How to Select the Best Finish for your Steel Project

It is a question we get asked time and again: ‘What is the best finish for my steel project?’

Ensuring the correct finish to a steel project is just as important as the fabrication process. When deciding the best finish, you will need to consider if the finish is being applied for purely aesthetic reasons, or for additional corrosion protection. If the correct finish is not applied there is a good chance the product won’t stand the test of time and you will quickly start to notice signs of deterioration!  

A high-quality finish will provide the ‘wow’ factor, and if your product is being used as a showcase feature, such as a staircase which has been designed to impress, there are a multitude of aesthetic finishing options to choose from.  

As experts in all things steel (and a responsible company who want our customers to be nothing less than delighted!) we can offer the best advice on how to achieve a desired look and feel, whilst also ensuring the product is well protected from the elements.

In this blog we will take you through some of the common metal finishing products and practices that can be used to give a high-quality finish and help your product last a lifetime…

Preparation is key: Shot blasting 

First things first, preparation! In order to achieve a good finish, it is necessary to remove all mill finish and scale, common on large sections of steel. Removing imperfections will enable a good base (sometimes called ‘etch’) for the paint or coating to adhere to.   

Shot blasting is the process of using abrasive particles applied under high pressure to remove impurities. A rapidly turning throwing wheel housed in special steel structure which guides the metal, is used to blast abrasive particles onto metal profiles. Shot blasting is also used to remove rust and old paint.

Shot blasting machine

Powder Coating: A high-quality, consistent finish  

Powder coating is a dry finishing process that has become very popular in recent decades.  Powder coating can be used on a wide range of products and provides a high-quality, consistent finish. It can be applied to large areas in little time, making it an efficient option for large scale projects.  Powder coating is used for both its functional and durable qualities, and also for its decorative and attractive finish, which is available in a wide range of colour options.

Now for the science part… powder coatings are based on polymer resin systems, combined with curatives, pigments and other additives.  These ingredients are melt mixed and once cooled, they are ground into a uniform powder.  A process called electrostatic spray deposition (ESD) is generally used to apply the powder coating, involving a spray gun which provides an electrostatic charge to the powder particles to attract them to the metal.  After application, the parts are cured in an oven and the coating chemically reacts to produce long molecular chains which are very resistant to breakdown.

Still with us? The result of this process is a highly durable, consistent coating which will protect metal in outdoor environments exposed to the elements. Due to the method of application, powder coating is a cost-effective way to treat aluminium, mild steel and stainless steel.  You will commonly see powder coating finishes on items such as handrails, fence panels and gates.

Powder Coating

Galvanising: Stand the test of time!  

Galvanising is an Industrial finish applied to mild steel or carbon steel to provide a protective coating.  Applied using a hot dipping process, a layer of zinc is used to coat the metal and prevent rusting and corrosion. Galvanising is an extremely versatile process and an easy means of providing corrosion protection for construction materials exposed to atmospheric conditions. Galvanising can be applied to large sections of metal but is also cost effective for use on smaller items, making it a highly versatile option. Once galvanised, the steel will require no further maintenance and will stand the test of time!

Galvanised box section

‘Warm to Touch’: Additional comfort and luxury  

Similar to the powder coating process, ‘Warm to Touch’ is a plastic coating, applied using a spray system and used on items such as handrails to provide additional comfort. The high-quality PVC coating prevents heat conductivity away from the hand. Available in various colours, the material is UV stable and weather resistant, making it ideal for external or internal requirements and industrial or commercial environments.  The finished result is extremely hard wearing and provides a flush, consistent finish with no snags. With many combinations of colours and textures available, this range of products allows designers to find the finish to suit their individual development.

‘Warm to Touch’ handrail

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is an alloy of Iron with a minimum of 10.5% Chromium. Chromium produces a thin layer of oxide on the surface of the steel known as the ‘passive layer’, which prevents corrosion of the surface. An increased amount of Chromium gives an increased resistance to corrosion.

There are many different types of surface finish on stainless steel, some of which are applied later during processing. Finishes include polished, brushed, blasted, etched and coloured finishes. Selecting the right surface finish is important in determining the corrosion resistance of the stainless steel surface. A rough surface finish can lower the corrosion resistance. Check out the various recommended finishes from the British Stainless Steel Association here.

Stainless steel can provide an impressive ‘wow’ factor and can be used to complement various architectural features. It is also incredibly hard wearing and requires no additional maintenance after installation.

Stainless Steel profiles

Wet Paint (Epoxy Coating)

Wet paint systems, also referred to as 2 Pack Paint or Epoxy Paint, are paint systems involving an acrylic paint melamine (the colour) and a hardener resin. When combined, these two resins result in a chemical reaction which produces a hardened solution.

Epoxy paint systems are a top choice for many industrial coating applications, including steel, metal and concrete. The system is applied using a spray, making it better suited and more efficient for larger, less intricate applications. 

