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Metal design


Copper, Bronze and Brass

Gold and Silver

Cast Iron



Corten Steel








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Metal Design  

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We as interior designers are primarily interested in the basic forms of steel such as mild steel and stainless steel. We need to know about steels because they form a very large component of the metal used in buildings today.

We use steel for structural work, such as beams, purlins and girders. As sheet steel for cladding, such as in furniture or Stainless steel bench tops and backsplashes also for component work such as brackets, screws and hardware.

The majority of steel that we see in structures is mild steel and sometimes medium carbon steel. Theses steels are also used for light engineering work such as brackets, table legs, pedestals, furniture frames and wall framing. Mild steel when exposed to moisture and air rusts easily, so to prevent that it has to be treated with a protective coating.

There are various systems to coat metals such as electroplating (coating it with another nonferrous metal so that it bonds to the steel), powder coating (a form of spraying on an electrostatically charged powder that sticks to the metal while it is baked on like an enamel), and a number of rust inhibiting paint and or plastic systems. All these systems do a number of things. They change the appearance of the metal by color and texture, they protect the metal from light abrasion and most importantly they stop air and moisture from reaching the steel causing oxidation, which is the rust we see.

The powder coating and paint systems have a particular advantage in that the spectrum of colors available is large which makes them very useful for the designer.

Sheet steel is also usually constructed from mild steel and is usually not more than 3mm thick. The thicker steels we see that appear as sheets I refer to as plate. Sheet steels are often used for cladding of buildings, or side / top panels to some furniture.

Sheet steels in some situations may be perforated to create a patterned effect such as a lattice or they may be textured to form a pattern. An example of this may be tread plate, the steel plate that we see on stairs on industrial sites. These steels and finishes are very important to the interior designer as they can be used to effect in unusual situations. For example a fashion store aiming at the younger market may use tread plate as shelving for the clothing.



Copper, Bronze, Brass


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The use of copper in antiquity is of more significance than gold as the first tools, implements and weapons were made from copper. From 4,000 to 6,000 BC was the Chalcolithic period which was when copper came into common use. The symbol for copper is Cu and comes from the latin cuprum meaning from the island of Cyprus. Initially copper was chipped into small pieces from the main mass. The small pieces were hammered and ground in a manner similar to the techniques used for bones and stones. However, when copper was hammered it became brittle and would easily break. The solution to this problem was to anneal the copper. This discovery was probably made when pieces were dropped in camp fires and then hammered. By 5,000 BC copper sheet was being made.

By 3600 BC the first copper smelted artifacts were found in the Nile valley and copper rings, bracelets, chisels were found. By 3000 BC weapons, tools etc. were widely found. Tools and weapons of utilitarian value were now within society, however, only kings and royalty had such tools; it would take another 500 years before they reached the peasants.

Although copper can be found free in nature the most important sources are the minerals cuprite, malachite, azurite, chalcopyrite and bornite. Copper is reddish colored, malleable, ductile and a good conductor of heat and electricity. Approximately 90% 0f the worlds primary copper originates in sulfide ores. Info

Brass instruments have been around for a long time. Some of the earliest examples of brass instruments were straight trumpets made of wood, bronze, and silver, such as the salpinx found in Greece, and the Roman tuba, lituus, and buccina. Other early brass instruments were horns made of bronze and animal horns. The Scandinavian lur was one such instrument, as was the Roman, cornu. The schofar is an ancient Hebrew brass instrument which is still used in Jewish ceremonies today.

During the Renaissance brass instruments began to develop that more resemble the instruments used today. Around 1400-1413 the earliest known S-shaped trumpet was developed, which was later followed by the folded trumpet and slide trumpet. It was out of the slide trumpet that the trombone developed around 1450. This new instrument, commonly referred to as a sackbut, was a vast improvement over the awkward to play slide trumpet. Instrument designers developed a system of connected double tubes which reduced the distance the slide needed to move between notes and therefore improved the musician's performance technique. Improved slide design also allowed a practical tenor range instrument, which has become the most common instrument of the trombone family. Info


Gold & Silver


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Gold articles are found extensively in antiquity mainly as jewelry e.g. Bracelets, rings etc. Early gold artifacts are rarely pure and most contain significant silver contents. This led to the ancients naming another metal - electrum, which was an alloy of gold and silver, pale yellow and similar in color to amber. Therefore, early gold varied from pure through electrum to white gold. The symbol for gold is Au from the latin aurum meaning shining dawn.

Stone age man learned to fashion gold into jewelry and ornaments, learning that it could be formed into sheets and wires easily. However, its malleability, which allows it to be formed into very thin sheet (0.000005 inches), ensures that it has no utilitarian value and early uses were only decorative. As gold is a noble metal, being virtually noncorrosive and tarnish free, it served this purpose admirably. Info

Although silver was found freely in nature, its occurrence was rare. Silver is the most chemically active of the noble metals, is harder than gold but softer than copper. It ranks second in ductility and malleability to gold. It is normally stable in pure air and water but tarnishes when exposed to ozone, hydrogen sulfide or sulfur. Due to its softness, pure silver was used for ornaments, jewelry and as a measure of wealth. In a manner similar to gold, native silver can easily be formed. Silver's symbol is Ag from the latin argentum. Info

Cast Iron  

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Iron was available to the ancients in small amounts from meteors. This native iron is easily distinguishable because it contains 6-8% nickel. There is some indication that man-made iron was available as early as 2500 B.C., however, ironmaking did not become an everyday process until 1200 BC. Hematite, an oxide of iron, was widely used by the ancients for beads and ornaments. It is also readily reduced by carbon. However, if reduced at temperatures below 700-800 C it is not suitable for forging and must be produced at temperatures above 1100 C. Wrought iron was the first form of iron known to man. The product of reaction was a spongy mass of iron intermixed with slag. This was then reheated and hammered to expel the slag and then forged into the desired shape. In the early days iron was 5 times more expensive then gold and its first uses were as ornaments.

