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Steels for handpan

August 21, 2022 4 min read

Nitrided steel handpan

Nitriding is a surface treatment that consists in incorporating nitrogen into the surface layer of a steel to modify its mechanical properties. To do this, the steel is heated at high temperature in an environment rich with NH3 gas creating a hard protective layering within the steel.When the gas enters the steel, nitrogen enters and combines with the alloys held within the steel, creating a complex series of coherent-alloy-nitrides which produce a fine layer on top of the steel. This process makes the handpan resistant to rust, corrosion, breaking, or bending. 

Why choose a nitrited steel handpan ? 

As a result of the steel properties and the nitrided process, handpans made of nitrited steel have a sound quality more ceramic and clay sounding. The frequencies in the notes are more amplified, resulting in a handpan ideal for outdoor playing.The tuning for this material can hold for a very long time if played correctly and taken care of. 

For the down side of nitrided steel, lets say that it will need more cleaning care than stainless steel, even having the nitriding process to protect it from rusting. So if you go for this material be sure to clean and oil your instrument frequently and avoid playing at the beach. 

Stainless steel handpan


Stainless steel is a very popular choice for the making of handpan instruments. Stainless steel main components contain between 10-30% of chromium and 1,2% of carbon.Other metals such as nickel, molybdenum, titanium, niobium, copper, sulfur, phosphorus and selenium can be mixed for the making of stainless steel.

The making 

To create stainless steel, the steels are first melted in an electric arc or basic oxygen furnace until they are melten, which ensures that the steel is low in carbon. Once the steel is melted, it is transferred to a new steelmaking vessel and maintained in a low-oxygen environment, using a mixture of argon and oxygen injected into the atmosphere. This ensures that the carbon does not react with the metal and the oxygen does not react with the molten chromium.

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Why choose a stainless steel handpan

The main property of chromium is to be insensitive to corrosion and rust. Chromium oxide forms a kind of protective layer against oxygen and moisture. This alloy is therefore impermeable to air and water. This alloy of iron being very resistant to corrosion and rusting makes it a perfect choice for the making of handpan instruments. In fact, a bunch of us would like to take our handpan to the beach or in humid areas and stainless steel is a good way to not worry too much about it. However, it is always recommended to clean your handpan from time to time to preserve it as much as possible.  

Stainless steel handpans offer better sustain than other solutions. It resonates longer than nitrided steel and is also more sensitive in touch. This gives the stainless steel handpan a more meditative sound style. The way of playing is also different as when striking the notes, stainless steel feels less ‘springy’ under the hands of the player. This is the best choice for handpan beginners

The amplified frequencies are located on the lower end, making it perfect to play in closed spaces or quiet rooms.

For the negative side of the stainless steel handpan we can highlight its sensitivity to hot weather. Playing outside under the sun is in fact not recommended. Your instrument will go out of tune for a short time and after cooling down it will get back to its original tuning. Those may not be the case if you stay too long playing under the sun. 

Ember steel handpan

Ember Steel is a type of stainless steel which differs from traditional stainless steels, such as AISI 430, in terms of chemical composition and physical properties. Said to be a lot more scratch-resistant and delivering clearer sounds than other stainless-steel handpans, Ember steel has a unique patina.

However, due to the recent discovery and use of ember steel, few people have had years of experience in using it. Still, it appear that ember steel is great to use and has produced a lot of clear sounds and other sought-after tones that many players have been looking for. This type of handpan is clearly made for close environments.

Why choose a ember steel handpan

With stainless materials, the long sustain of the notes, will allow you to slow down and to play both slow and fast with ease. It is also easier to get a clear sound and more volume out of Ember Steel instruments in comparison to nitrided or regular stainless. This is mainly because of its sensitive and highly responsive touch and the good isolation and stability of the notes. The use of ember steel makes it also easier to make the instrument sound. For some however, the sustain of any stainless type steel is too long and disharmonic notes in rapid succession creates an undesired sound. The difference in audible sound is harder to differentiate. Slightly warmer in tone, the difference in the two stainless handpans is more about the process of making than what you as the player will greatly benefit from. Ember steel is slightly less prone to scratching than other materials. 

alexandre zunino
alexandre zunino

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