Exactly the Same, Only Different

When steel flat products are thin, they are typically referred to as sheet and strip; as opposed to flats and plate. There are specific delineations separating the two types, however in general use distinction of the terms is pretty loose.

It is customary to describe flats and plate, or strip and sheet, from the smallest dimension through to the largest dimension. Thuse, 1/4″ x 48″ x 240″ would be how a quarter inch thick piece of 4ft wide 20ft long plate would be listed. It is fairly typical for the “grain” direction of the steel to run parallel to the length of the item. There is room for caution when grain is an important consideration; such as when forming is involved, since the plate may have subsequently been cut to a smaller size. In those instances, you can not be sure about grain direction unless it has been marketed. It is good practice to mark grain direction on remnants, or “drops”, once a plate has been cut. Grain is important for several reasons. First, when forming a steel plate it is generally advisable to form against (perpendicular to) the grain. In the case of wear plate, abrasive wear due to flow, may be diminished when the plate is installed so that the flow pattern is perpendicular to the grain. Unfortunately, many times this is theoretical rather than practical due to size and shape required.

Hollow materials may be pipes and tubes, or something like structural rectangular tubing. Tubes are generally more exacting in size, shape, and quality. Pipes are “big and ugly” hollow sections. Pipes are categorized as NPS, or National Pipe Size. Sizes up to 14″ NPS are described by their I.D. Or inside Diameter. At 14″ O.D. (outside diameter), the NPS refers to the O.D. Important information required would involve; O.D. I.D., and wall thickness. Generally, you would use only two of those measurements; not three. Caution must be exercised when “telescoping” one tube inside of another. Where a closer fit is desired, the two parts must be made, or fabricated in such a way to ensure that they are completely compatible; insured compatibility.

When dealing with pipe and tube you will doubtless encounter peripherals, such as elbows, flanges, laterals, T’s, etc. Configurations and cautions here are too numerous to list. If you will be involved with tubing or pipe it is recommended that you take the time to familiarize yourself with the materials and parts you will be encountering. Complex configurations require as much artistry and experience as technical knowledge.

Solid Steel Bars (Long bar products) are referred to as “bars” or “lengths”, or each (Ea). Hydraulic Pistons or shafts are referred to as “rods”.

Typically, there is a difference between the physical properties of a grade of steel and the mechanical properties. Generally, the physical properties are those properties that will be fairly uniform (common) to the grade. Those might include; thermal conductivity, thermal expansion, % elongation (%EL), %reduction in area (%RA), etc.

When discussing properties of steel, such as flatness, straightness, or out-of-round, it is best to avoid superlatives such as “perfectly flat”, or, “perfectly straight”. Presenting your requirements in that manner may result in a “No-Quote” from a potential supplier.

While there are many methods of determining hardness, it is fairly common in carbon and alloy steel to encounter Rockwell “C” hardness testing, or, Brinell (Bhn) testing. In sheet and coil you may encounter the Olson test, which involves an even larger ball impression than the Brinell ball. The Rockwell test is more appropriate for high surface finishes or finished parts, whereas the Brinell test method is used on “Big and Ugly” materials, such as hot rolled wear plate or bar.

Remember that surface decarb must be removed completely to obtain an accurate reading.


-Howard Thomas, July 8th 2020