Weathering Steel: Definition, Composition, Properties, and Uses

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Weathering Steel: Definition, Composition, Properties, and Uses

Weathering Steel: Definition, Composition, Properties,

Weathering steel, also known as Corten steel, is a unique type of steel alloy that has become popular for its distinctive rust-like appearance and exceptional resistance to corrosion.

This material contains alloying elements like copper, chromium, and nickel, which react with the environment to form a protective oxide layer on its surface when exposed to the elements. This oxide layer not only gives weathering steel its characteristic rusted look but also acts as a barrier, slowing down further corrosion. 

Weathering steel offers several advantages, including longevity due to its resistance to rusting, low maintenance requirements, and a range of ASTM specifications tailored to different applications.

While it has many benefits, weathering steel also has drawbacks such as initial cost and the need for a period of weathering to achieve full aesthetic potential. However, its applications are diverse, ranging from architectural structures to outdoor sculptures and artworks.

In this article, we will explore into the characteristics, benefits, drawbacks, applications, and more of weathering steel to provide a comprehensive understanding of this unique material.

What is Meant by Weathering Steel?

Weathering steel, also known as Corten steel, is a type of high-strength, low-alloy steel engineered to develop a protective rust-like oxide layer on its surface, known as a patina. This patina serves as a natural barrier that shields the metal from environmental factors, eliminating the need for additional coatings. 

The formation of the oxide layer is facilitated by alloying elements like chromium, nickel, copper, and phosphorus, which are combined with iron and carbon in the steel composition. Copper plays a vital role in promoting the adhesion of the protective oxide layer to the metal and retarding the corrosion process. This alloying process imbues weathering steel with enhanced properties such as strength and significantly improved corrosion resistance—often four to eight times better than plain, low-carbon steels. Unlike conventional steel, where rusting is a sign of degradation, the patina on weathering steel acts as a protective barrier that slows down corrosion progression. This characteristic extends the material’s lifespan and reduces the need for frequent maintenance and painting.

As a result, weathering steel is widely used in outdoor applications or environments where conventional steel would be susceptible to rusting, making it a preferred choice for structures requiring durability and aesthetic appeal in various weather conditions.

What Is the Other Term for Weathering Steel?

Weathering steel, besides its common name, is also referred to as COR-TEN® steel, which is its trademarked name. Sometimes it’s written as “corten steel” without a hyphen, as a generic term derived from the trademark. Additionally, it may be called high-strength, low-alloy (HSLA) steel, emphasizing its strength and composition.

What Is the Origin of Weathering Steel?

Weathering steel, also known as Corten steel, has its origins in the 1930s, pioneered by the US Steel Corporation. Its development stemmed from a need for a steel alloy with increased strength, durability, and hardness, specifically for ore-carrying hopper carts in the iron and coal industry. The goal was to create a material that could withstand harsh conditions without requiring paint. Surprisingly, the resulting alloy exhibited remarkable corrosion-resistant properties beyond its initial purpose, leading to its adoption in various industries. 

US Steel trademarked the name COR-TEN®, where “COR” stands for corrosion resistance, and “TEN” signifies tensile strength. While the terms corten and COR-TEN® are often used interchangeably today, COR-TEN® remains a trademark of US Steel.

Although initially not intended for architectural use, weathering steel made its architectural debut in the 1950s. One notable example is the John Deere Headquarters in Moline, Illinois, clad in weathering steel in 1964. Architect Eero Saarinen’s choice of weathering steel, specifically corten, aimed to imbue the structures with a weathered and grounded aesthetic. The expectation was that the steel would naturally age over time, developing a deep, natural hue as its protective oxide layer matured. This oxide layer gives weathering steel its characteristic rich, earthy brownish-red tone, blending durability with a timeless appearance.

How Does Weathering Steel Work?

Weathering steel works by leveraging alloying elements that facilitate the formation of an initial rust layer on its surface. This rust layer adheres effectively to the steel, preventing deeper penetration and maintaining the steel’s structural integrity.

While weathering steel does rust, this process is limited to the external surface. Once the initial rust layer forms, further rusting is inhibited from reaching the inner layers of the steel. This outer rust layer acts as a protective barrier, shielding the steel from additional corrosion.

As a result, weathering steel can maintain its strength and durability over time in outdoor environments.

How is Weathering Steel Made?