Epoxy coatings provide optimum protection against abrasion, corrosive fluids and extreme temperatures and are also resistant to many corrosive substances. Once epoxy cures, it becomes a hard, finished surface which will last many years, even in exposed conditions.

Zinc Plating

Zinc plating is the process of electrodepositing Zinc onto mild steel or iron parts. Zinc plating acts as a sacrificial coating and will slowly corrodes over time, protecting the steel underneath. The other main benefit of zinc plating is that the coating itself improves the look of the base metal, clear zinc plating has an attractive bright silver/blue appearance.

To get the best results for zinc plating, the condition of the material is very important. Clean rust/scale free metal allows for the best finish.

For better corrosion resistance the zinc layer is passivated, there are different types of passivation available depending on the application and depending on if the product will be exposed to the elements. Clear (blue) passivate is commonly used for machine parts and washers, screws, fasteners, and the finished look is a bright shiny silver/blue. Yellow passivate offers better corrosion resistance and so is often used for motor parts and general parts to be used outdoors. Black Passivate (Trivalent Chromium) offers excellent corrosion resistance and is mainly used for decorative purposes where a dark finish is required.

 Zinc plating is well suited for smaller, intricate applications which may have moving parts, such as hinges or door locks.

For more information about which finish is right for your project, get in touch with our team!

Call 0151 637 3600 or email sales@clmltd.co.uk.

5 Factors to Consider when Selecting a Steel Fabrication Company

  • Safety must always come first!

Steel fabrication is not a simple process, it involves some dangerous activities including cutting, bending, welding and assembly. Fabricators use specialist tools and equipment and must also safely manage the installation process on customer sites, sometimes in close proximity to the public.  The steel contractors’ approach to safety can have wide ranging implications to others on site and so selecting a company who can demonstrate a good safety track record is critical. 

Along with checking their external safety certifications and accreditations, an understanding of the company’s safety culture is a useful indicator of their approach.  We believe that safety must be driven from a senior management level throughout the company and a strong safety culture will be immediately apparent as a primary consideration from the early stages of design and feasibility.

We are always open for customers to question our approach to safety and we welcome our customers to visit our workshop and engage with our team.  

  • Design capability is essential  

When considering a steel fabrication companies suitability for your project, you should be able to expect that they can provide you with a detailed technical design.  A good company will be able to meet your fabrication needs from start to finish, taking your initial design intent and coordinating with the client design team and structural engineers to produce detailed technical drawings. 

There are many opportunities at this stage for the steel fabrication company to produce the best technical solution possible, to suggest the optimum materials, to develop a safe installation solution, and to suggest efficiencies which may save the customer time or money.  This in-house experience and expertise can help to improve efficiency and demonstrates a real technical understanding.  Working to detailed technical drawings also provides greater reliability of both cost and programme and helps with the coordination of the works to prevent clashes with other contractors.

  • Quality can not be compromised

The steel fabrication contractor is often responsible for installing the equipment which supports an entire project.  This work is then often covered up, so being able to reassure customers of the quality of the product and the craftmanship underneath is critical. 

The term ‘quality control’ covers many aspects of the fabrication and installation process.  From the selection of the optimum materials and the right choice of finish to ensure a long lifespan, to essential quality check hold points in the fabrication process, there are many indicators that quality control procedures are in place.  Steel fabrication is a craft which must be undertaken by experienced and qualified operatives, don’t be afraid to ask contractors to demonstrate these qualifications and check for references! 

Accessible staff who are willing to communicate and engage with you and consider the best approach demonstrates you are dealing with a conscientious company!

  • Hire an expert and check out their experience

Checking out a contractors previous experience is an excellent way of understanding if they have the capability to undertake a project of your required size and nature.  Steelwork contractors can vary hugely in their capacity and factors such as workshop size, manpower and levels of equipment will all have an impact. 

Specific experience in the desired industry is highly beneficial, it will allow the contractor to understand the unique requirements of the sector and to offer tailored and useful advice for the benefit of the overall project.  Always try to look for an expert in your specific field!

  • Good Customer Service

Construction projects can be complicated and multi-faceted, with many contributors and a huge amount of technical information to be managed and controlled. There is nothing more frustrating than dealing with a company who only looks for problems, not solutions.

We believe in building long-lasting relationships with our customers which are based on mutual trust and cooperation; after all, this is the best way to get the job done!  Good customer service and a willingness to be flexible and help our customers out, sees them returning to us time and again.  

CLM Services provide bespoke steel fabrication solutions for a wide variety of sectors, including housing, retail, leisure, health and education.  Our experience includes:

  • Structural Steel
  • Steel Staircases
  • Handrails and Balustrades
  • Platforms and Mezzanine Floors
  • Bespoke projects

Summer Fun for the Twycross Chimps!

We may be specialists in steel fabrication, but our skills don’t end there!

