Steel Finishes Explained…

Today I thought I would explain something that a few customers have been asking me about recently.  We advertise on the website that we can supply steel furniture powder coated, clear coated, or untreated raw steel.  However, many people don’t understand the important distinctions between these different finishes.  Here goes…..

We supply items made from mild steel – if left untreated mild steel WILL rust (in days) if it gets wet, either directly or simply through moisture in the air.  Of course, this means that an item of furniture made from untreated mild steel will develop rust in a damp environment EVEN IF IT IS INDOORS.

Now, some people like the reddish patina which comes with a fine layer of rust, (and I have even been asked to specifically add rust promoting compounds to items in the past) but most people who buy furniture do not want to see it rust.  For this reason we don’t recommend untreated raw steel unless you specifically want a piece to rust.

The alternative is to either have the item made from stainless steel (which is much more expensive and gives a completely different look) or to finish the mild steel in an anti-corrosion coating of some kind.  The most popular coatings are waxing, galvanising, powder coating and clear coating. 

We don’t use wax on our frames because it is not a durable finish for steel furniture items. 

Also, we don’t generally galvanise our furniture pieces because it is not a finished look that most customers find attractive (a dull grey colour which fades to ash-white over time – look at local streetlight poles, railings, etc. for examples of a galvanised finish).  However, we can quote for galvanising if that really is what rocks your boat…

We generally supply items powder coated – this is a process whereby a small electrical charge is passed through the steel frame and coloured powder with an opposing charge is sprayed onto it, the powder adhering to the steel with incredible force to create an extremely strong bond.  The whole frame is then baked at very high temperature which liquefies the powder and creates a seamless, smooth finish (which looks like a really good paint job).  We can powder coat items in just about any colour – including metallics – and the finish can be satin or gloss.  Powder coating is a very attractive finish for indoor and outdoor furniture and is tough and hardwearing.  Coloured powder coated items generally provide a more contemporary and modern look.   The vast majority of items we supply are powder coated.

Clear coating is simply powder coating using a clear finish rather than a coloured one.  This is desirable to some people who wish to show off the raw steel finish of the piece to best effect – we generally leave the black/dark grey mill scale on the steel when a customer specifies clear coating.  It’s just as durable as coloured powder coating, and again can be supplied satin or gloss.  We think the clear coated steel looks much more industrial/unfinished and rugged but really it’s a very subjective thing and depends very much on personal taste. 

I have noticed recently that a number of furniture companies supply steel furniture which they describe as “clear coated” when it is, in fact, simply clear lacquered.  This involves a spraying of liquid lacquer onto the surface of the frame, much as you would do yourself with a spray can of paint at home.  This is NOT a durable finish and is in no way comparable to genuine clear powder coating (which, remember, is electrically bonded to the frame and then baked).  In our experience, lacquer is very easily chipped to reveal the raw steel beneath – this creates a pathway for rust which then blooms unchecked beneath the clear lacquer, necessitating removal of all the remaining lacquer before another treatment can be applied.  We only use genuine clear powder coating – slightly more expensive and time consuming but infinitely more durable.

Well, I hope that makes sense, and helps you to decide which finish is best for your furniture items.

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