Weathering steel is manufactured through a controlled process that involves exposing the steel to natural weathering conditions. Here’s how weathering steel is made:

  • Initial Surface Preparation: The steel surface is prepared initially by roughening it through sanding or blasting. This step helps to create a surface that is conducive to the formation of the protective oxide layer.
  • Exposure to Natural Elements: The prepared steel is then exposed to natural weathering conditions, including moisture, sunlight, and air. Over time, this exposure allows the steel to develop a protective layer of rust or patina on its surface.
  • Rust Development: The exposure to natural elements initiates a rusting process on the surface of the steel. This rusting is controlled and does not penetrate deep into the steel. Instead, it forms a stable oxide layer that acts as a barrier against further corrosion.
  • Accelerated Methods: In some cases, accelerated methods are used to speed up the formation of the protective oxide layer. These methods may involve chemical treatments or the application of industrial-grade hydrogen peroxide to the steel surface.
  • Resultant Properties: The weathering steel that undergoes this process gains enhanced corrosion resistance. It also develops a distinct surface finish that ranges from an orange-red hue to a deep purple-brown, depending on the specific alloy composition and environmental factors during the weathering process.


How is Weathering Steel Different From Regular Steel?

Weathering steel, also known as Corten steel, differs from regular steel in several key aspects:

  1. Composition: Weathering steel contains alloying elements like chromium, nickel, manganese, and silicon, which enhance its corrosion resistance and durability. Regular steel is primarily composed of iron and carbon.
  2. Treatment: Corten steel undergoes a specific treatment process involving immersion in a solution to prevent rusting and improve its longevity. Regular steel lacks this corrosion-resistant treatment.
  3. Properties: Corten steel has enhanced malleability, impact resistance, and corrosion resistance compared to regular steel. It is deliberately rusted to achieve an aged appearance, while regular steel corrodes more rapidly in humid conditions.
  4. Applications: Corten steel is commonly used in outdoor applications such as architectural structural supports due to its corrosion-resistant coating and distinctive appearance. Regular steel finds applications in various sectors like architecture, machinery, automotive, military, and aerospace. 

Overall, the differences between weathering steel and regular steel stem from their composition, treatment processes, properties, corrosion resistance, and applications in different industries.

Is Weathering Steel Better Than D2 Tool Steel?

Yes, the comparison between weathering steel and D2 tool steel isn’t straightforward as they serve different purposes and have unique properties. Weathering steel is valued for its corrosion resistance and aesthetic appeal, making it suitable for outdoor structures and artistic applications. On the other hand, D2 tool steel is renowned for its hardness and wear resistance, making it ideal for cutting tools, knives, and machining applications where durability and edge retention are crucial. Therefore, the “better” option depends on the specific requirements of the application at hand.

Is Weathering Steel a High-Grade Alloy Steel?

No, weathering steel is not generally classified as a high-grade alloy steel like stainless steel or tool steel. Instead, it falls under the category of low-alloy steel. While it contains alloying elements such as copper, chromium, and nickel, which contribute to its corrosion resistance and aesthetics, weathering steel is not primarily selected for its mechanical properties like hardness, toughness, or strength, which are often the focus of high-grade alloy steels.

What Are the Different ASTM Specifications for Weathering Steel?

1. A847

ASTM A847 is indeed an applicable specification for weathering steel, specifically for low-alloy, high-strength steel used in cold-formed welded rectangular and square pipe and tubing. It provides superior resistance to atmospheric corrosion compared to carbon steel, making it suitable for applications requiring enhanced corrosion resistance and high strength, such as bridges and structures. The minimum yield and tensile strength for ASTM A847 are typically 50 ksi and 70 ksi, respectively.


ASTM A709-50W is indeed another ASTM specification that applies to weathering steel. It covers structural steel, including high-strength and low-alloy steel structural bars, plates, and shapes. This type of weathering steel exhibits superior resistance to atmospheric corrosion compared to carbon steel, even without the presence of copper. It requires an atmospheric corrosion index of 6.00. ASTM A709-50W is suitable for various applications without the need for paint, such as pedestrian bridges, highway bridge girders, railroad bridges, and overpasses, when appropriately designed and exposed to atmospheric conditions. The minimum yield and tensile strength for ASTM A709-50W are typically 50 ksi and 70 ksi, respectively.


ASTM A871-65 is indeed another ASTM specification for weathering steel. It covers low-alloy, high-strength structural steel plates with improved resistance to atmospheric corrosion. A871-65 typically offers a minimum yield strength of 65 ksi and a minimum tensile strength of 80 ksi. This type of weathering steel demonstrates superior corrosion resistance compared to carbon steels, making it suitable for various applications where corrosion resistance is critical. Examples include power transmission structures and lighting poles.


