We gathered up "the usual suspects" when it comes to most-wanted metal grades to find out what happens when you can't seem to find them.

These days, metal supply is tight, but so is your project deadline. You need the metal now but can’t seem to find the specified grade. So, what comes next?

It may be time to explore alternatives. As we explored in an earlier article, finding an alternative grade of metal typically comes down to five factors—and you should always defer to your project specifications first.

But there are a few generally accepted rules when it comes to some of more common grades. To illustrate, we looked at some of the most searched for metal grades on ryerson.com during 2020.


A36 is the most specified structural steel plate by engineers today and a good fit for many structural and heavy applications. While stronger grades can be specified by project, depending on the component part of the application, A36 is most specified due to its good welding properties and high yield strength.

But what if A36 is unavailable? Here is a question to consider: Does your project specification indeed call for a structural material?

  • If yes, Grade 50 could be a good alternative. This high strength, low alloy steel can be best suited for applications that need more strength per unit of weight. Because of this characteristic, less of this material may be needed to achieve the necessary strength requirements for the application when compared with more common carbon steels.
  • If no, perhaps 1008/1010 could be a good alternative, as it contains all the general properties of A36 but is not specified for structural work. For 1008/1010, carbon is held to .13 max. to provide a duc­tile plate suitable for forming in any direction with excellent weldability.

Hot-Rolled Carbon

When it comes to hot-rolled carbon steel, it’s often more about the finish than the grade. 

Hot-rolled carbon steel is brought to approximate finished size by rolling at elevated temperatures. This is considered a first-stage metal with minimal finishing and processing, as well as wider tolerances.

But what if hot-rolled carbon is unavailable? Here is the question to consider: Do you need the surface to be very clean?

  • If yes, it may be good to move up to cold-rolled carbon steel, where the approximate required thickness is obtained by rolling without heating at approximately room temperature.
  • If no, an alternative finish to consider is pickled and oiled. The surface oil can be easily cleaned off, and that the finish tends to exhibit the same properties and forming characteristics as commercial steel but causes less wear on tooling.

A pickled and oiled sheet involves acid pickling to remove mill oxide, improving surface appearance, uniformity and finishing quality. Paint and enamel adhere well after cleaning.

Stainless Steel 304 and Stainless Steel 316

304 stainless steel vs. 316 stainless steel—it's the most common question pertaining to stainless steel grades. First, compare their strengths and weaknesses, but know that both are good for corrosion resistance, strength, welding, and heat resistance.

But what happens when both are unavailable? Here is the simple question to consider: Do your specifications accept dual certification grades?

  • If yes, know that each grade is also made in an extra low carbon variation—304/L and 316/L. For instance, 304/L can be dual certified as 304 when the composition meets the lower carbon limit of 304/L and the somewhat higher levels of strength of 304.

304/L avoids harmful carbide precipitation due to welding and offers the same corrosion resistance as 304, but with slightly lower mechanical properties.

316/L avoids carbide precipitation due to welding.

Of course, none of this is meant to act as a recommendation from Ryerson. You should always first defer to your project specifications and engineering experts when considering alternatives. But you can take comfort in knowing that even when supply is tight, there are alternative grades to explore to help you get your project done.