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Metal Information

Designing with sheet metal

We work with a variety of metals in sheet form and each have their own unique properties. Below is a brief overview with basic properties that can aid in your design process.

Copper

One of our most popular materials, copper can be a beautiful, long-lasting, and functional metal for a wide variety of applications. Exterior uses commonly include roof flashing, chimney caps, roofing material, siding and ornamental sculptures. If you are near a coast with salty, sea air, the copper will quickly turn to a green color often with white oxidation. Inland, exterior copper tends toward a dark brown patina with a green hue developing over longer periods of time.

For interiors, copper is a great material for countertops (anti-microbial!), range hoods, backsplashes, light fixtures and decor items from napkin rings to switch plates to wall hangings. Because copper is a superior conductor of both temperature and electricity, it is used in many mechanical applications such as wiring, heating and cooling, and electric motors. Copper has also been used in many types of batteries for energy storage.

We stock copper in 16, 20, 24 and 32 ounce thicknesses. Copper is a naturally occurring element (see your periodic table, symbol "Cu") with the following properties:

Atomic number: 29

Atomic weight: 63.55 g/mol

Electron configuration: [Ar]3d104s1

Group: 11

Period: 4

Melting point: 1,984 F, 1,085 C

Zinc

Zinc is another popular material here at Mio Metals and is very similar to copper in conductivity, malleability and practical applications (compare their electron configurations and see how they only differ slightly). Exterior uses include roof flashing, chimney caps, roofing and siding material, and ornamental sculptures. Zinc is also a popular material in marine applications as a sacrificial anode on hulls. In contrast to copper's brown or green, zinc will age toward a charcoal color with a white oxidation forming a protective layer near salty-sea air.

Interior use of zinc is becoming popular again in the form of countertops, range hoods, and some decorative items. Zinc is also a great conductor of temperature and electrons but does have a much lower melting point than copper. 

We stock zinc in 0.040" and 0.060" (1.0 mm and 1.5 mm respectively) thicknesses. Zinc is next to copper on the periodic table with the symbol "Zn" and the properties include:

Atomic number: 30

Atomic weight: 65.39 g/mol

Electron configuration: [Ar]3d104s2

Group: 12

Period: 4

Melting point: 787 F, 419.5 C

Brass

Brass is an alloy created from the two elements above, copper and zinc. While brass can have a variety of hardnesses due to changing the mixture, Mio Metals works with either 1/4 hard or half hard brass. These hardnesses won't be noticed with typical use, but we notice a difference as we bend and cut the material. Surprisingly, the two soft metals, copper and zinc, create a very hard metal in brass which can be ideal in certain situations.

Brass is also popular for exterior uses in architectural elements such as chimney caps, and ornamental metals. Because is is made up of two, long-lasting elements, it is also suitable for coastal exterior use and the golden color of brass will turn to a brown with greenish tones. 

For interior use, brass is common in switch plates, door kick plates, handles, faucets, door knobs, countertops, tables, range hoods and much more. Brass can polish up quite nicely and is often a popular surface material for high traffic areas such as elevator panels, hand railings, and other areas where a durable, yet decorative, material is desired.

We stock brass in 0.032" thickness with common sheet sizes of 36" x 96".

Not featured on the periodic table because it is an alloy (made up of more than one element).

Melting point: 1,652 to 1,724 F; 900 to 940 C depending on material composition

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel was developed to provide a hard metal that would resist rusting. In many applications, the stainless steel that is being used is a 304 alloy of steel which has had the iron removed from it. Without iron, rust will not form and it will not be magnetic. There is still the possibility that a rust color may form on the metal with the right chemical reactions. Additionally, there are different forms of the stainless steel alloy that are intended for various uses. A number 316, for instance, refers to a stainless steel that is intended for marine applications where rust and corrosion is the primary objective.

In addition to the alloy, there are also a variety of finishing methods for stainless steel. The most common finish, as seen on kitchen appliances, is a grain finish, referred to in the industry as a #4 finish. Also common in exterior, or less decorative applications such as food preparation, is a flat, non-grain finish called 2B. One of our favorite stainless steel finishes is the #8 finish - the mirror finish. This is a great accent piece for range hoods or other areas where a contrast with the grain finish is desired.

In practical use, stainless steel is very hard, somewhat brittle and is a poor conductor of heat and electricity. Therefore, when stainless steel gets hot, the metal tends to expand faster than it can dissipate the heat. This means that a hot pan set on a thin stainless steel countertop will cause the metal to warp. For this reason, stainless steel countertops should be 18 gauge or thicker (lower gauge number, see our thickness chart). Unfortunately, our equipment is not suited for the hard, thick stainless steel so we may refer you to another business for stainless steel countertops, but we are experts at stainless steel range hoods.

Galvanized Steel

The galvanized steel that we use is one of the most common types of sheet metal. With a wide variety of sheet sizes and thicknesses, galvanized steel can be used for a lot of different applications. It consists of a steel sheet that has been coated with zinc. Historically, it has been common to apply the zinc in a liquid form - think pulling the sheet through a bath of molten metal - and, as the zinc cools and hardens, a spangle patter will develop on the metal. This spangle pattern is based on the crystalline properties of the zinc, and the size of the spangles has depended on other metals that may be present in the molten zinc. For instance, lead was commonly found in the molten zinc which created a large spangle pattern. As industries demanded lead-free products, the zinc became more and more pure resulting in a smaller spangle crystal.

The zinc coating provides a weather-proof layer to the steel to prevent rust. The zinc will still react to the environment and hold up well in salty conditions or other outdoor applications. However, it will not last forever. Zinc oxidizes, similar to the steel rusting - and the oxidation adds a protective layer to the zinc. Since the zinc is actually changing during this oxidation process, its molecules are being used and will eventually run out. You may have seen galvanized steel that is starting to rust and this is attributed to the wearing down of the thin zinc layer.

Likewise, when the galvanized coating is scratched or stripped away, the steel is exposed and will rust. Thus, we use galvanized steel for structural applications or other areas where we do not need to grind away solder or otherwise try to finish the material. This means that while we can make table tops or countertops in galvanized steel, the corners or other soldered areas have the potential of rusting if the coating is ground away.

Additionally, it should be noted that welding galvanized steel is not recommended because of the zinc coating. In most fabrication processes, steel will be welded and cleaned up and then dipped in the galvanizing coating. This avoids the burning of the zinc coating which creates a toxic fume.