A lot of people often confuse metal with steel and vice versa. Having worked with both, the differences between metal and steel become a lot clearer. For some work, metal is a far superior choice than steel. Meanwhile, on other jobs, steel is clearly the better choice.
Steel is an alloy made from iron metal. There are different types of steel out there, each using a slightly different recipe. Carbon steel, for example, is a type of steel accounting for roughly 90 percent of what’s produced annually. It is composed of iron and carbon. You also have low alloy steel which is alloyed with elements like molybdenum, manganese, chromium, nickel, or others which helps to strengthen, add weight, and add or remove certain characteristics.
Metal isn’t manufactured like steel. Metal is created from elements naturally present in our environment underground and which are mined out. Metals are non-magnetic, ductile, and generally non-corrosive with a high resistance to damage. We even have metals present in our biological system. It is considered a very safe ingredient to use around human beings and evidently boasts advantages that steel doesn’t have.
There are differences and similarities between the two materials. Here are the nine biggest differences between metal and steel:
1. Strength difference between metal and steel
Steel is significantly stronger than metals. Many types of steel can bear tons of loads far longer than metals can. Even with titanium, one of the strongest pure metals there is, steel alloys are still stronger. To combat this, sometimes we combine different metals together which ultimately produces a stronger metal.
2. Durability difference between metal and steel
Durability ratings rest on many variables. In general, steel is considered more durable than metal. The carbon in steel is what makes it more resistant to dents, harder, and durable under stresses. Compared to metals, steel is less likely to warp, deform, or bend under heat, weight, and/or other forces. You also won’t find many scratches – if any – on steel.
3. Processing difference between metal and steel
There is an operative difference between metal and steel manufacturing processes. Steel is made in furnaces and requires very little processing in its creation.
Metal, on the other hand, needs to be refined. This processing is to remove impurities as well as other metals contaminating the material. After this is completed, metals get plated to add more shine or stability. This is particularly common for brass which is nickel-plated and silver which is gold-plated.
4. Temperature difference between metal and steel
You may think steel is stronger and so automatically steel is better – not the case. One such area where metal is better than steel is in handling cold temperatures. Steel has viscosity and shrinks when cold. In extreme weather, cold can even turn steel to brittle. Most metals, however, are better at withstanding cold temperatures.
5. Corrosion difference between metal and steel
Steel is corrosive. If the carbon content is high, it can also rust. Metal comparatively is also corrosive, with exposure to moisture being very corrosive to materials such as aluminum.
6. Conductivity difference between metal and steel
When it comes to acting like a thermal conductor for heat or an electrical conductor, steel doesn’t work very well. Although steel is magnetic and can act as a conductor, it is not to an extent where it is functional. Metal, on the other hand, is highly conductive for both heat and electricity. The most conductive metals are considered to be silver, gold, and copper. This is why you will find metal components in various devices relying on this conductivity.
7. Price difference between metal and steel
The cost of metal and steel fluctuate according to supply, demand, and a variety of economic factors. For that reason, it’s difficult to give a definitive cost. With that said, there is a minor price difference between metal and steel. Steel is usually more affordable than metal measuring pound per pound. This is also because steel is a man-made element and is easier to make than gold, silver, aluminum, or other metal materials.
8. What products are better made from steel than metal?
Steel is used when strength is needed, plain and simple. Although it’s less adaptable and malleable than metal, the finished product with steel is almost always going to be stronger. This is why it’s used for infrastructure, tools, automobiles, bridges, ships, guns, and more. Steel is also commonly used for corner guards and other industrial applications.
In some instances, we add metal to steel. Almost sixty grades of steel are made from steel and metal. To make stainless steel, for example, in manufacturing chromium is added to steel. Many products and purposes of steel wouldn’t be achievable without first adding metal.
9. What products are better made from metal than steel?
Metal has high ductility and malleability which makes it a very good all-purpose material. This is why metal’s used to make such diverse products, from coins to jewelry, military weapons, household products, industrial products, surgical implants, in architectural design, decorations, and engineering and construction.