Iron weapons revolutionized warfare and iron implements did the same for farming. Iron and steel was the building block for civilization. Interestingly, an iron pillar dating to 400 A.D., remains standing today in Delhi, India. Corrosion to the pillar has been minimal a skill lost to current ironworkers. Iron is rarely found in its native state the only known sources being Greenland where the iron occurs as nodules in basalt that erupted through beds of coal and two very rare nickel-iron alloys. Iron's symbol is Fe from the latin ferrum.

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Steel has been defined by Dr. Percy as "iron containing a small percentage of carbon, the alloy having the property of taking a temper; and this definition is substantially equivalent to those found in the works of Karsten, Wedding, Gruner, and Tunner."

On this point, however, there are many opinions, some of which will presently be briefly referred to.

The amount of carbon in steel, as used in engineering, varies from about .12 for very soft to 1.5 per cent for very hard steels.

It contains, therefore, less carbon than cast iron, but more than wrought iron.

Practically, steel often contains other substances besides iron and carbon.

These substances are generally got rid of, as far as possible, in the process of manufacture. When, however, they remain in the steel, they influence its characteristics in the manner described at p. 262.

In consequence of the practical existence of these impurities, and for other reasons, it is difficult to give an exact definition of steel.

Hardening. - The characteristic difference between steel and pure wrought iron is as follows: -

When steel is raised to a red heat and then suddenly cooled, it becomes hard and brittle. This process, which is known as hardening, has no effect upon pure wrought iron.

Tempering is a characteristic of steel which distinguishes it from cast iron. If steel has been hardened by being heated and suddenly cooled, as above described, it may be softened again by applying a lower degree of heat and again cooling. This is known as tempering.

Cast iron, on the contrary, though it is hardened by the first process, cannot be softened by the second.

When a bar of steel is struck it gives out a sharp metallic ring, quite different from the sound produced by striking wrought iron.

Other characteristics of steel are its great elasticity and its retention of magnetism.

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Aluminium is the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust which contains 8% aluminium. It is a constituent of most rocks and in the form of aluminium silicate it is an important source of clays.

Light weight is perhaps aluminium’s best known characteristic and with a density of 2.7 x 103 kg/m3 is approximately 35% that of steel. This feature together with other characteristics such as corrosion resistance and tensile strength has led to it replacing steel in many automotive applications in a demand for improved fuel efficiency.

Commercially pure aluminium has a tensile strength of approximately 90MPa and can be improved to around 180MPa by cold working.

Aluminium has a good resistance to corrosion. This is attributable to a thin oxide film which forms and protects the metal from further oxidation: unless exposed to some substance or condition which destroys this protective coating the metal remains protected from corrosion.

Aluminium is one of the common metals having an electrical conductivity high enough for use as an electrical conductor.

The high reflectivity of aluminium which is over 80% has led to its wide use in lighting fixtures. These reflectivity characteristics lead to its use as an insulating material. For example, aluminium roofing reflects a high percentage of the sun’s heat so that buildings roofed with aluminium are cooler in summer. In the same way the excellent reflecting properties of aluminium ensure that buildings roofed with this material are warmer in winter.


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Corten steel


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COR-TEN® is a registered trademark of United States Steel Corporation and can only be used for products produced by United States Steel Corporation or its licensees.

Consistent with United States Steel Corporation's ("USS") policy over the last two decades, USS reiterates and reminds that COR-TEN® steel sheet products should not be sold when the intended use is for an architectural application, such as roofing and siding. USS has consistently maintained this position because of the risk of corrosion from factors beyond the control of the COR-TEN® steel licensee (e.g. improper design, fabrication, erection and/or maintenance).

The tight oxide skin of COR-TEN® Steel reforms after abrasion from snow, ice, sand, dirt and hail.
Acid rain also causes the skin to reform.
As the skin reforms the product actually becomes thinner and eventually will be perforated.

Special attention must be paid to the drainage of storm water to prevent staining of surrounding structures, sidewalks, and other surfaces.
COR-TEN® Steel must be kept free from debris such as leaves, pine needles, etc. These waste products retard the wet/dry cycle necessary for COR-TEN® Steel and corrosion is accelerated.

Although COR-TEN® Steel is totally recyclable and has a high recycled content, it has very low solar reflectivity
In other words, COR-TEN® Steel is a HOT ROOF, inconsistent with environmental “cool roof” programs that aim to minimize energy consumption, urban heat islands and pollution.

COR-TEN AZP Prepainted Galvalume® duplicates the color of aged COR-TEN®.
Prepainted Galvalume® provides warranted protection against perforation for 25 years.

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In all fields of engineering, designers, fabricators and end users are looking for improved performance from products and processes. More than ever before, relevant information is needed on alloys with higher strength, alloys with superior corrosion resistance and other desirable combinations of properties. Titanium, still considered by many to be a newcomer to the industrial scene, is today regularly supplied by a large number of producers and fabricators. Titanium is not an 'exotic' metal, it is the fourth most abundant structural metal in the earth's crust, and the ninth industrial metal. No other engineering metal has risen so swiftly to a position of pre-eminence in such a wide range of critical and demanding applications. Info source:


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