Materials: Stainless steel

Some people would like everything they posses to be made from natural materials, and there are good reasons for that thinking.

However there is one material that is really special for a lot of reasons.

Stainless steel.

It doesn’t rust, and therefore can last for several lifetimes.

The most common varieties are 18/8 and 18/10, what these numbers refer to is the composition of chromium and nickel respectively, that is mixed with the iron to create this steel.

Often these numbers are stamped into the item, and commonly with the terms ‘Rost Frei’ (rust free) or ‘INOX’ (Inoxidible).

If the steel rusts its not stainless steel, however some rust spots on stainless steel are the result of other ‘lesser’ steels coming into contact with stainless steel and leaving their rust on the unblemished surface.

Stainless steel also has anti-bacterial properties due to the chromium levels in the metal, this makes it an ideal material for items related to cooking and eating.

Because of its anti rust properties its good for marine related uses too.

Some basic modifications to common stainless steel items:

Stainless steel fork: A few bound (prongs out) onto the end of a stick: fishing spear tip.

Stainless steel forks bound onto stick to make a fishing spear.

Stainless steel knife: cheap abuse proof sharp knife? Get a standard  stainless steel butter knife and sharpen it with a disc grinder, the knife will be close to razor sharp and won’t rust or dull easily.

Stainless steel  spoon:  Arrow head!- hammer flat,  cut off sides to make a sharp ‘V’ point, sharpen edges, cut off excess tang (handle), done.

Normal stainless steel teaspoon showing how a broad head arrow point can be made from it.

Stainless steel  Pot,  boiled water distillation, from salty or dirty to pure distilled water, stainless steel make this possible, a normal pot would rust eventually.

If you come across items made from stainless steel, I suggest you start collecting them even if you see no immediate application for them. Think of them as good metal… forever.

If you think collecting stainless steel sounds a bit silly, read on…

I once talked to a guy who did some welding in the outback of Australia in a mining town where they were routinely extracting tons of lead, silver, and beryllium. He was an immigrant and thought of stainless steel as being superior to normal steel and slightly not vastly more expensive. He asked for some stainless steel from his employers to complete the welding work he was doing, every one gave him a reaction as though he had asked for platinum or gold. Feeling like he had stepped into a parallel universe, he was wondering why there was no Stainless steel anywhere. there was no other material he could have used to complete the work either.

Eventually one of his bosses quietly lured him away from the others and whispered  “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got some Stainless steel”.  He was later ( in secret ) given access to a secret locked box perhaps the size of 2 shoe boxes which had about 40 random pieces of stainless steel in flat and pipe form. Most were clearly off-cuts salvaged from other work. The guy took a few pieces that seemed useful to the task at hand, but didn’t have enough to complete the job.

Later on another one of his bosses (a close friend of the first boss) lead him aside and essentially repeated the same process giving him access to a different secret stash of stainless steel, where upon he had enough material to complete the job. Interestingly neither of the bosses knew of each others Stainless steel stashes, the paranoia and secrecy surrounding this scarce material was so intense. Once he had acquired all the Stainless steel, each of the bosses realized that he had got stainless steel form more than one local source. Later on both bosses approached him on separate occasions to be reassured their source of Stainless steel had not been revealed and to inquire about where the other Stainless steel parts had come from. A few times subsequent, several people on the work site quizzed him about his source of stainless steel, to which had had to remain evasive. He thought it might have been part of an elaborate practical joke, like stories of the giant carnivorous red kangaroo that’s 25 feet tall with huge sharp teeth,  but they were just too serious about it, and there was no punchline later on. Some people in the area even speculated enviously over who might be secretly hoarding stainless steel, in the same way we might speculate who had gold bars under the bed. Apparently one of the few source of stainless steel in the town was a small truck that would travel all across the outback towns selling scrap stainless steel arriving at each town for a day about once or twice a year.

Remember that this happened in a prosperous mining town with a buoyant economy, long before peak oil was to occur. Why the paranoia and scarcity about stainless steel? Stainless steel was imported to the manufacturing bases in capital cities which were over 1000Km away, and most of the mines didn’t use stainless steel for their equipment so very little of it ever went near a mining town.  So short of hacking up or melting down cutlery and cookware (which had an equally large transport cost) there was no real source of this material. While this parable is a bit of an aside it does demonstrate that scarcity of a material or resource really does determine its value and the way people begin to act around scarce resources.

The irony of the story was, if he had asked for solid silver to do the work, people would have been quite accommodating, they had it in several different nugget and bullion forms.

Scarcity is  often; right here – right now, rather than; somewhere – eventually.

I think you’ll look at cutlery differently from now on.

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