5 Reasons Stainless Steel Is Harder To Use For Fabrication Than Other Types Of Steel

If you're only familiar with stainless steel due to its usefulness in the kitchen, you might not know that this material is harder to work with than other types of steel. Learn about the fabrication challenges related to stainless steel before choosing it for your next custom fabricated item. You may decide to stick with basic carbon steel after reading about these five reasons that stainless steel fabrication can take longer and cost more.

Work Hardening Tendencies

First, consider the struggle of working with a material that gets harder with each bend, cut, and hammer blow. For example, putting holes in thick stock with a drill press can result in a broken piece of equipment, or at least a broken bit. The drill bit causes the material to harden even as it is moving through the stainless steel.

Excessive work hardening leads to brittle metal that breaks easily under pressure, but some types of stainless steel resist this effect better than others if it's a concern for your project. It might sound contradictory that hardened steel becomes more brittle as it hardens, but but keep in mind that hardness and brittleness are two separate properties of metal. Even if the steel is hard enough that it breaks the machine being used to shape and cut it, the wrong bend or blow could still shatter the piece.

Chipping and Cracking Problems

Because stainless steel becomes brittle as it is work hardened, it is also more prone to chipping and cracking while being worked. In order to prevent the metal from breaking apart while being cut or drilled, fabricators take extra steps like

  • Applying lubricants to reduce friction, dissipate heat, and speed up the cutting process
  • Minimizing vibration during the working stages
  • Upgrading equipment to produce sharper cuts and punctures with less force, reducing the chances of a crack or chip.

Corrosion Issues

Most companies requesting stainless steel for a fabrication project do so in an attempt to avoid rust and other corrosion problems. Unfortunately, the items commonly made from stainless steel can still corrode due to the tiniest mistakes made during fabrication. To create a truly corrosion-resistant project, the fabricators must watch out for

  • Overly tight or quickly formed bends, which develop tiny cracks
  • Poorly polished welds, which pit and rust quickly
  • Tiny particles of other steel types dusting the surface, since other steels are not as resistant to corrosion
  • Anything that results in a ding, dent, scratch, or blister.

Any problem that creates less than a smooth and non-porous surface on the stainless steel contributes to unwanted corrosion and rusting. Cleaning and polishing the piece after the fabrication is done helps develop the coating of chromium that keeps the metal's surface from corroding.

Welding Complications

While most types of stainless steel handle the welding process just fine, each type needs a specific blend of gases and different handling during welding. What works for a high-chrome stainless steel might cause problems with a ferritic blend. Make sure the fabricator you choose has experience with all the different grades of stainless steel if you're set on using that particular metal alloy for your project. It only takes a few minor mistakes to compromise the durability and strength of an entire metal structure.

Heat Sensitivities

Finally, thin sheets and pipes made from stainless steel tend to deform when heat is applied. Higher alloy contents increase the amount of unwanted warping and shrinking the fabricators will face as they bend or weld the pieces together. This deformation makes it harder to reach fine tolerance levels for a tight fit with existing machinery, while other forms of steel can take plenty of heat treating without losing their shape or changing in size.

Don't be discouraged if your research reveals that stainless steel truly is the only material that fits your specific application. As long as you find an experienced fabricator that understands the challenges posed by stainless steel, your project is sure to turn out just fine.