When deciding on the materials for a construction project, you need to make several distinctions. And, one of those is deciding whether to go for a steel tube or a steel pipe.
In this article, you get to see the differences between both and examine which would work for you.
Steel Piping: What Is In A Steel Pipe?
Well, the name pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
A steel pipe is a long tube that is made of steel. In many cases, of course, you can find steel pipes that are also made with additional metal alloys. Some of these alloys can be welded along the pipe’s length or incorporated within layers. So, don’t be surprised when you see a pipe that contains much more than just the primary stainless steel material.
Versatility is one of the major benefits of steel pipes. They can be used in different capacities, ranging from underground gas and water transmission to construction and more. For thousands of years, people and companies have used pipes for multiple industrial and residential applications, and the pipes themselves have come in different materials and sizes.
In terms of the available tubing pipe sizes, it is also important to distinguish between the available choices and ensure that you’re using the appropriate pipe size for the function you have in mind.
How Have They Been Used?
So, what is a steel pipe used for?
Steel pipes are quite versatile. They are primarily used as conduits, transporting materials from point to point – whether liquid, gas or even solid items.
For millennia, steel pipes have been used to transport and support construction items. With their optimal strength, steel pipes can be used in different positions – these days, it’s pretty easy to find them being applied underground as well.
Nevertheless, you can find steel pipes being used in different forms today. These include:
The construction industry is one of the biggest adopters of steel pipes in the world. Builders love these pipes for their strength and tenacity, and they easily use them to bear additional weights and promote balance.
In many cases, engineers wedge these pipes deep into the earth, providing greater support for structures that are erected above. Just as well, these pipes can be used to make things like scaffolding support for engineers and builders, bearing significant amounts of load and helping engineers to achieve greater levels of stability.
The manufacturing space is another one that relies heavily on the use of steel pipes.
For instance, we see steel pipes being used to make safety features like rails and handlebars. You can also use a steel pipe to create furnishings for sites and manufacture items for automobiles and more.
At the end of the day, manufacturers put the strength of these pipes to good use, making protective items and gear of different kinds.
Finally, we have pipes that can be used to move materials from end to end. Oil and gas companies, energy distributors, and more engage steel pipe in transportation, taking advantage of its density and longevity to create their connection conduits.
While this can be quite costly, it is also safe. And in industries such as these where safety is a critical component, steel pipes play a significant role in getting the job done.
Steel Tubes: What Do Manufacturers Use To Make Them?
While steel pipes definitely get a lot of love, steel tubes have also grown significantly in prominence.
Suitable for both industrial and residential use, steel tubes are especially prominent for their temperature resistance. They can be used to transport materials, and they are quite useful in construction as well.
What Is In A Steel Tube?
In many cases, steel tubes are made of metal alloys. You can find tubes in different sizes, all with diameters measuring between 0.25 inches to about 25 inches. Just as well, some tubes can be made for custom purposes. If you need any of those, feel free to get in touch with us.
Steel Tube Variants
Circular Hollow Sections
These steel tubes come with large holes in their tubular cross sections. They are thick and stable, with uniform gaps between them. Plus, their resistance to external wrenching and torsion makes them especially ideal for multi-axis use.
Rectangular Hollow Sections
These tubes are slightly similar to the first option. The primary difference, of course, is that their cross sections are rectangular.
Popular in both mechanical and construction work, these tubes are also known for their balance – a direct consequence of their flat surfaces.
Square Hollow Sections
Available with square cross sections, these tubes are mostly applied in smaller numbers and uses. Their shapes make them unideal for bolting, but they can still be used in making posts and columns.
What Are The Differences Between Steel Pipes And Steel Tubes?
Now, let’s consider the steel pipe and tube differences. If you ever need to tell a distinction between these two materials, here are a few noticeable points:
Material & Structure
The most significant difference between a pipe and a tube will is in their composition and structure.
Steel pipes are more diverse in their makeup. In some cases, manufacturers could even mix these materials up to create their pipes. Steel tubes, on the other hand, usually come with a singular stainless steel composition.
