The Complete Guide to Stainless Steel Tubes

April 25, 2021
In this post, you'll read:You may think you know what stainless steel tubes can do, but the sheer number of options and uses may surprise you. Tubing is one of the most versatile and sturdy ways to incorporate stainless steel into a project.

Table of Contents

You may think you know what stainless steel tubes can do, but the sheer number of options and uses may surprise you. Tubing is one of the most versatile and sturdy ways to incorporate stainless steel into a project. Tubes are not limited to what you may think of as a pipe; tubes can be round, square, hexagonal — the possibilities are endless.

Stainless steel tubes can be polished and used for elegant decorative accents or thickened up and used for structural support. And with some great international standards in place for metal tubing, you can rest assured that communicating your needs and options with a stainless steel supplier and your team will be a smooth and simple process. 

This is an image of stainless steel tube.

This guide should walk you through everything you need to know about stainless steel tubes, including global production standards, types of production techniques, possible shapes and styles, popular finishes, and common applications where stainless steel adds a ton of value to a product or construction project. If you have concerns or questions about your specific project, or you would like to request a sample or quote, contact the FTSSS customer support team at sales@ftsss.com

Production Standards and Styles for Stainless Steel Tubes

Stainless steel tubes have a nearly endless list of uses and styles, so it used to be difficult to communicate with suppliers the specifications that your project requires. This challenge led to the development of many standardization techniques and organizations. Today, the leader in global standards for many fields in the American Society for Testing and Materials. 

ASTM Standards

The ASTM is regularly cited by government regulation and legislation around the world. Their standards not only reduce the friction of international trade, but by using ASTM standards, the resulting products are reliable, long-lasting, and safer. 

This is an image of ASTM logo.

ASTM currently publishes over 12,000 standards that work towards improving product quality and consistency. Seeing that a stainless steel supplier uses these international standards should set your mind at ease. 

Welded vs. Seamless Production Techniques

The two main categories of stainless steel tubes are welded and seamless. These classifications are based on the production technique used to form the tubes. 

Welded Tubes

Welded production involves forming strips of stainless steel into the tube shape and then welding the seam along the length of the tube. This seam can be left visibly beaded or smoothed out using cold rolling or forging. 

Welded tubes are more cost-effective because they take less time to produce. Also, the process for creating welded tubes does not require as much specialized equipment. If your project requires stainless steel tubes in a hurry, the lead times for welded tubes are typically much shorter than for seamless tubes. 

The seam on welded tubes can act as a weak point in extreme circumstances, making welded tubes a poorer choice for extremely high-pressure systems like valves and injection lines. 

This is an image of stainless steel tube.

Seamless Tubes

Seamless stainless steel tubes are what they sound like — there is no seam or weaknesses from welding. By drawing out the metal from a large billet of stainless steel, a tube can be created in a way that leaves it completely homogenous. 

Shapes and Styles

Calling this diverse group of products “tubes” is a bit of a misnomer. Many people think of cylindrical, smooth pieces with a hollow center, but there are so many more options available. There is some confusion about the difference between a tube and a pipe, and understanding this will help you start off with a better understanding of the value of stainless steel tubes. 

This is an image of stainless steel tube.

Tubes vs. Pipes

Sometimes, the terms “pipe” and “tube” are used interchangeably, but that is not the full story. Pipes are made to different specifications than tubes, where pipes are measured by their capacity instead of their strength. Stainless steel tubes are made to specific standards that are much better at precisely quantifying their capabilities. 

A pipe is simply defined as a hollow section of metal with a round cross-section built for the transportation of various products. Pipes are used to transport fluids, gases, pellets, powders, and many other types of products. 

Tubing can be any shape with a hollow cross-section, and it is usually used for pressure equipment, precise instruments, and mechanical applications. For example, in a combustion engine, using pipes might end in disaster, which is why there are specifically designated stainless steel tube products to contain the flow of fuel, air, and exhaust. 

This is an image of stainless steel pipe.

These two forms of metal are also distinguished by how they are measured. A tube is measured by its outside diameter and the thickness of its walls. Pipes, however, are measured by their inside diameter, which is linked to capacity. The standard measurements of tubing can give customers a much better idea of what the tube is capable of withstanding. Using pipes for anything other than transporting liquids and gases can put undue pressure on the piece that it cannot handle. 

