Here’s why you don’t want to use regular steel for exterior applications: it’ll fail. Yes, you can zinc or red oxide prime it, then powder-coat it, etc., and sure it’ll last for a while, but ultimately, it’ll fail. Any tiny little scratch will end up being a disaster. And yes, you can hot-dip galvanize the steel after fabricating and prior to powder-coating, but by the time you’ve paid for that whole cumbersome process, you may as well use a base material that will never fail and won’t have a ridiculous weight to it. Outdoor structures like pergolas should not be made from hot-dipped steel. We won’t do it anymore. It makes those structures prohibitively heavy, difficult to maneuver and install, and quite frankly, they don’t coat as well with the industrial paint. Aluminum is a far better material to use for this. And for items going into the ground or sitting on top of it (planters, edgings, retaining walls), Corten steel (weathering steel), stainless, aluminum, brass are all ideal materials. Definitely DO NOT use regular steel. Why? It’ll fail.
The new Provincial Ford government has announced it will be entirely scrapping the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) in favour of something new, while moving some responsibilities back over to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MCTU).
The OCOT was initially created in 2009 to promote regulate skilled trade apprentices, enforce licensing requirements, and eliminate poor workmanship. However, our perception is that the organisation has proven severely lacking in it’s ability to just that. While it’s widely agreed among the skilled trades that a governing body does need to be in place to enforce all those issues, the OCOT seemed to continually fall short. It was seen as an annual cash-grab for already licenced, and it truly did very little else that was notable to promote the skilled trades or protect people from poor workmanship. In fact, it could be argued from an already licensed standpoint, that the OCOT simply assumed the exact same responsibilities as were previously administered by the MCTU.
For the Sheet Metal Worker designation in particular, there is no decent rationale provided why a licensed worker can only apprentice one person at a time (this is a 4 year endeavour). From our perspective, we have a lot more to offer, and could certainly take on two or even three apprentices at a time without compromising learning and transfer of skill. The 1:1 ratio is killing certain trades – we would know, we’ve had a difficult time hiring skilled or licensed people. They just honestly aren’t readily available. People are not being trained and apprenticed at the rate they are needed to fill Ontario jobs.
We are well aware that the Ford Government’s proposal will keep the ratio at 1:1, which is exactly what has us sceptical. All trades are not equal. The designations ought to be examined individually to determine a reasonable ratio for training in each field. This will also create more licensed people to fill the numerous jobs that are currently sitting unfilled or underskilled. This is not likely to happen.
It remains to be seen exactly what will happen. No real details have been provided. While it is our opinion that the OCOT certainly needed an overhaul and some governmental supervision, we aren’t convinced that eliminating it altogether is the answer. Here’s to hoping the glaziers, masons, structural metalworkers, etc. have some learning standards maintained. I just hate it when the glass falls off the skyscrapers downtown, don’t you?
This post is to give you an understanding and appreciation for the logistics behind many of our projects, which I suppose you’d really only care about if a) you’re a customer, or b) you can relate as a business owner. Reader, you’ll soon understand why we try to keep absolutely every step of our fabrication process in-house. Sometimes though, there are some aspects of a project we are just not equipped to handle. Powder-coating, for example, has been a major pain-point. Until recently, we have been let down time and time again, after trying every single powder and industrial coating operation within close proximity to the city. Some, for a time, will work out fine, and then lo and behold, something goes tits up somewhere along the line. Without fail. We’ve had deadline issues, discoloration problems, delivery fuck-ups, finishes marred, inability to obtain specific colours, colour-match faux-pas, flaking, to name but a few powder-coating problems.
Outsourcing waterjet or laser cutting, same thing: unreliable quoting, questionable quality cutting, missing deadlines, miscalculated measurements, screwed-up design, etc.
Typically the things we have to outsource are: hot-dip galvanizing (we don’t do much of this because it’s a paint in the ass and we prefer to just use aluminum where possible), powder-coating (we do LOTS of this), onsite industrial coating, waterjet and laser cutting, white glove delivery, and heavy plate roll-forming. All other fabrication components are kept in-house, and that’s the way we like it. When you outsource, you are at the mercy of, and only as good as, your provider. Over the years, for the most part, we have established very strong relationships with our network, but it’s taken a long time and plenty of trial-and-error. We find it preferable to control most process steps in-house as much as possible. We do all of our own design, layout, brakeforming, welding, rolling, which ultimately saves our clients money and saves us a ton of time and hassle.