That said, some tubes are also made of materials like chrome, copper, and brass.
Considering thickness, steel tubes and pipes are mostly measured based on the sizes of their diameters.
Experts use the inside diameter to calculate the thickness of a steel pipe. On the flip side, the outside diameter is used more when measuring steel tubes’ thickness.
In general, though, the pipe vs. tube thickness comparison tends to favor pipes, with these structures usually being thicker in their makeup than tubes.
You can also draw a distinction based on the manufacturing process. Generally, the processes involved in making steel tubes are more complex – with more tests and quality checks. The overly complex process tends to lead to a lengthier delivery period.
On the flip side, manufacturers don’t have to jump through many hoops to make steel pipes. And, they can be made in bulk, so they are more readily available.
Use & Resistance
If you’re looking for another line of distinction between these two materials, you should consider their range of use.
Primarily, you use steel pipes to transport materials from end to end. On the other hand, steel tubes are more useful in building and development.
When making decisions, you definitely want to consider the financials. So, what is the steel tube or pipe price, and how do they compare?
In general, steel pipes are more expensive than steel tubes. Of course, the fact that they handle more tasks than tubes should make this fact no less surprising. And with steel pipes also being stronger, they are in higher demand than steel tubes. So, it goes without saying that they will be more expensive.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t have much of an issue as long as you have the right quality of products with you.
There’s a general misnomer that tubes always have to be round. Most likely, this belief stuck because we’ve just gotten used to seeing them being round. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Rectangular and square tubes exist just as well, although most of them come with modified looks.
On the flip side, another steel and pipe difference is that pipes are always round. If you wanted to shape these items, you’d need to get specialized tools to get the job done. There is also the fact that most pipes come with pressure ratings that allow them to avoid any material leakages.
Steel pipes and tubes come with different tolerance parameters. However, the parameters for defining steel pipe tolerance are generally less clear than the tolerance of steel tubing.
With their use in transporting different materials, it is important for the definitions of parameters like pressure and tolerance to be clearly defined in pipes.
When determining the steel tube and pipe difference, it is important for you to also draw lines of distinction when it comes to both their chemical and physical properties.
For steel pipes, some of the critical physical properties to consider include ductility, pressure rating, and yield strength. However, anyone looking to use steel tubes will need to concern themselves more with factors such as precision, strength, and durability. All of these will determine the quality of the materials and their functionality in the long run.
Moving on, you also have chemical properties to consider. Here, steel tube standards dictate that they have materials such as silicon, carbon, and phosphorus, among others. For steel tubes, you need to also concern yourself with microelements such as molybdenum, tungsten, and more.
All of these materials help the items to function even more in the long run. So, their importance can’t be overstated.
You also need to consider the wall thickness when drawing parallels between these tools.
When determining a pipe’s wall thickness, you usually consider a metric known as “pipe schedule thickness.” There are different pipe schedule options available, although the most popular include SCH20, SCH80, and SCH40.
Over on the tubing side, you usually measure thickness by a gauge, especially for thinner tubes. For thicker tubes, you measure the metric using fractions of a millimeter or an inch. Steel tubing standard thickness measures at about 20 gauge – which can range between about 0.035 inches and 2 inches.
Mode Of Connectivity
Considering that both tools serve similar purposes and can especially be used for transporting materials, being able to connect several pipes or tubes together will come a long way in allowing for long-distance applications.
In general, you’d find that it’s easier to connect tubes than pipes. The process of attaching the latter to each other tends to be more labor-intensive, with steps such as threading and welding required to ensure a proper fit. Both require specialized tools, and each step needs to be done carefully.
Tubes, however, come with easier connectivity. Simple flaring or coupling gets the job done, and in the case of high-standard or sensitive applications, you can easily get fittings.
However, in terms of connection safety, pipes actually take the prize. The process of connecting steel pipes might be more time and labor-intensive, but the end result is a stronger and safer connection that you can trust.