This specification covers high-strength, low-alloy structural steel plates with enhanced atmospheric corrosion resistance. A242 steel is applicable to plates up to half an inch in thickness and offers superior atmospheric corrosion resistance compared to carbon steels. It typically has a minimum yield strength of 50 ksi and a minimum tensile strength of 70 ksi.

ASTM A606-4

This specification applies to both hot-rolled and cold-rolled steel sheets, strips, and coils. A606-4 is a high-strength, low-alloy steel known for its improved atmospheric corrosion properties. It can be used for various structural and miscellaneous purposes and can be left unpainted in many applications if appropriately designed. A606-4 generally has a minimum yield strength of 50 ksi and a minimum tensile strength of 70 ksi.


ASTM A588 is another important ASTM specification for weathering steel. It covers high-strength, low-alloy structural steel with improved atmospheric corrosion resistance. This specification includes a range of structural shapes such as angles, channels, beams, plates, and bars. ASTM A588 is well-suited for welded bridges and structures where considerations such as weight reduction, durability, and corrosion resistance are crucial. It offers a minimum yield strength of 50 ksi and a minimum tensile strength of 70 ksi, surpassing the corrosion resistance of carbon steels.

What Are the Chemical Compositions of Weathering Steel?

Table 1: Corten A Chemical Composition


Table 2: Corten B Chemical Composition


What is the Carbon Content of Weathering Steel?

Weathering steels typically have a carbon content below 0.2 wt%. They are enriched with alloying elements such as copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), chromium (Cr), silicon (Si), phosphorus (P), and manganese (Mn). Collectively, these alloying elements contribute to a total content ranging from 1.00 wt% to 5.00 wt%.

This composition enhances the weathering steel’s properties, including its corrosion resistance and durability, making it suitable for various outdoor applications.

What Are the Properties of Weathering Steel?

Corten ACorten B
Thickness strip products (mm)
Corten A
Corten B
Thickness plate products (mm)
Corten A
Corten B
Yield Strength RelN/mm² (Minimum)
Corten A
Corten B
Tensile Strength R(m)N/mm² (Minimum)
Corten A
Corten B
Elongation A(so)% (Minimum)
Corten A
Corten B
Corten A
Corten B
Corten A
Corten B

What Are the Characteristics of Weathering Steel?

Weathering steel exhibits several distinctive characteristics that set it apart and make it suitable for diverse applications:

  1. Weathering steel is renowned for its high resistance to atmospheric corrosion, making it ideal for outdoor structures exposed to harsh environmental conditions.
  2. It develops a unique and aesthetically pleasing appearance as it weathers, ranging from shades of orange-brown to deep reddish-brown, which adds to its appeal in architectural and artistic applications.
  3. Weathering steel offers excellent tensile strength and durability, making it suitable for structural applications that require strength and longevity.
  4. Compared to bare, cold-rolled steel, weathering steel has a longer life expectancy due to its corrosion-resistant properties, reducing maintenance and replacement costs over time.
  5. Weathering steel can be welded using appropriate methods that allow the rusting process to occur naturally, maintaining the integrity and appearance of the structure while ensuring structural strength.

Does Weathering Steel Rust?

Yes, weathering steel does rust, but in a controlled and beneficial way. When exposed to the atmosphere, weathering steel develops a layer of rust, known as a patina, on its surface. This patina serves as a protective barrier, shielding the underlying steel from direct contact with moisture and oxygen.

Unlike conventional steel, where rusting can be detrimental, the rusting process of weathering steel is controlled and contributes to its enhanced corrosion resistance and durability. The formation of the protective patina is a key characteristic of weathering steel, providing long-term protection against further corrosion in various atmospheric conditions.

Can Weathering Steel Be Tempered?

No, weathering steel cannot be tempered through heat treatment like certain other types of steel such as carbon or alloy steel. Tempering involves a specific heat-treatment process of reheating steel to a precise temperature and then cooling it down to achieve desired mechanical properties like hardness and toughness.

Weathering steel, on the other hand, develops its unique properties, including its protective patina and enhanced corrosion resistance, through exposure to the atmosphere over time. This process is a gradual chemical reaction with the environment and is not achieved through heat treatment like tempering.

What Are the Uses of Weathering Steel?

