What is Metal Ageing?

Aged Copper Bathtub Panels

Metals like steel and iron are very practical materials, but don’t always have the appearance you would want for decorating the home or office. Metals are often used in architecture, sculpture and in art, but rarely in its natural form. Commonly, metal is aged to add depth and character before it is used.

That’s what this post is all about. Metal ageing. What metals can be aged, how the metal ageing process works and where aged metal is commonly used.


What types of metal can be aged?

Any heat-treatable metal can be aged. That includes copper, stainless steel, brass, titanium, nickel, aluminium, magnesium and other alloys.

The most popular metals for ageing include aluminium, stainless steel, copper and brass. Each has a unique character when aged that delivers both an attractive aesthetic and practical applications.

These metals actually benefit from the ageing process as it can make the metal stronger and more durable. Copper especially benefits from ageing as it makes it stronger and less malleable.


How does metal ageing work?

Metal ageing can be left to nature to work over time or be artificially induced using specific processes.

The aged metal here at our sister company Halman Thompson is artificially aged to speed up the process. Natural ageing can take many years so it’s more practical to artificially age the material so it is readily available to buy.

The main method of ageing metal is to heat it to accelerate the formation of precipitate. This precipitate is what gives the metal the aged character and also makes it more durable.

In nature, precipitate forms naturally over time. Usually over many years. Heat treatment can be used to accelerate this process. It’s faster but delivers the same strength and character.

The metal is heated enough to encourage precipitate development but not enough for it to recrystallise. It’s a fine balance but one that delivers a beautiful finish.

Once the correct level of precipitate has developed, the metal is quickly cooled to prevent any more from developing and to set the metal to its current character.

Some aged metal products are then sealed with a special lacquer to prevent any further ageing. That way, the patina you see in the product is the patina you’ll still be enjoying several years down the line.


What happens to a metal when it ages?

Ageing is a natural process for everything, including metal. As metal ages, it develops a thin oxide layer on the surface that changes the colour and texture. The oxide then develops into hydroxide which combines with the air to create the surface patina aged metal is popular for.

This ageing process affects all metals but softer aluminium, copper, brass, copper alloy, lead, steel and zinc are all particularly susceptible to it.

What aged metal products are available?

Aged metal is most popular as sheet material. It can be cut to size, used in home design or as a feature piece, or for practical purposes.

Common uses for the material include aged metal splashbacks, decorative aged metal sheets and for detail areas once it has been cut to size. Aged metal sheet is strong enough and light enough to be affixed to a wall with fixings or special adhesive making it ideal for interior design.

You will often see aged metal sheets as conversation pieces, decorative elements, bar or countertops, splashbacks in character kitchens, or as areas of interest within a larger design.

Nothing quite has the depth of character of aged metal. It’s a lovely material to work with and to look at!