One of the biggest questions when it comes to steel pipes is this – can you use steel pipes for water transportation?
The answer, of course, is yes. However, to get this done, you’d need to prepare a pipe’s surface properly. Whether through coating or painting, this preparation helps to avoid corrosion and preserve the surface as water rushes through it.
Tubes will also need finishing, with the process of doing this usually involving polishing or sour cleaning.
Steel Tubing: The Benefits vs. Steel Piping?
In the great battle of steel tube vs. pipe, you’ll find that the features of both components will be what sets them apart the most. Both might look the same, but they definitely don’t function the same way.
Greater Flexibility in Connections
When you’re handling a construction project, you want to work with materials that are easily compatible with others. Well, steel tubes easily fall into this category of highly adaptable items. Because of their malleability, steel tubes can easily be fashioned to connect with themselves – or external items.
So, for application flexibility, you get a pretty solid use with steel tubes.
Fewer Chances of Leaks
Steel tubes are also manufactured in a way that possible leaks and holes are properly plugged. So, if you do decide to use them to transport materials, you can rest assured that they won’t deplete while in transit.
Where Do Steel Pipes Lead?
Strength and Reliability
If you value strength, you’d most likely choose a steel pipe. Their durability is exactly why they are used in more in-depth construction projects. And with steel pipes also coming in custom diameters, you can easily select a thickness level you’d like and a manufacturer can make it for you.
Of course, this isn’t to say that tubes aren’t strong as well. Nevertheless, if strength is your biggest priority and you need a product that can deliver durability, a steel pipe is most likely what you want to have.
Steel pipes also hold their own quite well against corrosion and decay. This makes them especially long-lasting and guarantees that you’ll be able to get your money’s worth.
This isn’t to say that steel tubes don’t last long. However, with the material composition of a steel pipe, it is in a much better position to resist corrosion.
Despite all of these benefits, steel pipes are also quite affordable. You can find them available in different configurations, and with a less complex manufacturing process, these tools can also be produced en masse. This means that they are more readily available and at affordable prices too.
Steel Pipes: Constituent Materials
Steel pipes come in different material configurations. Some of the most prominent types of steel pipes include:
If you walk into any regular marketplace, the most common pipe variant you’d see would most likely be the carbon ones. While they might not quite be as strong as the other variants, these pipes are more affordable and can easily be found.
The fact that you can also find different carbon steel grades means that this material is especially versatile.
If you’re looking for something with more diversity, then a steel pipe made of alloyed steel might be the better option.
As you’d expect, these alloys help to provide additional physical prowess to the pipe. Common alloy options include manganese, chromium, nickel, etc., with many of them coming in compositions as high as 20%.
For some, stainless steel isn’t necessarily a class of its own – especially since it contains a lot of the same elements as alloyed steel. Nevertheless, it is distinct enough in itself to merit a standalone category.
Stainless steel pipes are especially popular due to their robustness and density. They are also flexible enough to be used under different circumstances and in different industries. Manufacturers take advantage of their corrosion resistance.
These types of steel pipes aren’t so popular. However, they do manage to get the job done nonetheless.
Thanks to the presence of zinc, galvanized steels can properly prevent corrosion. The problem, however, is that galvanized steel is quite difficult to work with and handle. They also don’t last so long, so in a few years, you would most likely need to get a replacement.
Types of Steel Pipes
When it comes to classifications, there are generally two types of steel pipes – seamless and welded pipes.
A seamless pipe tends to come with a lighter and slimmer frame. The steel pipe sizes can vary, but they are usually with smaller profiles than their welded counterparts. These pipes can be used primarily for transporting fluids and making things like tire wheels and more.
On the flip side, the seamed pipes are built with bulkier and more rigid frames, which help them to maintain higher durability levels. They are used for tasks like particle transportation, plumbing, and even in manufacturing electrical components.
Manufacturers have to follow several strict parameters while producing these pipes to ensure that they are up to code and able to handle the task at hand. For instance, they need to watch pipe diameters and sizes to ensure that they match the required specifications of the task. As we said earlier, smaller pipes can be used for light work, while larger ones are mostly used to transport materials.
