Welcome to Optics Trade debates. In each episode, we talk about a different topic and try to answer the most common questions we receive about it. Today we are going to talk about different materials of Picatinny rails.
Picatinny rails are usually made out of steel or aluminum. The main difference is the weight; steel is typically 2.5 times denser than aluminum. Steel rails usually have a smooth, glossy finish, while aluminum rails have a matte finish.
Steel is generally a better material for a rail if the mount on the rail is detachable. Steel usually has a better surface hardness than aluminum, which enables it to have a better repeatability and less wear.
If a rifle with a Picatinny rail is used in an environment where extreme temperature changes can occur, it’s better to have a rail which is made from the same material as the receiver on the rifle. Steel and aluminum contract and expand at a different rate with a change of temperature, therefore if the receiver and the rail are from the same material, potential tensions on screws and other parts are avoided. In some extreme cases, the tension is so big that the screws can even break.
It isn’t as crucial for the mount and rail to be made out of the same material.
Steel rails have a nicer finish, are more robust and are resistant to wear. The main disadvantages are the weight, the lack of corrosion resistance and the higher price.
Aluminum mounts are lighter and cheaper.
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Aluminum Picatinny rail: https://www.optics-trade.eu/en/mounts/picatinny-rails/shopby/material-aluminium.html
Steel Picatinny rail: https://www.optics-trade.eu/en/mounts/picatinny-rails/shopby/material-steel.html
Is there a steel base for soldering on 20 ga. single shot shotgun since the chamber is too thin for drilling. Weaver type is preferred.
It’s worth noting though that there are different types of aluminium, where some are quite soft (and therefore easy to machine but also easy to damage,) whereas others in the 7000-series are quite hard and can match steel in many aspects. Really cheap scope bases are often made from soft aluminium alloys with sub-par machining whereas more expensive aluminium rails tend to be made from 7000-series and have better machining and surface treatment (anodizing).