Stainless Steel: Characteristics, Uses And Problems
STAINLESS STEEL: CHARACTERISTICS, USES AND PROBLEMS
Margot Gayle, David Look, John Waite. Metals in America's Historic Buildings. Washington,DC: National Park Service, 1995.
L. William Zahner. Architectural Metals. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995.
This standard includes general information on the characteristics
and common uses of stainless steel and identifies typical problems
associated with this material along with common causes of its
Characteristics of stainless steel:
- Contains iron and a minimum of 10 percent chromium
- Marketed for its corrosion resistance, sanitary qualities and
- Expensive initially compared to aluminum
- Low maintenance and replacement costs
- More durable than most sheet metals
- Capable of being polished using an electropolishing methods
- Early standard finishes included hot rolled, annealed and
pickled; still used today, but appearance is slightly
- Thin sheets could be produced using the cold reduction process
(1947)- cold rolling of the metal into thin strips
- Gold- and bronze-plated stainless steel was also produced and
used in the late 40s
Typical historical and current uses for stainless steel include:
- Martenistic stainless steel (iron-chromium alloys containing
1 percent chromium and .35 percent carbon) was originally used
for cutlery and munitions in the early 1900s.
- Ferritic stainless steel (iron-chromium alloys with a low
carbon content) was used for the electric light bulb filament;
also common for turbine blades in the early 1900s.
- Austenitic stainless steel (iron-chromium-nickel and iron-
chromium-nickel-manganese alloys containing 18 percent
chromium and 8 percent nickel) were developed between 1909 and
1912 and are commonly used as formed sheets in architectural
- Precipitation-hardening stainless steel (titanium, boron or
beryllium added to iron-chromium-nickel alloys as hardeners)
was introduced in the late 1920s.
- Manufactured in Great Britain for cutlery, stoves, and motor
- Marketed in the late 20s and early 30s for kitchen use, public
lobbies, exterior ornament, railings, hardware, doors, light
fixtures, furniture, signage and equipment.
- Notable buildings incorporating the use of stainless steel
include the Chrysler Building (1930) designed by William Van
Alen, and the Empire State Building (1931), designed by
Shreve, Lamb and Harmon.
- Used for plaques, signs and sculptural elements as well as
many extruded shapes for storefronts, trim and hardware.
- Used in curtain wall construction in the 1940s and 50s.
- Promoted in the 50s and 60s for gutters, roofing, flashing and
NATURAL OR INHERENT PROBLEMS
- Corrosion: Sensitive to hydrochloric acids.
- Intergranular Corrosion: Under intense heat (900 to 1500
degrees Fahrenheit), the chromium content of stainless steel
is removed; the damaged area is recognizable by the presence
of a blue and orange stain around the affected area; such
intense heat can be produced when welding.
- Pitting: Can occur when the metal is prevented from producing
the chromium oxide film that protects it; this can result from
dirt build-up on the surface that keeps oxygen from reaching
the surface and developing this protective film.
- Galvanic Corrosion: Stainless steel can become corrosive when
comes in contact with lead, nickel, copper, copper alloys and
VANDALISM OR HUMAN-INDUCED PROBLEMS
- Dents and Scratches: Common in high-traffic areas.
- Warping: Can be caused by thermal expansion and exposure to
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