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Iron and steel products are extensively used in many application, ranging from office furnishings to outdoor settings.
Cast Iron is used mainly for outdoor finishings and settings, such as those used for bench legs and solid iron tables. It is suited to outdoor use due to its hardness, heaviness and general tough composition. The main disadvantage to this is that it, being a relatively pure form of Iron is subject to corrosion at the hands of the moisture and air.
Stainless Steel is used very extensively for most modern interior furnishings involving metal. Many hinges, slides, supports and body pieces are composed of Stainless. It has a high tensile strength, allowing it to be applied using hollow tubes, reducing weight and increasing user accessibility.
Aluminum is a light and corrosion resistant metal, and to take advantage of these qualities, it is heavily utilized for stamped and cast furniture, especially in the category of molded chairs. Aluminum atoms form an outer layer of Aluminum Oxide, which prevents the internal aluminum from being corroded.
Metal furniture is a popular choice of furnishings, especially used outdoors for decks and patios. However, metal furniture can also be used indoors, such as brass beds, brass tables, iron bakers racks and metal curio cabinets. Besides being sturdy, metal furniture is attractive, giving a contemporary look to your home. To make it stand out, all it takes is a good polishing to give it added charm and character.
Steel indoor and outdoor furniture has been popular in this country since the '20s. Around 1925, Marcel Breuer, the Bauhaus furniture designer and architect, began working with tubular steel, having been impressed with the light weight and strength of the handlebars of a bicycle. The resulting furniture designs by Breuer and others using this material are some of the most important of the period.
But production of all outdoor furniture came to a sudden halt when the United States entered World War II and factories began churning out products supporting the war effort. After the war ended, those same factories necessarily switched to making products for peacetime pursuits – from swords to plowshares. Arvin Industries, for example, began production of metal lawn furniture and dinette sets in 1940 and stopped it by the end of 1941 when the US entered the war. The company began making bombs, radio communications equipment and parts for military vehicles among other things.
With the war over and a new consumer society developing, Arvin began producing products for the home such as electric irons and ironing boards, waffle makers, radios and, by 1949, its first television set. It also began once again to manufacture outdoor steel furniture. By the 1950s, in addition to tubular steel, furniture was produced using aluminum, wire mesh and legs made of thin steel rods that give mid-century furniture its distinctive splayed leg, light-on-its-feet look.
Durability is the main advantage of metal furniture. For example, not many types of non-metal furniture can remain outside during winter and still look good when spring arrives. If cared for properly, metal furniture can last up to 30 years. Because most metal furniture is treated for rust and heat resistance, it doesn't need much maintenance.
Types of metals
Usually metal furniture is made from either steel or aluminum. To tell aluminum from steel, place a magnet on a metal surface and if it is steel it will stick.
Steel furniture is typically pricier when it is used as furniture, with the price varying according to the type of metal and thickness. However, it is hard to identify it after a finish is applied. Steel has low, medium or high carbon, with most metal furniture being made with low carbon because it is cheaper than a higher grade of carbon. Stainless steel is good for low maintenance. Made of an alloy of carbon, iron and other metals, its main reason for its strength is because of chromium, which protects from rust and corrosion because of its thin film of oxide on the surface.
Wrought iron is good for garden furniture, providing a classic look. However, it is heavy, which is a challenge, but appreciated on windy days. It needs much care, though, and can easily rust and corrode if not waterproofed. Aluminum is more common than steel furniture, mostly because it does not rust, although it oxidizes, turning into a chalky white. It is also lighter than steel, making it more desirable. Cast and heavy tube aluminum give better quality. Aluminum has to be thicker than steel if it is to have as much strength. Tubular aluminum is flexible and hollowing, besides less sturdy. However, its lightness makes for an ideal poolside furniture and is mainly used for benches, folding chairs and swing sets.
Types of finishes
Choosing the right finish for metal furniture is important because of its durability. Some of the most common finishes include chrome plating, plastic, painted, brass and anodized finishes. Chrome plating, although durable, is thin and if damaged where it is exposed to air, scratches can rust. Plastic-coated finishes are synthetically made and good as they prevent rusting or the metal changing color from air exposure. Although they're as strong as paint finishes, they do not hold up as well as electroplated finishes. Paint finishes are for both steel and aluminum furniture, although it easily scratches and rusts. Brass plating, which is an electroplated finish, is applied in a bath and is durable. Solid brass is both pricey and rare. To decide if a finish is solid brass put a magnet on the furniture and if it clings, it is made of brass-plated steel (iron in the steel is magnetic). Brass is made from copper and zinc, two metals that are prone to corrosion from exposure to (salty) water or air. Brass finishes should be oiled or clear-coated with polyurethane or a similar material to make a barrier from air and water to prevent corrosion. Corrosion is slowed when a surface is already oxidized, for example aluminum is very hard to weld because of its persistent aluminum oxide layer, this prevents access to the bare metal. Anodized finishes are used on aluminum furniture to increase the thickness of the aluminum oxide layer, creating a thicker barrier between the atmosphere and aluminum base metal.
When selecting metal furniture, consider coat and finish, ensuring the surface is powder coated—which does not need maintenance—and the finish is not just painted onto the furniture but baked into the metal. Also, consider your climate. For example, if you live in a rainy area, you will want furniture with heavy waterproofing and light enough to carry indoors. For hot climates, consider that aluminum retains heat, so you can not use it until it cools down.
Often people consider metal furniture with being uncomfortable, as images of "metal" conjure up cold, hard-backed chairs as well as cold, shiny surfaces. However, it is easy to add cushions and upholstery to make the furniture comfortable, as well as attractive. Also, adding some simple curves also adds to comfort as many types of metal furniture manufacturers have done.