Corten steel is a steel with phosphorus, copper, chromium, and nickel-molybdenum added to it. These alloys improve the resistance of corten steel to atmospheric corrosion by creating a protective patina on its surface.
Corten steel will generally rust or patina within six months of atmospheric exposure. To develop and oxidize, most weathering steel types require cycles of wet/dry weather. With the protective rust that provides corrosion resistance, Corten steel can last from a few decades to over 100 years.
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Corten steel is an exceptionally strong steel grade first used in heavy industry. Due to its copper content, it has become beloved by the architectural world for the rust-colored finish it develops. It can take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years for the finish to fully develop. Once the finish has developed, the steel underneath is protected from rust, which is why Corten is described as maintenance-free.
How does corten steel rust?
The composition of rusty steel
Corten steel is steel made with added phosphorus, copper, chromium, and nickel-molybdenum. All of these alloys increase the resistance of corten steel to atmospheric corrosion by creating a protective patina on its surface. Patina usually forms in 1 to 3 years, depending on the environmental conditions and the amount of wet and dry periods that help it adhere.
Because of the presence of phosphorus, this protective layer regenerates continuously on the surface and acts as a barrier against moisture, oxygen, and pollution.
The formation of the patina
Using moisture and air, rust forms on the surface of conventional steel. As it dries, this layer of rust becomes porous and separates from the metal, allowing a new cycle of rust to weaken it.
Corten steel corrodes the same as other steels, except that it doesn’t regenerate. When the alloys mentioned above are added, rust becomes more stable and adheres better. The sequence of wet and dry periods acting on corten steel leads to corrosion until a layer of resistant and protective metal oxide is formed. The steel becomes less permeable as the layer matures and no longer gets marks.
This orange-brown patina is not uniformly distributed all over. Bad weather can also impede its formation. Sea air, for instance, does not create a protective layer. Corrosive products present in this environment prevent rust from stabilizing.
Patinas mature by themselves in 3 years maximum. It gives corten steel a grainy appearance and different shades often enhance its aesthetics.
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Corten Steel is a low-alloy, high-strength steel that develops a rusty appearance when left to weather.
The rust that develops seals the surface by creating a protective layer preventing further corrosion and reducing the amount of glare that can be observed on standard metals. As well as reducing maintenance requirements, this process extends the life of the material at the same time.
Originally used in the US for coal carriages in the 1930s, Corten is now used for a variety of outdoor applications. With nickel, copper, and chromium alloying, it is stronger and corrosion-resistant. As well as buildings, roofing, bridges, and sculptures, architecture can be incorporated into many different designs.
A continuous regeneration process occurs when Corten Steel is exposed to alternately wet and dry conditions outside. Continuous regeneration promotes corrosion resistance by changing the color of the rust layer from orange to dark brown. Over time, the rust layer becomes a patina layer, changing its color from orange to dark brown over time.
Corten steel will take 4-10 years to oxidize if applied correctly, but more frequent wet-dry cycles will speed up the process.
What are the benefits of Corten Steel?
Among the many benefits, Corten Steel offers are its longevity and ease of maintenance. In addition to high strength, Corten is a low-maintenance steel that is ideal for structures where maintenance is difficult or dangerous, such as bridges, or where disruption is needed to minimize, such as around major roads or railways.
Corten steel can be constructed more quickly than other types of steel because painting can be eliminated from the construction process. Since Corten Steel is resistant to corrosion, the rust appearance that develops can enhance the longevity of the application, making it more economical to use.