What’s in a name? Metal vs Steel

The terms steel and metal, are they interchangeable? For example, is New York’s Empire State Building a steel building or metal building? The answer may be more complex than you think. Let’s explore the difference.

If you look at the dictionary definition, the Empire State could be correctly labelled as a steel building or as a metal building. Confusing, right? The former is correct because it has a steel structure. The latter is also correct because steel falls under the general term “metal”, which is defined by many as a material that’s solid, malleable, fuseable and ductile, and has good conductivity.

However, while it might be ok to think of steel as a metal and call it that in general use, if you want to be more accurate let’s look closer at the two terms.

What’s the difference?

Think of it like this. The periodic table is full of metals, i.e. copper, nickel, iron, titanium, gold. What you won’t see though is steel. That’s because steel is a metal alloy. That is, a substance composed of two or more metals, or a metal and non-metal combination.

Top-quality steel is made from combining controlled amounts of carbon to iron. In the steel-making process, naturally occurring impurities, such as nitrogen, silicon, phosphorous, sulphur and excess carbon are removed to improve strength, hardness and resistance powers. Then, other metals can be alloyed to create different properties. For instance, chromium is added to create stainless steel, while nickel and manganese are added for strength and stability.

ShapeCUT knows steel

If you liked this article, why not check out ShapeCUT’s new blog. For more than 20 years, we’ve been delivering quality steel profile cutting and metal processing services to Queensland fabricators and manufacturers.

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