With its bright, polished finish and clearly defined lines, stainless steel is a material synonymous with cutting edge, contemporary style.
But for all its striking sheen and polish, stainless steel remains a highly practical building material – strong, affordable, easy to manufacture and shape to the needs of the designs.
No wonder so many architects and designers nowadays use stainless steel as their material of choice for handrail systems inside and out. In offices, shopping centres, hotels, schools and residential complexes, stainless handrails are the norm, providing a safer, stronger, low maintenance alternative to wood.
Best of all, stainless still looks great. Whether on an interior staircase or round an external terrace, whether combined with glass balustrades or wire or rods, stainless handrail systems achieve a bright, clean, sharp finish that you can expect to last for years on end.
Choosing the correct grade
The ability to stay looking as good as new with minimum cleaning and maintenance is one of the key draws for using stainless steel handrails. Even when used outside, stainless steel will resist rust and corrosion so it does not need replacing for many years.
The caveat is, this durability depends on the quality of the material. Steel is made stainless when it is combined with chromium to make an alloy. To be considered truly stainless, the steel must contain at least 10.5 per cent chromium, otherwise it is still vulnerable to corrosion.
In practice, cheaper low grade stainless steel manufactured with the bare minimum chromium content will still corrode over time, especially in the presence of water, chemicals from cleaning products etc. Check the grading of the steel you are purchasing – 200 series, with a minimum of 16 per cent chromium content, should be considered a baseline for general purpose uses. 300 series, with a minimum of 18 per cent chromium, is widely used in construction.
Matching Material to Design
Stainless rail systems work well with several types of balustrade, and there are different options for the style of rail you use and how they are incorporated. For a start, stainless handrails come in two standard designs, round and square.
A classic combination is to match stainless handrails with glass balustrades, often seen in modern staircases, balconies and terraces. Aside from the ‘infinity glass’ no post design, you will also typically see stainless balustrade posts combined with handrails, creating a pleasing framing effect for the glass panels.
Other popular options are to go for an all stainless steel balustrade, combining stainless handrails with steel rods or wires linking stainless balustrade posts. The effect of sticking to a single material for the whole balustrade is eye catching, especially with the shine and mirror effect of polished steel.
Talking of matching materials, it is worth mentioning that the options for incorporating stainless steel into your balustrade design do not end with handrails and posts. Stainless steel handrail brackets, elbows, supports, fixings and end caps are all available to complete the effect.