Grades of Stainless
Have you ever had a piece of "stainless steel" rust up on you or start to oxidize into a spotty mess? WTF, right? It’s supposed to be STAINLESS. Truthfully a more accurate name for it is “rust resistant steel”, and not all is made equal. There are numerous grades of stainless, some made for various purposes, and some that’s just plain cheap crap. Now, for a backsplash, for example, you wouldn’t need seriously thick steel (the ‘gauge’), but you would want it to be water resistant and not oxidize with prolonged exposure to H2O. And for cladding, you’d need a certain grade and a thicker gauge so it doesn’t look all wavy once installed. Without getting into the extremely dull chemical composition of it all, there are a couple of things to consider when selecting the right stainless steel material: gauge AND grade.
Generally speaking, we use grade 304 stainless steel with a #4 finish (a brushed consistency) or a mirrored finish (for specific aesthetic applications). It’s the most common grade of stainless, and arguably the most versatile, with a sufficient tolerance and tensile strength for most of our applications. It can be fairly easily manipulated for forming and welding, and is excellent in kitchen and outdoor areas, whereas some other grades are more brittle and not as easily used for fabrication. Also, you’ll never see corrosion near the weld joints with 304 (this is, of course, assuming the welding is done properly).
The grade and gauge are both important considerations when commissioning a stainless steel piece, and your fabricator should be able to recommend something appropriate. However, if you’re not terribly averse to learning about steel composition you can always do some educational reading on the Stainless Steel Corporation website where they have some helpful info.: http://www.stainlesssales.com/stainless-steel-grades.html
Brass is Class
Though you may have wanted to, you haven’t been hiding under a rock this past year. So there can be no doubt you’ve noticed that brass is back in a big way. It’s everywhere you look. Gone are the days where brass hardware and accents are being ripped out in favour of brushed nickel or stainless steel. It’s being used very tastefully, for the most part, and usually achieves a classy, elegant look, as opposed to the tacky, even gaudy, character it’s often exhibited in the past.
Happily, we’ve had many an opportunity to work with this beautiful material, which looks gorge all shiny and new, and arguably even moreso with a black burnishing or bronze patina. Case in point, these fabulous 1/8” plate brass planters we recently made for a storefront with a bronze finish:
We’re also being asked more and more for brass furniture - table bases, chair legs/arms, specialty door handles. We’re absolutely loving some of the art deco door handle styles out there right now, and we’ve found some fantastic retro inspiration:
Perhaps some of our favourite brass projects have been the custom brass sinks and the giant brass canopy we made last year. This was our first indication that brass for kitchens was back in vogue, and for more than mere accents.
It’s a beautiful material, and can be brake formed, welded, burnished and patinaed in versatile ways. We believe we’ll continue to see a great deal of brass, with it’s endless interior and exterior applications, and countless finishes.
Have you ever wondered what people mean when they speak of “16 gauge”, “22 gauge”, etc., when referring to steel or sheet metal? Well here’s a small little cheat sheet we made up to help you gauge these gauges. These, in our experience, tend to be the most commonly used gauges/thicknesses for general metal fabrication. And remember folks, have you metal worker recommend the right gauge for the job - it really matters!
Cor-ten is so hot right now, and thankfully we stockpiled so we’ve got a lot to sell! We’re getting calls pretty much every day for the stuff, and with good reason: it is one of the few very perfect outdoor materials, it’s depth and beauty achieved by the material’s patina is unparalleled, and with our special sealant process the applications for it are endless.
A few things to keep in mind if you’re interested in using Cor-ten for your project include:
SHOWING YOUR METTLE
An online article from the World Economic Forum caught my eye. It attempts to decipher the secrets behind the differentiating factors of successful people and very successful people. Now normally I would likely skim it and forget about it (very successful people get at least 8 hrs of sleep per night, very successful people listen more than they speak, very successful people blah blah blah…standard, boring and unimpressive stuff), but one point did jump out at me:
MYTH: SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE FOCUS ON WHAT THE COMPETITION IS DOING
TRUTH: Very successful people focus on what they can do better
This spoke to me on a number of fronts – most notably, what I call “the efficiency factor” (or as the author of the article refers to “ the non-essentialist”). Allow me to explain: in the article this is defined as someone who is “willing to take it all on…someone who fits it all in”. It is someone who is about ‘busy-ness’ for the sake of ‘being busy’, and the amount of activities they have going on at a given time. I have long had my own theory about workplaces, that if you take two people with the same job to do, and one person is stressed and disorganised and panicking about the task at hand, and the other person is cool, calm and collected, the person who will often get props and kudos is the person making the most noise, not necessarily the person who is handling the job properly and effectively. For some reason we equate visible stress with hard work. The sweaty, stressed out person is not in fact the successful one, even though it may be perceived that way.