For applications that require resistance to high pressure, tubing is a much safer and smarter option. And tubes come in a wider variety of styles and shapes, making them a strong fit for visible applications. 

Pipes are mass-produced, which means they have a slightly relaxed set of standards compared to piping. However, this allows pipes to be produced at a lower cost than tubes and often at a much quicker rate. The higher investment of stainless steel tubing has its perks; tubes are easier to install, care for, and adjust. 

Round

Round stainless steel tubes are the classic shape for a tube, often used for piping. The round shape and lack of angles make them the best choice for an even flow of fluids gases. Round tubes are also better at handling pressure than angular pieces. The even surface removes the chances of a seam becoming a weak point that gives out under stress.  

This is an image of stainless steel round tube.

Square

Square stainless steel tubes are frequently used in both aesthetic and functional situations. The square shape makes them easy to install quickly and in a sturdy fashion. Square tubing typically requires less processing than other tube shapes, which provides some cost savings. The shape and construction of a square tube can give the piece of metal even stronger and have a higher yield than a flat piece of the same quality metal.

This is an image of stainless steel square tube.

Rectangular

Rectangular tubing can help a variety of projects reap the benefits of using stainless steel. Not only is there an infinite combination of wall thickness and tube dimensions possible, but the rectangular nature means they can fit into any use. Rectangular tubes are typically found in heavy-duty uses and crucial framing locations. 

Slotted

Slotted stainless steel tubes are an important component in many applications for stainless steel tubes. Slots can be made in any shape to fit hooks, poles, slats, or even other tubes. Slotted steel is a common component of fixtures that hold heavy glass, such as dividers, security glass, glass balustrades, and glass-holding handrails. It can also be used for door frames, where the slots help with the construction of the door frame itself. 

This is an image of stainless steel slotted tube.

Custom Shapes

Other tube shapes are possible with a bit of imagination and skilled engineers. If your project or aesthetic requires something more unique, you could order tubes with a triangular, oval, or hexagonal shape. 

Popular Polished Finishes for Stainless Steel Tubes

The flexibility of stainless steel finishes is a major selling point, especially in applications where the tube will remain visible. Whether you want your tubes to diffuse light and soften a space or reflect color and light to brighten things up, polishing stainless steel gives it a sleek, modern look. 

For a Satin Look: Brushed Finish

A smooth, satin finish on stainless steel tubes provides a soft, unobtrusive accent or style to large pieces. For this brushed finish, the tubes are grinding with a headpiece of 320 to 400 grit. This rough grit adds a brushed look and thin grain lines to the surface of the steel. The grain hides small scratches from frequent use, which is why it is most often found on appliances or other high-use applications. 

This is an image of stainless steel round tube.

For a Bright Look: Brushed and Polished Finish

To brighten up a room or draw the eye to a specific accent, a nice brushed and polished finish can have a huge impact. This look is achieved by grinding the surface of stainless steel tubes with 400 to 600 grit sandpaper and then polishing it up with a specific metal-polishing head on a hand grinder or industrial processing equipment.  

For a Pure Look: Mirror Finish

For a simple and elegant finish on your stainless steel tubes, a mirror finish is one of the best ways to provide a pure, beautiful surface. By using a series of sandpapers up to 800 grit, the surface is made perfectly smooth and reflective. Then, it is polished to a shine with polishing reagents and equipment. 

This is an image of mirror stainless steel pipe.

Applications for Stainless Steel Tubes

With all the various shapes and external polished finishes for stainless steel tubes, it is clear to see their value and versatility. From large-scale building operations to niche uses in products that demand the highest quality, stainless steel tubes can be found in both surprising and obvious places. 

Decorative, Structural, and Architectural Applications

The beauty of polished stainless steel is a classic element of architecture in many public or high-traffic areas, from walls and floors to sculpture and interior accents. Tubing can be the perfect union of form and function, providing an extreme addition to the value and strength of architectural and structural uses. 

Handles

Stainless steel tubing makes great handles for doors, drawers, and cabinets. A smooth finish creates a surface that is easy to quickly sanitize, while the durability of metal means the handles can last for decades, even through heavy use. 

Custom ordered handles can perfectly match the finish of other fixtures in a kitchen or bathroom, which are two of the best places to feature stainless steel designs. 

This is an image of stainless steel handle.

