What alloy works best for your project?

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Although we may not frequently realize it, the history of working with metals to make hardware goes far back in time, and has since its humble beginnings come a very long way. In the fashioning of basic tools, one of the first metals to be used alongside stone was copper, which has been dated back to around 9000 BC. Since the aptly named Copper Age, metal began to be mixed in Ancient Egypt with tin to create the first alloy in existence, Bronze, whose own Age eventually trickled to the western world of Europe, where Greeks and Romans extended the use of the metal in their creation of elaborate statues and art.

Prior to the discovery of iron deposits in Connecticut, Early Americans resorted to wood for the locking hatches on their doors, and only then began to produce simple wrought iron hardware for latches and hinges. As history displays, the developing country struggled with its heavy dependence on England for mass imports of bronze and brass, and gradually broke free from the country’s industrial reigns while beginning to develop distinct American metal innovations such as Colonial Georgian designs in the South and “coach latches” in Pennsylvania. In gaining independence, America called for the birth of pioneers in the manufacturing of metals, and the trade has since been at the heart of American industry.

These days, trying to navigate the wide expanse that the metals industry has flourished into is not quite as simple a feat as the Egyptians had it when they wanted a copper spear. In the constant flux of today’s industry with regards to innovation, discovery, and technology, there are numerous metals available for use, which can be infinitely combined through the creation of different alloys and the utilization of various methods of casting, forging and finishing. Considering this, we realize that it can be difficult to determine what metal is best for your project, not only in terms of aesthetic, but in flexibility and durability. For instance, what sort of metal should you use on the exterior of a beach house, which requires that the metal is resistant to saltwater? Are certain metals less resistant to humid weather? What metals are more durable for busy commercial entry doors, which will experience more wear-and-tear?

To make life easier for you, we’re breaking it down to the basics. The following will provide you with the fundamentals about you need to know about what’s out there in architectural hardware today. You’ll better understand what metals and alloys are in existence, what the similarities and differences are between them, and get an overview of the many ways in which these metals can be twisted, shaped and combined in order to suit and satisfy your projects and your clients.

Metal Type Will It Rust? Strengths Weaknesses Common Uses
Iron Yes Low cost, high compressive strength Rusts easily, magnetized, low tensile strength Decorative wrought iron hardware
Aluminum (natural) No Lightweight, resists corrosion, oxide coating prevents oxidation Not strong enough to hold up to hard wear, oxide coating does not allow for a bright finish Used in aluminum alloy
Aluminum (alloy) No Oxidation difficulties have been overcome by the anodizing process Not as strong as other metals Continuous hinges, thresholds, gasketing, door closer bodies
Chromium No Durable, rust-resistant, bright or satin finish Used as a plating on brass, bronze, and steel, used in stainless steel alloy
Nickel No High polish, chemical-resistant, does not rapidly corrode Slowly tarnishes in atmosphere and takes on a yellowish-brown cast (requires repolishing) Used as a plating on brass, bronze, and steel
Zinc No Popular in the use of alloys, rust proof, low cost Used for rustproofing iron and steel
Tin No Easily shaped, used as an oxidation-resistant coating material Weak, and must be alloyed with other metals to be used structurally Alloying element in statuary bronzes and other casting alloys
Lead No Malleable, ductile, and durable and resistant to corrosion Loses form under pressure Used in copper alloys, additive to steel to improve machinability, shielding on X-ray room doors
Copper No Does not corrode rapidly in the atmosphere Turns green when exposed to air Used in bronze and brass alloys
Brass No Attractive, easily worked or formed Requires repolishing Hinges, flush bolts, surface bolts, door pulls, push plates, stops
Bronze No Attractive, more resistant to wear and corrosion than brass Hinges, lock trim, door stops, door pulls, push plates, protection plates
Steel Yes Can be wrought or cast into many shapes, cheaper than non-ferrous metals and stronger than iron Rusts when unprotected, decomposes Hinges, continuous hinges, surface bolts, lock bodies and trims, exit device chassis
Stainless Steel Yes Rust resistant, can be easily finished to a high luster, and requires minimal maintenance. Satin stainless steel is the most durable natural finish. Stainless steel, other than the 300 series, will corrode Hinges, continuous hinges, lock bodies

To help you decide which metal is best to use for your project, here are some important questions to ask:

1. How important is durability?

2. Will hardware be used indoors or outdoors?

3. Is moisture resistance a factor (bathroom, rain)?

4. Will item be exposed to salt water/salt air? (beach house?)

5. Will the finish be exposed to abrasions/chemical fumes/excessive humidity?

6. Will the item be subjected to high frequency use?

7. Will hand perspiration be a factor on the finish?

If you have any questions about how any of the metals listed, which one is best for your project, or if you have a general question, please leave a comment, and we will have a metals specialist respond to your inquiry.

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