Choose the Right Material Thickness for Your Custom Metal Fabrication (Updated for 2023)

Last updated on November 28th, 2023 at 08:25 am

sheet meral material thicknessIf you’re new to designing parts for precision sheet metal fabrication, choosing the best material for your part can be daunting.

In addition to selecting the material itself, you need to pick the optimal thickness. The gauge that may instinctively look or feel right isn’t always the best option—there are many factors that go into choosing the right material thickness for sheet metal parts.

Not to worry! Our expert fabricators are here to help you determine which gauge is ideal for your next project.

Gauge Thickness Varies from Metal to Metal

The gauge size of a piece of material tells you the thickness of the metal. What’s confusing is that the precise thickness of a gauge can vary slightly from one material to the next.

A classic example is aluminum vs. stainless steel.

16 gauge is a common size for aluminum. So what would happen if you swapped 16 gauge aluminum for 16 gauge steel? Let’s take a look. . .

16 gauge aluminum is 0.062” thick, whereas 16 gauge steel is actually 0.059” thick. The 0.003” difference in thickness may not seem significant, but depending on your design, that variation can cause big problems in your final product. For example, components that need to fit inside one another—such as a box with a cover—may not fit precisely enough, or at all, if the exact material thickness isn’t taken into account.

The higher the gauge number, the thinner the material—and the more significant discrepancies in thickness become. That’s why it’s always important to check the thickness of the gauge for the material you want to use. Even tiny variations in thickness can lead to a tolerance stack-up and cause your part to malfunction.

Certain Material Gauges Can Be Difficult to Source

When choosing the gauge of your material, you may first want to consult with us to find out if that size is readily available. Requesting a material with an unusual thickness can add to your project’s lead time—and in many cases, an in-stock alternative will work just as well.

If we spot a particular material gauge in your design that we know will be difficult to source, we’ll always let you know right away. Often, designers are unaware that a certain thickness is uncommon and are pleased to learn that we can easily provide a comparable substitution. In these cases, we’ll work with you to update your model at no additional cost.

Of course, we’re happy to source specialty materials if you need them—we’ll always go the extra mile for our customers. We just like to be transparent that choosing a material in a non-standard gauge may increase your cost and lead time.

Also, keep in mind that just because a particular gauge size is technically available doesn’t mean your sheet metal fabrication shop will always have it in stock. When possible, use materials you are certain your manufacturer has on hand or can source quickly.

Approved Sheet Metal’s Standard In-Stock Material Thicknesses

To make life easier for our customers, we're sharing the list below to clarify the standard material thicknesses we keep in stock for aluminum, steel, and stainless steel fabrication.

Standard Sheet SizesAluminumCRS, Stainless Steel, Galvanneal and Galvanized
48 x 40.020.018
120 x 48.032.024
120 x 60.040.030

Feel free to call or email us any time with questions about material thickness or anything else relating to sheet metal fabrication! Better yet, request a quote!

Metal Fabrication Material Thickness FAQ

Gauge size indicates metal thickness, but this can vary slightly between materials. For example, while 16-gauge aluminum measures 0.062" thick, 16-gauge steel is actually 0.059" thick. These small differences can significantly impact how parts fit together in a design.

Even slight gauge variations can lead to tolerance stack-ups, causing components like boxes with covers to not fit precisely or even at all. It's crucial to factor in the exact material thickness to avoid such issues.

Uncommon thicknesses may pose challenges in sourcing, potentially increasing lead times. Discussing material availability with the fabricator early on can help identify suitable alternatives readily available in stock, minimizing delays.

For aluminum, steel (CRS, Galvanneal, Galvanized), and stainless steel, we maintain a range of standard sheet sizes with various thicknesses, ensuring readily available materials for fabrication projects.

It's advisable to consult with the fabrication shop to confirm the availability of the required material gauge. Opting for in-stock materials or those easily sourced by the manufacturer can prevent delays and additional costs in sourcing non-standard gauges.

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