The pressure vessel in a boiler is usually made of steel (or alloy steel), or historically of wrought iron. Stainless steel is virtually prohibited (by the ASME Boiler Code) for use in wetted parts of modern boilers, but is used often in superheater sections that will not be exposed to liquid boiler water. In live steam models, copper or brass is often used because it is more easily fabricated in smaller size boilers. Historically, copper was often used for fireboxes (particularly for steam locomotives), because of its better formability and higher thermal conductivity; however, in more recent times, the high price of copper often makes this an uneconomic choice and cheaper substitutes (such as steel) are used instead.
For much of the Victorian "age of steam", the only material used for boilermaking was the highest grade of wrought iron, with assembly by riveting. This iron was often obtained from specialist ironworks, such as at Cleator Moor (UK), noted for the high quality of their rolled plate and its suitability for high-reliability use in critical applications, such as high-pressure boilers. In the 20th century, design practice instead moved towards the use of steel, which is stronger and cheaper, with welded construction, which is quicker and requires less labour.
Cast iron may be used for the heating vessel of domestic water heaters. Although such heaters are usually termed "boilers" in some countries, their purpose is usually to produce hot water, not steam, and so they run at low pressure and try to avoid actual boiling. The brittleness of cast iron makes it impractical for high pressure steam boilers.