A Guide to Buying Steel

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The production of steel dates back to the 2nd millennium BCE, and although the production process has come a long way, it has been admired for its qualities ever since.

Today, steel is one of the most common materials in the construction of buildings, vehicles, tools, and infrastructure. But what many people don’t know is how to purchase it.

In this article, we’re going over everything you need to know about buying steel, including what types are available and how to buy them.

Types of Steel

Understanding steel means understanding that it is diverse. It can be broken down into categories, such as chemical composition, coating, and gauge.

Chemical Composition

The chemical compositions of steel include carbon steel, alloy steel, stainless steel, and tool steel.

Carbon steel is extremely hard and strong with a carbon content of up to 2.1%. It is not ductile or weldable and has a low melting point. Carbon steel is used for fencing, bridges and buildings, wire, and cast iron cookware, depending on the carbon concentration.

Alloy steel is created with carbon steel and alloying elements. Alloying elements give the steel specific properties. Aircraft, heavy machinery, trains, ships, pipes, and electrical hardware are all made with alloy steel.

Stainless steel is an iron alloy with Chromium, which creates a corrosion-resistant oxide layer on the surface. Cookware, surgical tools, industrial equipment, and storage tanks feature this type of steel.

Tool steel is any carbon and alloy steel whose hardness and ability to maintain a sharp edge under high heat makes it preferable for tools.


Steel can come in a variety of coating materials. Different types of steel coating include galvanized steel, black steel, and pre-painted steel.

Galvanized steel is coated in a layer of zinc, protecting it from rust and corrosion. Its durability makes it practical in the construction of pipes, wire, highway signs, and even the outer layer of buildings.

Black steel gets rolled at temperatures exceeding 1700 degrees Fahrenheit. This is above the steel’s recrystallization temperature, which makes it shapable and allows for larger sizes. Black steel finds use in the construction of railroad tracks and L-beams.

Pre-painted steel is steel that manufacturers coat with film or paint for performance or aesthetic reasons. Find this type of steel in metal roofs, garage doors, and other home appliances.


The gauge of steel refers to its thickness, and steel comes in a variety of metal gauges. On the steel gauge index, the smaller the gauge, the thicker and stronger the steel is.

Two of the most common gauges of steel in the application of building framing are 12 gauge and 14 gauge metal.

12 gauge steel is thicker and stronger than 14 gauge steel, which lends to its higher weather resistance and increased potential to add property value. It usually has dimensions of around 2 1/4″ and 2 1/4″, making it ideal for bearing snow and wind loads.

14 gauge steel is more affordable and complies with industry standards for frame thickness. It is the most common gauge for carports and other metal structures.

How to Buy Steel

The three places to purchase steel are retailers, suppliers or distributors, and mills.

Retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s allow you to purchase individual items in-store or online. They are convenient and offer a limited selection of materials at a higher price.

Suppliers, or distributors, purchase steel in bulk from mills and sell it to people or businesses in need of medium or large quantities. They are somewhat convenient and offer a wide selection of materials at a medium price.

Mills produce the steel and sell it in bulk directly to buyers with extremely large quantity demands. They are not convenient and offer a wide selection of materials at a low price.

Consider These Factors When Buying Steel

When buying steel, make sure to consider the type of steel you need as well as where you will source it. These considerations lead to reliable, lasting, and beautiful-looking results for all of your metal needs.

Check out the home and garden column of our homepage for information about how to use steel for your home projects!