You can’t fully appreciate the menace that is rust until you and your belongings spend a lot of time in the water, on the water, or near the water.
Until we moved here, the only battles I fought with rust were in the toilet, where the iron in the water left those nasty streaks. Now, though, I fight rust everywhere. Pliers stop opening and closing. Bolts become inseparable from nuts. What starts as a tiny chip in the paint on the truck turns into a gaping, corroded hole. All this, the moment you turn your back.
I fight rust everywhere.
The phenomenon of oxidation has turned me into stainless steel’s biggest fan. I look at the anchor chain on the boat, which is thoroughly coated with rust, and then I look at the cleats and fittings, which are shiny and smooth, and I am forced to conclude that no metal thing on this earth should be made with anything but stainless steel.
Things like chains, hooks, screws, nails, wrenches, shovels, anchors, and clamps, naturally. But I’m also thinking I-beams. Vehicles. Sculptures. Just think what a better place the world would be if nothing ever rusted.
The problem, of course, is expense. Stainless steel gets its stainlessness from chromium, which forms an invisible protective layer of chromium oxide when it reacts with air. The higher the chromium content, the better the protection. Low-grade stainless is 11% chromium. High-grade is 28%.
Carbon steel costs something like $700 per 1000 kilograms, which is 7 cents per 100 grams. 100 grams of pure chromium will set you back some $32. When you’re talking I-beams, it starts to add up.
Luckily, there is another way.
It wasn’t until embarrassingly recently that I knew that “galvanized” didn’t just mean “caught the attention of and motivated to action.” I thought crowds could be galvanized, individuals could be galvanized, even the electorate could be galvanized, although not lately. I had no idea that steel could be galvanized.
But it can, and it should.
Galvanization uses zinc to do chromium’s job, and uses it as a coating rather than as an integral part of the metal. It’s a three-step reaction: zinc reacts with oxygen to form zinc oxide; zinc oxide reacts with water to form zinc hydroxide; zinc hydroxide reacts with carbon dioxide to form zinc carbonate. It’s the zinc carbonate that forms the layer with the dull gray finish that protects the carbon steel beneath.
Zinc is cheaper than chromium, and dipping or plating is cheaper than alloy manufacturing, so galvanized steel is much cheaper than stainless. It’s generally only marginally more expensive than ordinary steel. Of course, it’s not as rust-resistant as stainless steel, but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the ungalvanized stuff.
We found this out the hard way, with the chicken coop.
Now, you’ve heard me say it more often than is consistent with modesty: Our chicken coop is all that. Kevin designed it, borrowing bits from various other coops and putting them together in a way that works for us and for our chickens. It’s spacious, convenient, and attractive.
But it was inevitable that we made a few mistakes. Our ridge vent faces the wrong way, so a heavy snow blocks it. There are a couple of places where the framing didn’t quite line up and we had to fudge it a bit. There are two lumps running half the length of the roof where I didn’t stagger the shingly things properly. (The other half, which Kevin did, looks perfect.)
The biggest mistake, though, was using chicken wire that wasn’t galvanized. That was a mere two years ago, and now our wire has rusted clean through all along the bottom edge, just where a varmint would be looking to get in.
For a couple months now we’ve been patching it with (galvanized) staples, but we were starting to worry that our stopgap measure wasn’t stopping the gap any more. When your chicken wire rusts through, the only answer is to tear it out and replace it. Which Kevin and his son, Eamon, did over the last couple of days.
Me, I’m still working on the streaks in the toilet.