Despite being such an important facet of our daily lives, many people know little about metal. Metal fulfills a variety of functions including support, durability and electrical and thermal conductivity–but do you know the basics of metals? How is metal made? What distinguishes one type of metal from another? What type of metal is best suited to particular tasks?
The following guide should answer these questions and more about the metal that serves and supports your daily life.
The origins of aluminum as an industrial material date back to the early 19th century. German chemist Friedrich Wöhler studied past experiments on what early scientists called aluminum, and later successfully produced the material in an isolated, pure form. In the following years, chemists would expand, edit and ultimately improve the way aluminum was made by reducing aluminum chloride into aluminum with sodium as a reducing agent.
Aluminum is made chiefly from the ore bauxite. Its creation involves crushing, grinding, digesting in a machine, settling and calcination.
Although it’s lighter than other metals, aluminum is also a weaker material. Many still favor aluminum because it is cheaper than stainless steel but maintains a similar clean look. It also does not rust–although it can oxidize.
Thanks to its strength and relatively light weight, aluminum is used in a number of common fixtures, including foils, soda cans, utensils, airplanes and more. It's also infinitely recyclable and produces a relatively small carbon footprint when made.
Brass is an alloy, which means it’s a combination of multiple metals–in this case, copper and zinc. The oldest reports of its use (as an alloy of copper and zinc) date back to the first millennium B.C. in the Mediterranean. Its production process has changed and been refined through the years. Brass is primarily made through melting, mixing and rolling copper and zinc together.
Brass is popular for being durable, versatile and low maintenance. It can withstand extreme temperatures, does not corrode and features solid strength. People also find it visually engaging, as it looks like a shinier iteration of gold. Brass has an upscale appearance while not being as expensive as gold.
For these reasons, brass is regularly used for locks, door knobs, door hinges, pipes, valves and even sculptures and decorations.
Though this metal is often associated with a third-place medal, in most cases, it's a first-place choice. Like brass, its similarly colored counterpart, bronze is an alloy. Bronze is typically made from copper and tin. It can also be created by combining copper with aluminum, arsenic, silicon, phosphorus and other metals.
Bronze has a deep and storied history; so much so, that it even has a prominent period of time named after it—the Bronze Age. Whenever a region (from Europe to East Asia) started smelting copper and tin to make bronze as a primary means of production, it entered its respective Bronze Age, a period characterized by discovery and invention.
Bronze has both pragmatic and stylish appeal. It has low metal-on-metal friction, which makes it a vital component in many metal-based structures. For this reason, it is commonly used for springs, bearings, clips and connectors in many machines, including vehicles. Its robust coloration makes it popular for sculptures and accents on modern furniture.
Steel, the backbone of buildings and structures worldwide, is an alloy of iron and carbon. Its history dates back to 1800 B.C., where it was used primarily for weaponry and armor. Archaeologists have found ancient forges and furnaces in most corners of the world, including the Mediterranean region, China and India.
With modern innovation, steel making has evolved, though the basic process has generally stayed the same. Iron ore is melted to remove impurities, including excess carbon. Once the right amount of carbon is achieved, the mixture cools, and what's left is steel.
Steel is popular for its incredible strength and relatively low cost compared to other metals. Its sturdiness and reliability make it one of the most common and widely traded construction materials in the entire world. That being said, it is susceptible to rust and tarnish over time. It's found in automobiles, ships, buildings, weapons, appliances and even in wool format.
Though there are a great many types of steel, stainless steel is the most widely known format. A common choice for modern appliances and stylish homes, this type of steel alloy contains at least 10.5 percent chromium by mass. Chromium is a brilliant element that gives stainless steel its stunning appearance.
Chromium-steel alloys date back to the early 19th century, though the first composite similar to modern stainless steel was created at the dawn of the 20th century.
Stainless steel, when compared to other metals (including other types of steel) is highly resistant to corrosion and staining. This resistance keeps its clean, sleek finish from dulling, although it is advised to clean the metal properly to maintain its sparkling shine.
Steel is frequently used in the production of surgical instruments, cookware, storage tanks for corrosive materials, industrial equipment and household furniture.
At Coco Architectural, we fabricate our linear bar grilles, perforated metal grilles and other custom metal products with all five of these metal compositions and a variety of material finishes. The possibilities are endless for creating the architectural grilles of your choosing. Luckily, we’ve created a separate guide to help you choose the right architectural metal for your project. You can also take a look at our catalog to browse all of our metal products and their corresponding material and finishing options.