Choosing the right finishing option for a stainless steel handle is a critical decision. It can make or break the end result — especially in a design era when stainless steel is one of the most popular material choices requested of handles manufacturers.
Contrary to popular opinion, “stainless steel” is not a singular type of material with a uniform finish. There are as many as 150 varied compositions, each formulated to serve unique manufacturing and design specifications. Knowing the basic grades of stainless steel, as well as the available finish types, is a must.
Looking for a good place to start with stainless steel finishes? Here are five popular finishing options:
1. Milled Finishes
Standard mill finishes — whether hot- or cold-rolled — may be directly applied by rollers or mechanical abrasives to stainless steel that is flat rolled.
The process is fairly basic. After being rolled to size, the steel is then annealed, allowing the properties of the final material to change. Pickling removes any oxidation that forms on the surface during this process, and the final finish is then applied to achieve the desired look and feel as the steel passes through rolls or dies that can create everything from dull to mirror-like reflectivity.
There are three important things to be aware of when considering a milled finish for a stainless steel handle:
- A milled finish is typically considered the least expensive option.
- A milled finish can look polished or unpolished, as desired.
- A milled finish typically requires the shortest lead time.
2. Machined Finishes
Machined finishes — also known as mechanical finishes — can be wet or dry and are generally more expensive than milled finishes due to an increased complexity in processing.
Machining leaves numerous scratches on the surface of the material, creating areas of varying electrical potential. A machined finish is a frequent choice for stainless steel handles on everything from restaurant equipment to elevators because it retains a clean look with less effort.
Two frequent forms of machined finishes include grinding and polishing. Both require the removal of a layer of metal from the surface of the steel.
The final appearance of machined finishes depends on many factors including, but not limited to the:
- Form of the abrasive used to create the look
- Number of rounds used to create the finish
- Type of equipment used
- Speed of applied pressure
3. Bead-Blasted Finishes
Bead blasting a stainless steel handle creates a texture that is consistent and non-directional with low reflectivity and a soft satin effect. This process is especially known for creating a matte finish that works well alongside highly polished textures.
The blast materials used to create a bead blasted finish for a stainless steel handle include aluminum oxide, ceramic beads, glass, shredded nutshells, and stainless steel particles. The final look of the finish will depend on which materials are used in the blasting process.
Bead blasting is often the finish of choice in the food or pharmaceutical industry as it hides tiny defects and provides a clean, uniform look. But take note: Finishes used in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have universal BPE standards that must be met.
4. Colored Finishes
Base stainless steel is silver but it’s possible to achieve other colors — most frequently black stainless — with varying coatings and/or chemical treatments to stainless’s chromium oxide surface layer. Once a stainless steel handle has achieved the desired color, the chemicals are then hardened through an electrolytic process.
Stainless steel coloring is permanent and needs no restoration or maintenance over the years (as do other materials such as paint or dye). What you have when you finish the project is what will last. However, it’s important to note that stainless steel handle surface color can be removed through abrasion, so great care must be given to consider how the finished object will be used.
Choosing the Right Finish for Your Stainless Steel Handle
When producing a stainless steel handle, choosing the right finish is as important as any other aspect of the project, especially in markets such as the appliance industry where appearance matters in a big way. This makes it important to work with an experienced manufacturer who can help you choose the best finishing approach — based on aesthetic considerations, lead time, volume, and cost — as well as deliver a high-quality product.
At Mills, metal finishing is one of our main areas of concentration with a particular emphasis on stainless steel finishing given our decades of experience in the appliance industry. If you’d like to learn more about our capabilities or simply discuss the finishing needs for your upcoming stainless steel handle project, please contact us or call (423) 745-9090.