-trades. If you have a specific project in mind, alloy steel will prove effective but less than optimum results for certain steel fabrication tasks.

Tool

Named after its propensity for being used to create tools, tool steel resists damage. Tool steel leads in term of scrape resistance and overall resistance to heat.

Tool steel, as opposed to the others, has a certifying body that approves it across six groups.

The AISI/SAE Steel Code groups are hot-work, high-speed, cold-work, water-hardening, shock-resisting, and special purpose.

Each of the groups is further divided by tolerance for a total of 13 groups.

The division between one material and the next comes from either the process used to create it or the composition.

Water-hardening is self-explanatory. Cold-work includes materials that are air-hardened, oil-hardened, or made of a high carbon-chromium mixture.

High-speed tool steel factors in the need to retain strength without deforming at high temperatures.

Hot-working falls within this class with an emphasis on working at higher temperatures for longer durations.

Shock-resisting tool steel withstands high impacts at variable temperatures. The impact toughness gets traded off with low resistance to abrasion.

The final class, special purpose are variations on other types. L-codes find use in low alloy tools. F-codes work alongside water-hardened but with increased abrasion resistance.

Stainless

This is a versatile steel with a high corrosion resistance which gives it its name. Stainless steels represent 100 grades of material depending on the exact contents.

Unlike carbon steel, which differs mostly from carbon concentration, stainless steel ratings come from added chromium, molybdenum, and nickel.

Chromium gives stainless steel its shiny, sleek appearance. This appearance wicks away moisture, limiting rust. Acid also has a hard time eating through the material because of its well-aligned carbon chains.

Stainless steel makes excellent materials for food-grade projects and surfaces.

Face the Forge

Now that you have seen all the steel types of raw materials, you have what you need to make project decisions. Steel fabrication is a deep industry capable of producing almost limitless designs and ideas.

Get started on estimates and materials choices for your next project by contacting Cadet Steel here.

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