From the desk of S. Rohm
“The Steel Magnate”
Unless you’ve worked in the metals industry or had some work or hobby that involved using certain grades of metals, it’s fair to say you wouldn’t have worried yourself about the detailed ins-and-outs of steel.
We think it’s a fair assumption that most shooters haven’t needed to learn a lot about steel grades in their daily activities.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a brief post to give you some essential-for-steel-shooter’s knowledge of the steel world. Why is it essential to you?
Because shooting at the wrong steel can have deadly consequences!
As a professional in the metal industry, people frequently make comments to me about different grades of steel being “better” or “superior” or “inferior” or “cheaper” to compare steel types.
This is a widely popular, but also incorrect way of thinking about steel. This way of thinking implies that all steel exists as one type of material, and “better” or “more expensive” steel is harder or tougher or stronger or otherwise improved over “cheap” steel.
In reality, even these terms to imply “quality” are sometimes conflicting. It’s conflicting because of this:
Steel is created in different grades for various purposes
For example: a grade of steel – or to use a better word, an ‘alloy’ of steel - that is intended to be hard will not be stronger.
Very hard steel is more brittle, so it could never be used to, for instance, build a bridge. On the other hand, the steel in a structural beam under a bridge will not make a good knife blade.
The sheet metal used for the skin of your truck will not be suitable for steel targets, no matter how think you made it.
Ask any material engineer and they will tell you that all alloys have their own advantages, disadvantages, and specific applications for which they excel.
This is the reason why many different alloys exist in the first place – they are engineered to suit a specific purpose.
I once had a discussion with a man who purchased a piece of steel bar. He returned a day later, was angry than Donald Duck, because the steel bar we sold him was, as he said, “A piece of cheap steel and it broke.”
After some questioning, I learned he had used the steel bar to replace a hitch pin in a high shear-stress application for a heavy trailer he was towing. The bar sheared, his trailer was dropped, and he no doubt had a bad day as a result.
Take this idea home from his bad experience:
He hadn’t purchased a piece of cheap material; He purchased the wrong type of material.
The metal he purchased would have been great in a different application – but it wasn’t suited for towing a trailer.
In the structural world of steel, A36 steel – also referred to as low carbon or mild steel - is one of the most widely used because it’s soft enough to flex under pressure, and not crack.
This grade of steel is well suited to building and structural applications due to its toughness and durability.
This is what allows a skyscraper to sway and not crack in half when there’s an earthquake or high winds. In high wind conditions, a skyscraper can sway several feet due to the flexibility of the structural steel.
If harder steel were used, it would crack in half under the strain!
A key concept when talking about toughness in steel: neither toughness nor durability require the material to be “hard.”
In fact, mild steel is flexible, giving it the properties that most would consider “strong.” It is flexible enough to resist large amounts of continuous strain.
As a steel’s hardness is increased - usually through higher carbon content - it becomes more brittle making it unsuitable for structural applications because it will crack under structural stresses.
Clearly hardness is not a desirable property for bridge building or sky scrapers! With this in mind, would hardened steel be considered “inferior” to mild steel? Absolutely not!
In fact, there are myriad uses for hardened steel such as knife blades and bulldozer buckets and shovels …and steel targets.
Hardness is precisely the quality we desire in a steel target.
A material’s hardness allows it to resist repeated, high-velocity blasts of gunfire. We have demonstrated the difference between hardened and mild steel types by shooting both with various calibers of rifle rounds and filming the results – Caution: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!
Most viewers perceive thick plates of mild steel to be indestructible and were shocked to watch standard rifle rounds rip through them with ease.
We’ve spoken to hundreds of shooters at gun shows who’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on with our testing targets. Everyone marvels at the thickness and weight of mild steel plates while being shocked to see them punched full of holes from 80 yards away!
A common statement we hear is “I would expect to be safe behind a piece of plate steel like that!”
Beside the heavy mild steel full of holes, they’re amazed that the much thinner AR500 steel is hard enough to pulverize copper/lead rounds upon impact.
While velocity gives firearms lots of penetrating power, a soft copper/lead round is no match for hardened steel plate. We continually stress the importance of choosing the right material and thickness for shooting.
Choose the right material to shoot at!
Shooting at steel that’s made for building bridges and skyscrapers creates a hazard to shooters because of its flexibility.
Because A36 mild steel can flex, it isn’t able to pulverize the lead/copper bullet.
This creates a situation where the bullet can travel in unpredictable directions. Fragments of the flexible steel can also chip and fragment in every direction, creating a secondary hazard.
AR500 plate steel shooting targets are the only targets that will safely and reliably pulverize a fired round and, when used correctly, will provide the shooter a fun, functional target that will serve them well for years of training and shooting fun.