Balustrades and Handrails

In a world where COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind, it is even more important for businesses and public places to use design choices to make things safer for everyone. Stainless steel is easy to wipe down, and frequent sanitation is key for applications like handrails that can be touched by hundreds of people on any given day. 

Stainless steel handrails are also sturdy and keep people safe. Balustrades made of stainless steel are a great way to bring your building up to building safety codes in a way that is also stylish and easy to maintain. Steel tubes can hold a significant amount of weight, so they are a wonderful choice when you need railings that provide an extra layer of safety for employees or patrons. 

This is an image of stainless steel balustrade.

Furniture

Stainless steel tubes, in a variety of shapes, make a great addition to furniture of all types. Whether you use a short tube as an accent or design a whole piece of furniture using tubes, a good stainless steel supplier can help you design the pieces you need. 

Tubes are a sturdy and long-lasting way to construct any product that needs to support the bodyweight of the consumer. They are often polished in a sleek, fashionable finish like mirror or brushed. 

This is an image of stainless steel furniture.

Slotted stainless steel tubes can be used to make shelves units or adjustable furniture. With the rising popularity of standing desks for home offices, slotted tubing is becoming a popular inclusion for products that need to be adjustable. 

Industrial Applications

The high strength and precision construction of stainless steel tubes make them an ideal choice for many industrial applications. Many applications that require pipes are better served by choosing a tube alternative that has clearer production specifications and a sturdier design. 

Transporting Liquids

Especially under intense pressure, liquids and gases are best contained by round tubes. Stainless steel tubing allows quality assurance staff and engineers to fully understand the specifications and limitations. 

The corrosion resistance of stainless steel is ideal for transporting chemicals and resources like oil and natural gas. The environmental concerns of a gas leak or oil spill mean that maintaining a high standard of safety is key to winning the public’s trust. Many companies also use stainless steel products to transport and contain liquefied natural gas (LNG), a condensed form of gaseous natural gas. 

This is an image of stainless steel water pipe.

Many tubes that carry liquids are in corrosive environments, which means stainless steel is the optimal choice for protecting both employees around them and the resources inside. Extra coatings are also possible that reduce the risk of a chemical reaction. 

Automotive and Aircraft Parts

High-pressure parts in the automotive and aircraft industries are also frequently made of stainless steel. Both the corrosion resistance and density of stainless steel make these tubes an ideal choice for parts that would be dangerous were they made of weaker metal. 

This is an image of stainless steel tube.

Electrical Conduit

Electrical conduit needs to be secure and up to building safety codes in order to provide a safe environment. Stainless steel tubes are low maintenance and can give buildings with a lot of important wiring some dependability that will give everyone peace of mind. Stainless steel tubes can be used as an electrical conduit if there is a concern at all over corrosion. This solution is ideal for IT technology companies needing extra durability or style for exposed conduits. 

Heat Exchange

Stainless steel is an excellent option for heat exchange, even though aluminum has a higher thermal conductivity. Because stainless steel lasts much, much longer than aluminum, it is often the most cost-effective choice. 

Medical Equipment

Stainless steel holds up well under the extreme temperatures and conditions that frequent sterilization and surgery techniques demand of tools. Tubes of stainless steel are used in many sizes and scenarios in the medical field. Many medical furniture is also made of stainless steel tubes because of the great cost value and antibacterial properties. It also helps that these tubes are rust-proof and resist frequent cleaning. 

Appliance Parts

This is an image of stainless steel tube.

Most high-end appliances are made with and covered by stainless steel. Not only does this visually look impressive and uniform, but internal mechanisms made from stainless steel last longer and require less maintenance than comparable alternatives. 

Place Your Stainless Steel Tube Order

If you still have questions about placing an order or would like to request a sample, send FTSSS staff an email at sales@ftsss.com. Our staff can walk you through the specific ASTM guidelines that best fit your project or work with you on designing a custom piece of stainless steel tubing. Between choosing from shapes, thicknesses, metal alloys, and polished finishes, the process of ordering stainless steel products can be daunting and complex. FTSSS not only has a customer support team but each client order is assigned to a specific Quality Assurance engineer that ensures everything is precise as you ordered it. 

Hi, I am Linda, FTSSS blog writer . I have been working on stainless steel  since I graduated from university. How time flies!  13 years have slipped away from me. ‘Stay hungry, Stay foolish.’ I am walking steadily on the road of seeking knowledge every day.

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