Weathering steel is utilized in various applications due to its distinctive properties. Some common uses include:

  1. Architectural Structures: Weathering steel is frequently used in architectural applications such as bridges, building facades, and outdoor structures due to its corrosion resistance and aesthetic appeal.
  2. Outdoor Sculptures and Artworks: Its unique rust-colored appearance and corrosion resistance make weathering steel a popular choice for outdoor sculptures, artworks, and installations.
  3. Shipping Containers: Weathering steel is used in the construction of shipping containers due to its durability and resistance to atmospheric corrosion, providing long-lasting protection for cargo.
  4. Railway Wagons: It is also utilized in the manufacturing of railway wagons, offering durability and longevity in outdoor railway environments.
  5. Transmission Poles: Weathering steel is employed in the construction of transmission poles for power lines, providing strength, corrosion resistance, and reliability in outdoor settings.

How Long Will Weathering Steel Last?

Weathering steel, such as Corten steel, has the potential to last for several decades to over a century. 

The protective rust layer that develops on its surface acts as a barrier against corrosion, contributing to its longevity in various atmospheric conditions.

However, the actual lifespan of weathering steel structures can vary depending on factors such as environmental conditions, maintenance practices, and the specific application of the steel.

How Much Does a Weathering Steel Cost?

The cost of weathering steel can vary depending on several factors including the specific type of weathering steel, the thickness and dimensions of the material, the supplier or manufacturer, the location of purchase, and any additional features or treatments applied to the steel.

Generally, weathering steel may be slightly more expensive than traditional carbon steel due to its enhanced corrosion-resistant properties. However, the long-term savings in maintenance and replacement costs can make weathering steel a cost-effective choice for certain applications over its lifespan. It’s advisable to obtain price quotes from suppliers or manufacturers based on your specific project requirements for a more accurate cost estimate.

What Is the Common Form of Weathering Steel?

The most common form of weathering steel is sheet or plate steel, frequently utilized in architectural and structural applications.

This form allows for the creation of various structures, facades, sculptures, and other designs that benefit from both the unique aesthetic of the rusted surface and the material’s enhanced corrosion resistance.

What Are the Advantages of Weathering Steel

Weathering steel offers several advantages that make it a valuable material for various applications:

  1. Natural Corrosion Resistance: Weathering steel forms a protective patina on its surface, acting as a natural barrier against further corrosion. This reduces the risk of structural degradation over time.
  2. Low Maintenance Requirements: The self-protecting nature of the rust-like patina significantly reduces the need for ongoing maintenance such as painting and coating. This leads to cost savings and lower environmental impact compared to other materials that require regular maintenance.
  3. Longevity: Weathering steel’s resistance to corrosion and its durable nature contribute to a longer life span, making it a sustainable and cost-effective choice for structures.
  4. Aesthetic Appeal: The unique appearance of weathering steel, with its rust-colored patina, adds an artistic and architectural appeal to structures, making it a popular choice for outdoor sculptures, artworks, and architectural designs.
  5. Strength and Integrity: Despite its weathered appearance, weathering steel maintains its strength and structural integrity even in challenging environments, providing reliable performance over time. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Weathering Steel?

While weathering steel offers many advantages, it also comes with some disadvantages to consider:

  • Higher Initial Cost: Weathering steel typically has a higher initial cost compared to traditional carbon steel due to its enhanced corrosion-resistant properties and unique aesthetic appeal.
  • Rust Runoff and Staining: During the initial stages of weathering, runoff from the rusted surface can stain surrounding areas, and the appearance of early rusting may not be aesthetically pleasing. Careful consideration is needed to minimize these issues.
  • Design Considerations: Weathering steel requires careful consideration during the design phase to prevent water accumulation in crevices, as stagnant water can accelerate corrosion and compromise structural integrity.
  • Compatibility with Climate Conditions: Certain climate conditions, such as high-chlorine environments or constant exposure to saltwater, may not be compatible with weathering steel. These conditions can lead to reduced corrosion resistance and durability over time. It’s important to assess the environmental factors before choosing weathering steel for a project. 

Is Weathering Steel Better Than Electrical Steel?

Weathering steel and electrical steel are designed for different purposes and have distinct characteristics optimized for their respective applications. 

Weathering steel develops a protective rust layer that shields it from further corrosion, making it suitable for outdoor structures and architectural projects. 

Electrical steel, also known as silicon steel, is specifically engineered for the electrical industry, with attributes like low electrical resistance and high magnetic permeability, making it ideal for transformer cores and electromagnetic devices. 

The choice between weathering steel and electrical steel depends on the specific requirements of the project and the intended application.

Weathering Steel Products from Corten Steel Tube

Corten Steel Tube offers a variety of weathering steel products, including Corten A, Corten B, S355JOW, S355JOWP, and S355J2W steels, tailored for various applications. Our team provides expert advice and support to help clients find the best weathering steel solution for their specific needs. For more information about Corten Steel Tube’s weathering steel solutions, including Corten steel, contact us directly.

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