Hardware cloth is an old term that refers to metal cloth made from stainless steel, galvanized steel, or other metals woven into a flexible metal fabric. The original hardware cloth was very sturdy and durable and was made in a variety of designs depending on its use and type of weaving. Modern hardware cloth has the same qualities of the older version and is used for fencing or protection of animals and plants. Its different weaves determine the size, flexibility, weight, and strength of the cloth.
Though hardware cloth may be compared to chain mail from the time of medieval knights, the two are completely different. Chain mail, or mail, was made from multiple rings hooked together by a blacksmith. The name “chain mail” was a descriptor of how it was manufactured with chain being the English word for interlinked rings and mail referring to mesh or net. Since it was not possible to outfit foot troops with armor, they were issued coats of mail to protect them during battle while knights had armor and mail.
Modern hardware cloth is very similar to metal mesh and comes in two varieties – woven and welded. Welded cloth has each intersection of metal wire welded forming a very firm and tight connection. A specially designed welding machine welds the intersections. As the name implies, woven hardware cloth is woven by a weaving machine. The final product is more pliable and flexible but very expensive.
Though chicken wire and hardware cloth have been used synonymously, they are two totally different products. The immediate difference is seen when holding them. Hardware cloth is noticeably sturdier, heavier, and very solid while chicken wire is very thin and flimsy. Though the hexagonal shape does distinguish chicken wire from hardware cloth, the lack of any substance is what sets it apart. Unlike hardware cloth, chicken wire can be easily ripped or cut and is designed for short term use. Sturdy and durable hardware cloth may last for several years and never need replacing.
The basic styles of weaves for hardware cloth fall into three categories – crimped, twilled, or plain. Each type has its special use and strength that increases the endurance of the cloth. The main difference between them is the connections at the intersection of the wires, some being bent and others simply stretched over each other.
Though any metal can be used to make hardware cloth, the most common are different types of steel – stainless, carbon, and galvanized. The durability and strength of stainless steel makes it the popular choice. Hardware cloth made from stainless steel has all of the qualities of any stainless steel product including resistance to corrosion, rust, and chemicals.
The ductility of carbon steel makes perfect for hardware cloth. Once it is formed into wire, it can be woven using any of the three basic processes. Since certain grades are soft, it can be easily crimped to form tighter connections. Carbon steel, like stainless steel, is an alloy with some of the properties of stainless steel though not as sturdy. Since it is very hard and brittle, it will break when placed under pressure.
Galvanized hardware cloth has a zinc coating making it resistant to corrosion and able to last longer than other types of steel. When galvanized cloth is bent or reshaped, it holds its new form without springing back or breaking. How long galvanized hardware cloth lasts depends on where it is installed such as humid environments, stress, or other factors. Though its initial appearance is very shiny, over time galvanized hardware cloth will turn to a dull grey.
Hardware cloth can be used to protect plants and animals or add extra strength to a concrete foundation. Manufacturers pride themselves on creating the right type of cloth to fit any situation, environment, or condition. In the majority of cases, they offer a variety of shapes, metals, sizes, and thicknesses as well as customization to fit unique situations.
When considering hardware cloth, it is capable of being used anywhere. Hobbyist use it to form baskets for storage in the kitchen, work room, or closet. All that is required is hardware cloth, wire cutters, and needle point pliers. The cloth is cut to the appropriate length and connected using the exposed wires from being cut or twisted utility wire.
In the construction industry, concrete forms are reinforced with hardware cloth with two to three inch square openings. It is an easy to use replacement for rebar. Contractors use hardware cloth to repair holes in drywall by covering the opening with the cloth and applying plaster to it.
A very common use for hardware cloth is as fencing for enclosures for plants and animals as well as a designation of a line of demarcation. The types of cloth varies depending on the area requiring fencing.
How you use hardware cloth well depend a great deal on your project. A clear assessment of your needs determines the type and kind. Regardless of all other factors, the multiple applications of hardware cloth makes it an essential consideration for home or professional projects.
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