Choosing The Right Material For Your Fastener

Fasteners are manufactured in a wide range of materials from common steel to titanium, plastic and other exotic materials. Many materials are further separated into different grades to describe specific alloy mixtures, hardening processes, etc. In addition, some materials are available with a variety of coatings or platings to enhance the corrosion resistance or alter the appearance of the fastener.

Fastener material can be important when choosing a fastener due to differences between materials in strength, brittleness, corrosion resistance, galvanic corrosion properties and, of course, cost.

When replacing fasteners, it is generally best to match what you are replacing. Replacing a bolt with a stronger one is not always safe. Harder bolts tend to be more brittle and may fail in specific applications. Also some equipment is designed so that the bolts will fail before more expensive or critical items are damaged. In some environments, such as salt water, galvanic corrosion must also be considered if changing fastener materials

Materials

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an alloy of low carbon steel and chromium for enhanced corrosion characteristics. Stainless steel is highly corrosion resistant for the price. Because the anti-corrosive properties are inherent to the metal, it will not lose this resistance if scratched during installation or use.

It is a common misconception that stainless steel is stronger than regular steel. In fact, due to their low carbon content, many stainless steel alloys cannot be hardened through heat treatment. Therefore, when compared to regular steel, the stainless alloys used in bolts are slightly stronger than an un-hardened (grade 2) steel but significantly weaker than hardened steel fasteners. Unless great care is taken, stainless fasteners are susceptible toseizing up during installation, a phenomenon known as galling.

Most stainless steel fasteners are much less magnetic than regular steel fasteners though some grades will be slightly magnetic.

18-8 Stainless

18-8 refers to any stainless steel containing approximately 18% chromium and 8% nickel. This is the most common stainless designation for hardware.

Stainless 316

A highly corrosion resistant grade of stainless steel. Ideal in salt water and chlorine environments. More expensive than 18-8.

Stainless 410

A stainless alloy that is harder than 18-8 stainless steel, but not as resistant to corrosion.

Steel

Steel is the most common fastener material. Steel fasteners are available plain as well as with various surface treatments such as zinc plating, galvanization, and chrome plating.

Steel fasteners are commonly available in 4 grades: Grade 2, Grade 5, Grade 8, and Alloy Steel. Many other grades exist but are used far less often. Grade 2, 5, and 8 are usually plated with a slightly blue or yellow zinc coating, or are galvanized, to resist corrosion.

Determining Bolt Grade

Bolts are typically marked on the head to show what grade bolt they are. Note that, in addition to the grade marking, many bolts also have a manufacturer's mark.

Grade 2

Grade 2 is a standard hardware grade steel. This is the most common grade of steel fastener and is the least expensive. Except a possible manufacturer's mark, Grade 2 bolts have no head marking.

Grade 5 / Grade F

Grade 5 bolts are hardened to increase strength and are the most common bolts found in automotive applications. Grade 5 bolts have 3 evenly spaced radial lines on the head.

Grade F is roughly equivalent to Grade 5. Grade F nuts are used with Grade 5 bolts.

Grade 8 / Grade G

Grade 8 bolts have been hardened more than grade 5 bolts. Thus they are stronger and are used in demanding applications such as automotive suspensions. Grade 8 bolts have 6 evenly spaced radial lines on the head.

Grade G is roughly equivalent to Grade 8. Grade G nuts are used with Grade 8 bolts.

Alloy Steel

Alloy steel bolts are made from a high strength steel alloy and are further heat treated. Alloy steel bolts are typically not plated, resulting in a dull black finish. Alloy steel bolts are extremely strong but very brittle.


Silicon Bronze

Silicon bronze, often referred to simply as bronze, is an alloy made mostly of copper and tin with a small amount of silicon. Bronze is used primarily in marine environments. It is preferred over stainless in wooden boat construction and re-fastening due to its superior corrosion resistance, and over brass due to its higher strength. Bronze is similar to copper in color and is also sometimes seen in fine woodworking where it is used for its appearance. The main drawback of bronze is its high cost.


Brass

Brass is an alloy of primarily copper and zinc. Brass is highly corrosion resistant and electrically conductive. However, its use as a fastener is somewhat limited due to its relative softness. It is used primarily for its appearance.


Aluminium

Aluminium is a light, soft, corrosion resistant metal. Like stainless steel, aluminium's corrosion resistance is inherent to the material. Therefore, scratches and nicks will not affect the corrosion resistance.

Fasteners are made from a variety of aluminium alloys, with elements such as manganese, silicon, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and silicon being added to increase strength and melting point.


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