NITRIDED STEEL VS. STAINLESS STEEL
The original handpans were constructed of a case hardened steel, referred to as nitrided steel. Nowadays, handpans are also being constructed out of stainless steel. Both materials have their own advantages and disadvantages, so keep reading to explore these differences!
Nitrided steel is what the original sound sculptures, invented around the year 2000 in Switzerland, were made of. It provides a very unique and robust feel to the steel. In short, the nitriding process hardens regular steel by diffusing nitrogen molecules into its structure. Nitrided steel also has rust resistant properties, though without proper care it can still rust. The high hardness and increased tensile strength of nitrided steel lends itself well to percussive playing, and those with heavy handed playing styles.
Sean Beever, the builder and tuner of the HLURU handpan, still prefers nitrided steel over stainless steel for the reasons mentioned above.
Stainless steel has recently become quite popular in the construction of handpans for several reasons. Firstly, a handpan made from stainless steel will generally have notes (tonefields) with more sustain (they will ‘ring’ longer). This characteristic lends a stainless steel handpan towards a more meditative and slow style of play. The feel of the handpan while playing is also noticeably different as well. When striking the notes, it is apparent that the steel is not as robust as nitrided steel and thus feels less ‘springy’ under the hands of the player.
Stainless steel is also favored by newer handpan builders, as learning to properly nitride steel is a painfully long and extremely expensive process.
In additional to the changes in sound, stainless steel is also much more resistant to rust than nitrided steel. While it technically can still rust as well, it would take an incredible amount of purposeful neglect to cause stainless steel to rust in any significant fashion.