Besides the diameter, manufacturers also need to watch out for the wall thickness., which directly affects the pipe’s strength and flexibility. Other factors to be considered include the coating, pipe length, and end finish.
Steel Pipes: Manufacturing Process
So, we covered the two types of steel pipes – seamless, and welded. Now, let’s look into how these pipes are made:
The process of making a seamless pipe is quite complex. You start by drilling hollows from billets, graduating to steps like cold drawing and rolling. All of this makes it a bit difficult to set the pipe’s wall thickness and diameter. However, with proper cold work, this can be achieved.
In general, seamless pipes are advantageous because they can be made in thick, heavy formats. They don’t have any weld seams, so they are seen as having much higher levels of corrosion resistance than their seamless counterparts.
Also known as seamed pipes, these ones are made by welding a steel plate using a spiral beam.
The welding process itself is quite diverse, although your chosen method will depend on your desired wall thickness and outer dimension – as well as your intended use for the pipe. Each method requires an engineer to use a hot billet or flat strip, then stretch it out and force the edges together. From there, the pipe is sealed with a weld.
Seamed pipes come with a higher tolerance than seamless pipes. The manufacturing process is also not as complex as the seamless pipe, so these ones are much cheaper than their counterparts.
Important Pipe Specifications
Another important point that can help you tell the basic difference between pipe and tube will be to understand the specifications.
For pipes, some of the most critical specs include:
Nominal Pipe Size
Manufacturers use “Nominal Pipe Size” to provide a quote for the size of the pipe itself. Smaller pipes tend to have sizes less than 12 – and, all pipes of the same size will also come with the same outer diameter.
As for the internal diameter, this usually varies based on the thickness of the wall. With this classification, manufacturers can ensure that they get the same structural support for all piping tasks.
Generally, the schedule is used to describe a steel pipe’s thickness. This is an important parameter that directly affects the pipe’s strength – and, when determining pipe vs. tube strength, it is a major metric that should be considered.
The pipe schedule is calculated based on the wall thickness formula, as long as the allowable stress and design pressure have been stated.
The pipe weight will depend significantly on the nominal pipe size and the schedule.
To get this metric, you use the theoretical weight of steel – which stands at 40.8 lbs. per square foot per inch of thickness. So:
W = 10.69 x t (OD – t), where:
- t: thickness
- OD: outer diameter
- W: pipe weight
Stainless Steel Tube Sizing
When choosing a steel tube, one of the most important factors you should consider will be the sizing. You need to consider the inner diameter and wall thickness, and fortunately, manufacturers tend to provide these in plan dimensions – millimeters, inches, etc.
Stainless Steel Tube Construction Variants
Like steel pipes, steel tubes can also be seamless or welded. However, there is a third option – welded & drawn.
- Welded: This form of steel tube is constructed by welding and rolling steel sheets to create a cross-section. You can even find the welds moving on along the tube’s length – just like the stainless steel pipe. Of course, the basic difference between pipe and tube options is the variance in shape.
- Seamless: This form of tubing is usually made via the extrusion process. The extrusion can be hot or cold, with a cylindrical billet being forced to flow through a die of a desired cross-section.
- Welded & Drawn: Here, the tube is constructed by an initial welding process – followed by a drawing process that takes the steel through a die.
Stainless steel tubes tend to hold onto a specific shape. Many of them that are designed for fluid flow come with circular cross-sections, although you can easily find other tubes with slightly different shapes – circular, rectangular, oval, cylindrical, etc.
Users especially love circular tubes for their even weight distribution and stability. Nevertheless, any option you choose is fine.
You also need to understand a few critical performance specifications that tubes need to have – depending on the application, of course. These steel tube standards will guide your choice if you decide to take one over a steel pipe. They include:
- Pressure rating: This metric defines the highest and lowest pressure levels that the tube can handle. Measured in pounds per square inch (psi), the metric is especially important if you hope to use the tube for handling material flow.