I feel this point speaks to the aforementioned myth. It is much more important to concentrate your efforts on what YOU are doing, and less important to understand what your competitors are doing. While in business it may be useful from time to time to scope out the competition, the focus should be on finding and building upon your niche, your strengths, and of course, always improving efficiency. If you perceive others to be ‘busy’, have a lot going on, always on the move, there could be a lot more to the story than what you’re actually seeing. It is therefore, a useless thing to focus on. You can only truly know what is going on with what you are accomplishing. Outward perceptions can be very misleading.
In our business, we made a point from the get-go to seek out and surround ourselves with carefully selected business partners, vendors, and clients who compliment and support what we want to do. Of course there are MANY moments of stress that we encounter in our daily operations, but the point is that skillfulness and becoming a trusted expert has had nothing, nada, nil, zilch, zero to do with the so-called ‘competition’. We’re so into doing our own thing that we’re not even that aware of what similar companies are up to. Has this made us more successful? When I actually stop to think about that, I do think so. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the weeds and that hasn’t happened to us at all. We’re too busy (efficiently of course!).
Cor-ten or ‘weathering steel’ is expensive (‘Cor-ten’ is kind of like calling tissue by the brand name ‘Kleenex’). There are currently only a select, very few places in Canada that import it from the U.S. Real Cor-ten is trademarked by US Steel, so if you want the real thing, it’s coming up here from the States.
We continually receive inquiries on various Cor-ten items. Those who are unfamiliar with the material are generally pretty shocked when they see the sticker price. But you really do get what you pay for. Here’s what makes Cor-ten special:
It oxidizes so you get that wicked cool ‘rust’ look BUT THEN THE RUST FORMS IT’S OWN PROTECTIVE LAYER! Basically Cor-ten will never rust through. It uses it’s own rust, which is the weakest point of steel, to overcome further oxidization. That’s the beauty of it.
If you are being led to believe you are purchasing a Cor-ten product, please ask to see the material specs (metuallurgical certifications are provided with every material order from the point of purchase). Please also ensure that the person doing any welding on your Cor-ten product is skilled – if the weld-points don’t weather at the same rate as the Cor-ten sheet steel, this will be extremely problematic. And honestly, we see this all the time, people trying to pass off regular steel as Cor-ten with a too-good-to-be-true price tag. But the difference is apparent once you know what to look for. Cor-ten is weather resistant. Raw, untreated steel is not, and it’s also very easy to spot rusty steel vs. Cor-ten. Cor-ten is MUCH prettier in every stage of oxidization.
(Picture source: Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal)
An ideal material for outdoor applications, specifically landscaping and structural projects, Cor-ten is unparalleled in aesthetical appearance and durability.
Do the winter doldrums have you needing some inspiration? We get a lot of requests for all kinds of items to be fabb’d from metal. Here is a list of just a few of the things we are asked to design and/or make on a regular basis:
1. Bookshelves: sometimes metal and reclaimed barnboard combos, or simply 100% metal (we have an AMAZING reclaimed barnboard contact, by the way. Just ask!).
2. Table legs: though we are sometimes asked to make an entire table from steel (coffee, end or dining room), we more frequently get requests for custom legs from black iron, stainless or aluminum. Check out this beautiful stainless creation:
3. Countertops: stainless steel requests are frequent for this application, but copper and zinc countertops are big right now too. We’ve also done hemp-oiled/food-safe steel countertops for restaurants and bars.
4. Accents: in the same vein as the countertops, we are asked to do a lot of residential accents in metal. Examples include backsplashes, skylight trim, etc. The sky’s the limit!
5. Fireplace surrounds: these get a category to themselves. The fireplace surrounds, whether they be in stainless steel, Corten, or treated mild steel, are gorgeous focal points in a home or building lobby, and can suit any décor.
6. Railings: We do both exterior and interior railings out of just about any steel imaginable. Designs range from glass paneling to aircraft wire types, and enhance décor in any home or building.
RAILING | STAINLESS STEEL RAILING | RAILING
7. Staircases: we’ve also done numerous staircases from steel. Often these are in an industrial capacity, but we’ve also done absolutely stunning residential metal staircases with slate tile inlay. Again, one is only limited by one’s own imagination.
FRONT STAIRS | INDUSTRIAL STAIRCASE
8. Doors: Typically our door projects are sliding 'barn' doors made from steel. To ease up on the weight-load, we use a foam core, and create a durable steel frame, and steel veneer the structure.
SLIDING DOOR | POWDER-COATED SLIDING DOOR
9. Finally, another of our big ticket metal ‘design’ items is custom planter boxes. We make them from plate steel, plate aluminum, stainless steel or Corten, and the design possibilities are endless. We only do custom orders right now, so they are all specifically designed to fit the space for which they’re intended. Have a gander:
STAINLESS STEEL PLANTERS | OXIDIZED CORTEN PLANTER | CORTEN PLANTERS | ALUMINUM PLANTERS & PRIVACY SCREENS
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