You know them. You love them. Stainless steel and carbon steel tubing are very popular industrial products.
We understand why everyone fawns over stainless steel. It's beautiful, and it ages well.
But carbon steel tubing can be a beautiful thing, too -- just not aesthetically. If you find strength and affordability to be romantic qualities, carbon steel could be the right match.
What are Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel?
Steel is an alloy made out of iron and carbon. The high amount of carbon gives carbon steel its name as well as its familiar dark color.
(Fun fact: All steel is technically “carbon steel.” After all, the presence of carbon is what separates steel from iron.)
Stainless steel mainly differs in that it’s an alloy with chromium as a special hardening agent.
Carbon steel tubing certainly has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s see how it holds up against against stainless steel in cost, durability, and other factors.
Pros and Cons: Carbon Steel Tubing Vs. Stainless Steel Tubing
Let’s be blunt: Carbon steel is cheaper than stainless steel. The base materials of carbon steel -- remember, they’re iron and carbon -- are also much cheaper than the alloys in stainless steel. If you’re an especially cost-conscious buyer, that may be all you need to hear.
Thanks to its strength, carbon steel tubing can be made thinner and is able to transport higher volumes than tubes made of other material. The less base material you need, the more affordable your project will be.
Furthermore, carbon steel doesn't need to be replaced often, so don’t worry about frequent repairs and replacement components.
Carbon steel is widely used in the infrastructure and construction industries due to its high durability compared to stainless steel. Carbon steel tubing succeeds because it’s:
- Resistant to harsh weather
- Resistant to changes in pressure
- Resilient against shock
Even so, carbon steel is very hard and brittle compared to other metals. Translation: It's less likely to bend under pressure, but it has a higher chance of snapping or breaking off completely.
Stainless steel’s inert, invisible chromium oxide layer prevents corrosion. No such luck with carbon steel.
Unfortunately for carbon steel, for some people -- and engineering projects -- looks matter. If you need an aesthetically pleasing material, carbon steel is not the material for you. Nothing beats the sleek shine of stainless steel.
Stainless steel tubing is lustrous and comes in various grades with increasing amounts of chromium - the highest grades are mirrorlike in their reflectivity. Carbon steel tubing is dull with a matte finish -- think of a cast iron pot or wrought iron fencing. (Not that some people don’t find these beautiful too!)
The beauty benefits of stainless steel tubing are long-lasting. Stainless is easy to clean. And famously, stainless steel’s protective layer prevents -- you guessed it -- staining.
Finally, Stainless steel does not get plagued with rust. No such luck with carbon steel tubing.
Other Personality Traits
Depending on your project, there may be a few more things you need to keep in mind before you enter a relationship with stainless steel or carbon steel tubing.
- Stainless steel is lightweight. Carbon steel can be very heavy, depending on the level of carbon content.
- Carbon boasts more malleability.
- Ductility in carbon steel can be low.
- There’s no chemical reactivity to worry about with stainless. Go ahead -- use a carbon steel cookware set and tell us how your food tastes (not to mention how your health’s doing).
Your Best Applications for Carbon and Stainless
Carbon steel tubing is typically preferable in manufacturing, production, and projects in which the steel is at least partially hidden from view. Unless you like how it looks. Whatever floats your boat!
Carbon steel’s high shock resistance means it works reliably as infrastructure under roads. It’s also used on houses because it’s highly resistant to rough weather.
Stainless steel tubing is preferred for many consumer products and can be used decoratively in construction. It provides the shine in monuments, automobiles, and more. Stainless is also ideal for industries with strict hygiene requirements, like hospitals and restaurants.
So before you take the plunge with one metal or the other, consider your budgetary, durability, and aesthetic needs.