A guide for buying metal and steel

By: Grant King - IndustrySearch Writer
10 March, 2015

So you've got a project that requires metal or steel, or both, and you're not sure which to get. Don't worry, you're not alone. There's plenty of confusion as to whether steel is metal or metal is steel. Or neither. Or both!

Here we'll shed light on their differences and guide you on which to use for some general projects.

So are they the same?

Definitely not. Steel is an alloy of iron and made in furnaces. Metal is a natural element found in the earth's crust. So no, steel and metal are very different beasts and it doesn't stop there. Steel is magnetic. Metal isn't. Steel is strong. Metal isn't. In fact, metal is decidedly malleable, which is why it's used for making such decorative and detailed items like rings and bracelets. Steel can rust. Metal can't, or is at least anti-corrosive and resistant to tarnishing.

The case for metal

A few common metals are titanium, copper and nickel. A few expensive ones are gold and silver. While steel can shrink in freezing conditions, metals are less susceptible to extreme cold and can cope in brass monkey weather. Metal's pliability makes it ideal for coins, jewellery, surgical implants, and all manner of industrial and household products.

The case for steel

The big plus with steel is that it's far stronger than metal and can bear extremely heavy loads. Hence it's the go to product for cars, bridges, ships, trains, high rises and superheroes. Stainless steel is also commonplace in kitchens. If cost is a big factor in your project, steel tends to be much cheaper than metal.

Choosing the right one

It's always best to get some professional assistance, but in general terms, there are a bunch of things you need to weigh up. What grade of steel or metal do you need? All kinds of things determine grading – hardness, malleability, strength and structure – so make sure the product you buy has the right set of properties. Is rust an issue? Some steel has better corrosion protection than others, just as some are suitable for framing and bending, and some aren't.

On the other hand, most metal will resist rust. When choosing for your next job, give your merchant as many specifics as you can, including dimensions to two decimal places. And talk lead times as soon as you can or steel yourself for a long wait.