When working with metal, we’re exposed to a variety of raw materials and alloys. While every metal has its perks, we’re quite fond of steel for a number of reasons.
The prices of metals vary around the world and according to the economic climate, but steel is often quite inexpensive. Recently, aluminum was at about $1,600 per metric ton, while at the same time steel rested between $300 and $800 per metric ton.
While many of us aren’t buying our materials by the metric ton (and prices shift a bit, depending on the kinds of steel or aluminum), steel is generally less expensive than the other metals that are commonly used in metalworking.
It’s the spice of life! While most metals come in varying grades and styles, steel is the metal that is best known for its variety. For instance, we’ve all heard of stainless or 304, 1018, and P20 or tool steel because these are all grades of steel. At the same time, a quick Google search immediately turns up a spread of at least eight subtly different aluminum alloys.
Variety is apparent in all metals, but steel has the most prominent array of properties, like being heat treated, through-hardened, or case-hardened. These varying degrees provide access to steels with different hardnesses, different finishes, and even different malleable properties.
Ease of Use
Steel is a very hard metal, but it is also quite easy to work with. Steel was a driving force during the Industrial Revolution because it is machinable, malleable, and moldable.
What’s more, steel is very easy to weld. Other metals often require specific types of welding to properly achieve a good bond, while steel can be welded with any of the better-known welding processes – TIG, MIG, ARC, etc.
The Most Important Reason
When we get right down to it, anybody that uses a mill or lathe loves making chips. Here at Tormach, we love steel because the chips are… well… pretty.
There really is little more satisfying as a metalworker than seeing blue or gold chips flying off a steel block. While you can use chip coloration to determine adjustments for your machining process, like speeds and feeds, it’s our favorite for pure aesthetic and cathartic reasons. Blue and gold chips are just awesome.