Back in 2018 CLM were specialist contractors on the Chimpanzee Eden project, so when the team at Twycross Zoo asked if we could help them with some new timber shelters for the outdoor area of their chimpanzee enclosure, we ‘jumped’ at the chance (excuse the pun

Our Top 5 Tips for Working Successfully in Zoos and Wildlife Parks

In recent years, CLM has developed a solid reputation working for zoos and wildlife parks across the country.  It is safe to say that from our experience supporting main contractors and working directly for the customer, we have learnt a lot about what these types of organisations need from their suppliers.  In this blog, CLM Project Manager Matt Hayes discusses the top 5 lessons we have learnt in order to ensure a successful relationship.

The safety and wellbeing of the animals is the top priority

Keeping the animals safe, happy and healthy is the keeper’s top priority and something they are incredibly passionate about.  The commitment and dedication shown by the keepers and their teams towards their animals is something we have always been impressed by.  

It is important that we develop a rapport with the keepers and their teams to understand how we can prioritise the well-being of the animals throughout the works.  Designing and developing solutions that can be installed with minimal disruption or distress to the animals is important and a good relationship with the teams who care for them makes this a reality.  

The animal transfer systems we install are operated using pullies, wire ropes and specially designed safety ratchets which allow doors to be quickly and safely closed as the animals move and for zones to be closed off effectively.  The reliability of this equipment is therefore essential.  In order to ensure the ongoing safety of the animals, the keepers and the public who visit the attraction, we spend a great deal of time considering our technical design and working closely with all members of the project team to develop the safest possible solution.  This is something we are very passionate about!

Quality is critical

When dealing with some of the largest and most aggressive animals on the planet, ensuring a quality product is something that must be guaranteed.  From developing systems which allow keepers to move tigers safely around their enclosure, to building screens that let keepers perform health checks on elephants, our products must be strong and made to last!  

Our extensive experience fitting steel doors, screens, tunnels and transfer slides means we know what specification of material will work best and we often work with customers to advise and guide on the optimum selection. 

Our experienced installation team never cut corners, every job is completed to high quality standards, which means we can pass on reassurances to the keepers.  The quality of our installation is especially important when supplying products for animals such as chimpanzees, for example, who are strong, curious and very clever.  Materials must be robust and tamper-proof and there is no room for error! 

Regardless of if we are working with elephants or newts, the same level of detail is applied to every project. 

A flexible approach is required to support the running functions of the zoo

Some projects need to be completed within tight time frames or within a designated window of opportunity. Being flexible and willing to accommodate any last-minute change of plan is an essential part of the work we do. 

By their very nature, animals can be unpredictable and we need to be ready at any moment to ‘down tools’ and leave an enclosure if a situation changes. Our installation team are always ready to react to requests from keepers to accommodate their needs. Of course, the critical work still needs to be completed within essential time frames and so we need to be flexible and pull out all the stops when needed! 

Providing and demonstrating value for money is essential 

Whilst never compromising safety and quality, it is essential that we can provide a competitive and high-value solution to these organisations, many of which are charities.  It is important that the main contractor, or the zoo or wildlife park if we are working direct, can demonstrate that a cost-effective solution is being delivered.  Our experience often allows us to suggest alternative solutions or a different method of installation which will save time or money.  A good understanding of the project and the keeper’s requirements means we can often work to specific budgets whilst still delivering the end product required. 

CLM has an in-house design team who can make 3D models of our proposed solution to allow for accurate costing of parts, materials and labour. This type of technical detail provides reassurance to the customer, as every element of the project is planned out beforehand, meaning costs won’t escalate.

The reward of a job well done is second to none!  

Since working in zoos and wildlife parks we have encountered some amazing animals, and nothing beats the feeling of a job well done! Improving their environment and ultimately their quality is life is the most satisfying part of the job and we have learnt so much over the years about how the different species are cared for and about the running functions of a zoo. 

Career highlights have included watching the chimpanzees at Twycross Zoo enjoying their new habitat, helping to move a crocodile into its new enclosure in the new Monsoon Forest at Chester Zoo, and watching the tigers use their bespoke tunnels to move about their new enclosure at Knowsley Safari Park.   

CLM design and install animal containment, animal transfer systems and bespoke steel projects for zoos and wildlife parks across the UK, including:

  • Fully integrated animal circulation systems
  • Keeper operated doors and slides
  • Tunnels 
  • Steel Structures
  • Viewing screens and windows

You can check out some of our recent projects for zoos here, or for an informal chat about an upcoming project, please get in touch with our team!

A League of Their Own

Supporting our local community is important to CLM. We always try to get involved with a good cause when we can, but this particular cause was a little bit special…

CLM Services renew SafeContractor Accreditation

We are pleased to have renewed our SafeContractor accreditation in the work categories of:

CLM Services Ltd help Chester Zoo in a time of crisis

It was widely publicised in the local and national news when, back in December 2018, Chester Zoo, one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions, tragically suffered a large fire in the Monsoon Forest area of their Islands exhibit.

CLM Services Ltd Renew CHAS Accreditation

CLM Services is delighted to have renewed our Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS) accreditation up until 2020, helping us to demonstrate our continuous commitment to improving our Health and Safety procedures and performance.