The Challenges Of Stainless Steel Fabrication

4 February 2016
 Categories: , Blog

Stainless steel has many redeeming properties. It is rust-proof and resists degradation by corrosive materials. However, it is often more difficult for sheet metal fabricators like Waters Brothers Contractors, Inc. to work with because of some its less admirable qualities. 

While advice from experienced fabricators is invaluable when working with stainless steel, a novice fabricator must always be mindful and innovative when attempting to bend it to their will (with help from machinery) and learn the intricacies of working with stainless steel.

Moving sheets of stainless steel

Unlike sheets of galvanized steel, aluminum, or other metals, stainless steel maintains a strong bond of friction between stacked sheets. Sliding a single sheet of stainless steel from a stack meets with surprising resistance. 

If a fabricator is not prepared for this resistance, or is not wearing work gloves, a should or arm muscle strain or sliced finger can be the result.

This resistance is usually circumvented by the placement of thin sheets of paper between the sheets when they are delivered. However, as stainless steel sheets are moved or stored individually in storage racks, the paper is displaced.

The solution

As a fabricator grasps a corner of a stainless steel sheet to move it to a cutting shear or rolling transport table, they must lift the corner of the sheet and whip it up and down to create a ripple across the diagonal area of the sheet. The sheet must be pulled from the stack of sheets simultaneously to break the bond of friction that binds the sheets together.

It takes practice to perform all of the actions simultaneously in one fluid motion, but over time the procedure will become instinctual.

Connecting lighter gauge stainless steel

While heavier gauge stainless steel requires welded connections, lighter gauges can be connected by using a spot welder or stainless steel pop rivets and screws. 

Spot welders

While other softer materials can be connected by punch press machines, which form a dimple that locks two piece of sheet metal together, this preferred option is not applicable for stainless steel. It is not as malleable as other materials, and attempts to use a punch will result in holes in lighter gauges and punch failure in heavier gauges.

This leaves the spot welder. As the name suggests, it creates a small welded spot when two pieces of metal are placed between its upper and lower contacts and a foot pedal is depressed to join the contacts together.

Using a spot welder on stainless steel requires that the tips of both contacts be clean of deposits from previous welds. Spot welders have dials that control the power and duration of a weld.

If a fabricator is unsure of the proper settings for specific gauges of stainless steel, and no experienced fabricators are present to offer advice, they must use the lowest settings both for power and duration.

Using the lowest settings ensures that a hole won't be burned through the metal. The worst possible outcome for using lower settings is that the weld won't hold. This can be fixed by gradually increasing the settings until a secure weld is formed.

Safety glasses and work gloves are essential when using a spot welder, particularly on stainless steel. It conducts heat more readily around the area of the weld, and could cause a severe burn to a fabricator that is holding the metal in place with bare hands.

Spot welders can also throw off sparks and pieces of slag that can be devastating to unprotected eyes.

Respect both the metal and the process, and you can fabricate even the most difficult of metals Into the creation that you desire.