Where can I buy sheets of stainless steel for general outdoor projects?
June 29, 2005 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find stainless steel for outdoor garden use and how do I buy it?

I've seen lots of British garden shows that feature really slick looking garden accents done in stainless steel. Sometimes it's a 6-inch wide cap for lawn edging, sometimes it's used for crazy water features like this one.

I'm building some long low planter boxes to put on a deck and if I could clad them in thin stainless sheets I think it'd make an amazing contrast and look. Googling around for stainless steel turns up all sorts of industrial suppliers making round tubing and the sheets I can find come in zillions of thicknesses and grades. I've looked at large general home centers like Home Depot and Lowes, but haven't found anything there either.

I want the end result to look something like the square planter here, but you know, silver.

Any ideas where to find sheets of stainless steel that isn't too pricey? Any idea how easy it is to bend with proper tools?
posted by mathowie to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Cheap - try scrapyards. Watch out for rust though.

I know you said silver, but this may well have rust problems at some point, especially if it's thin sheets and/or cladding that you are cutting and bending around existing planters. If you'd be willing to consider the weathered look, cor-ten steel (e.g.) is cast in such a way that it oxidizes to orange on the surface, and this then protects the interior of the plate. Architects, sculptors, etc., like cor-ten. I have no idea if it comes in thin sheets for cladding; if it comes in plates you'd have to weld it, prolly.

If you make planters you may want to think about incorporating horizontal copper strips around them somewhere, to stop slugs, if you are in a slug zone. That might look quite nice in contrast to the steel.
posted by carter at 1:32 PM on June 29, 2005

How about a laminate? Stainless steel does tarnish, and it looks like the Alsa stuff is stainless steel within a lexan coating, which should help with rusting.
posted by Rothko at 1:36 PM on June 29, 2005

And this guy says stainless steel planters get hot in the sun.
posted by carter at 1:44 PM on June 29, 2005

I was able to get quite a bit from a restaurant that was closing down. Watch for auction notices in the paper. It was pennies on the dollar due to its filth, but really not hard to clean. Any machine shop can make short work of shaping/welding.
posted by Heatwole at 1:44 PM on June 29, 2005

Check out Lee Valley Tools online, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:38 PM on June 29, 2005

For this type of stuff, McMaster-Carr is a great resource.

Here is a catalogue page with different decorative stainless steel

I would suggest going as thin as you can stand. It being steel and all, it's tough to cut through without metal working tools. Punching holes and screwing through it shouldn't be too bad, but giving the edges a nice finish will probably take some work.
posted by jonah at 2:53 PM on June 29, 2005

Best answer: A commercial restuarant supply place can source the stainless and has the brake to bend it with which is tough to do at home with improvised tools because SS work hardens fast and any slight dents will stick out like a sore thumb. Look for a place that does custom counters which are usually made out of stainless. An 18/10 stainless is basically immune to tarnishing though it can be etched by acids (including blood), it's what they clad DeLoreans in. 18/8 is cheaper but will tarnish after a while but can be cleaned up with a bit of stainless polish and some sweat. Be warned stainless sheet isn't cheap unless you can find surplus someplace. It'll often run 20-30X more expensive as scrap than steel.

It bends ok with the proper tools but the proper tools are a sheet metal brake costing several thousand dollars and massing a metric tonne or so and a shear which is cheaper/lighter but still a fairly pricy item.

If you use the stainless as a panel ala paneled cupboard doors you could get away with hand tools[1] because you wouldn't need bends or clean edges.

[1] a set of three tin snips for cutting, a few files for cleaning up the edges and maybe a hammer and a couple blocks of wood to act as dolly/anvil.
posted by Mitheral at 2:58 PM on June 29, 2005

Best answer: Scrap would be the cheapest. With new you're looking at a few hundred dollars for a 4'x12' sheet (depending on thickness and the market).

Also, even with a break, bending sheet metal is an art, and it's much harder to bend things so that everything is at 90° and all lines up nicely in the corners than you'd think. I'd do a few practice runs with some carbon steel of similar dimensions first.

If you're just cladding a planter in stainless steel, you could use really thin stuff (0.010") or maybe even foil, and that could just be applied to each face with adhesive.
posted by cardboard at 3:10 PM on June 29, 2005

It being steel and all, it's tough to cut through without metal working tools.

And it being stainless steel and all, it's tough to cut through even with metal working tools, unless it's very thin. Except for free-machining grades of stainless, the stuff work-hardens as you cut it. You'll find your drills, punches and shears getting dull long before they should.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:01 PM on June 29, 2005

Stainless steel is incredibly hard to work with and making planters like the one you linked to would be out of reach for all but the most well-equipped DIYer and, even then, would be a stretch. If you really have your heart set on it, you would be better to find a fabrication shop that specialises in stainless steel work and pay for them to be made. This will be expensive.

An alternative may be to use aluminium instead - it is much easier to work with and cheaper. If you polish it up and then seal it with a clear finish (aluminium will not retain a polished finish), you can get a similar appearance, but this will use quite a lot of elbow grease.
posted by dg at 4:40 PM on June 29, 2005

Maybe copper is the better choice. Also, I think it stands a very good chance of becoming the next big decorating trend, as stainless wanes.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:31 PM on June 29, 2005

Consider galvanized steel. brush it up with a wire brush and it resembles ss but it oxidises and tarnishes beautifully,flat grey.
posted by hortense at 12:59 AM on June 30, 2005

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