- Maximum vacuum: This describes the highest vacuum pressure that materials being transported via the tube can create. It is measured in mercury of millimeters.
- Maximum bend radius: At some point, the tube’s cross-section will have to experience some bending and deformation. The maximum bend radius describes how much of that can happen before the tube gets damaged. If you hope to use your tube for load bearing, you want to keep an eye on this metric.
- Temperature range: As expected, this metric describes the highest and lowest temperatures the tube can withstand before it cracks or bends. If you’re transporting a fluid or gas with the tube, you want to prioritize this metric too.
Stainless Steel Tube Finishes
Then, you need to also know that manufacturers use coatings and finishes to lace the inner and outer surfaces of steel tubes. Some of the available coating options include:
- Galvanized finishes: Here, the tube is coated with a small zinc layer for improved resistance to corrosion.
- Bright finishes: Manufacturers can add more polishing to the tube, providing a brighter finish.
- Paint finishes: As the name suggests, the tube is painted. This also helps with longevity and corrosion resistance.
- Plating finishes: Here, a tube is covered with another metal. This improves the tube’s conductivity and helps it to last longer.
Steel Tubing Applications
As we said, steel tubes tend to shine when you use them in building projects. Some of their most prominent applications include:
Arguably the most common function of steel tubes is for making building columns.
In this capacity, they help to hold weights – especially in skyscrapers. Steel tubes are also more stable, with their abrasion resistance and general strength making them immune to most external forces. Generally, manufacturers prefer them to concrete columns, which could end up fading over time as they are exposed to the elements.
Serving As Railings
In both commercial and residential buildings, you can also use steel tubes to make railings and other protective features.
Steel tubes can be attached to stairs, chairs, and balconies, and the best part is that you can choose between different types of steel tubes for railings. Just as well, you can easily connect different steel tube materials. As long as you love how it looks, you can easily fashion it with a steel tube.
Away from the buildings, steel tubes can interestingly be used to mate electrical components. In this regard, you can use them to make wires, switches, and even circuit components.
Once again, the material’s resistance to the elements is especially useful here. You can use steel tubes to create components that will need to be placed in dangerous positions, where they suffer exposure to moisture and other elements – materials like fridges, external cameras, and more.
Airplane manufacturers can use steel tubes to fortify their engines. With their ability to withstand dangerous temperatures and pressure levels, steel tubes can easily hold their own while engines combust and produce energy.
To be fair, it doesn’t really matter whether you choose a steel pipe or a steel tube. As long as you pick the one that works best for your desired application, you’re good to go.
Ready to make a purchase decision? Need any more information? Be sure to contact us!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the differences between a steel pipe and a tube?
The basic difference between a pipe and a tube, of course, is in the shape. Pipes tend to be rounder, while tubes can take just about any shape.
Just as well, pipes tend to be more diverse in their makeup than steel tubes, which are usually only made with singular stainless steel materials.
What are the different tubing pipe sizes?
You can find different sizes for both steel tubes and steel pipes. While the outside diameter is used to measure the size of a tube, the inside diameter works better as a measurement yardstick for steel pipes.
Can you use a steel pipe for water?
Yes, you can. With their thickness and durability, steel pipes are an excellent tool for transporting water. However, you want to make sure that the inner portions of the pipe are properly coated to ensure corrosion and rust resistance.
We recommend going for pipes with galvanized steel coatings on their insides. Thanks to their zinc coating, the pipes are able to withstand the elements and hold on to their form for much longer.
How much is a steel tube?
The steel tube pipe price will depend on several factors – including the material as well as your specifications.
You should know, however, that steel pipes tend to be more expensive than steel tubes. So, if you’re a budget-conscious user, you want to keep this in mind. Of course, the cost shouldn’t be much of a problem since you’re getting optimal quality.
Is a steel pipe stronger than a steel tube?
When considering the “pipe vs tube strength” debate, the thickness would most likely be the biggest factor for you to consider. A material that is thicker tends to be stronger, and it will most likely last longer.