Steel is the most commonly used metal in the world, thanks to its versatility and durability. Steel is generally categorized into four types of workable steel classes depending on its chemical composition.
To understand the different types of workable steel, it helps to understand what comprises steel. Steel is a metal alloy comprised of iron, carbon and other elements that mix with steel to create the alloy. By altering the alloying elements used in creating steel, different types of steel vary in strength, hardness, melting point and other important properties. These can be used to create anything from a kitchen knife to a jet engine!
Which type of steel you’ll need depends on its properties and the needs of the project. Read on to learn more about the four main types of workable steel.
1. Carbon Steel
Carbon steel is the most popular kind of steel in production. It contains up to two percent carbon by weight, and can also contain trace amounts of other alloying elements. Carbon steel is matte or nonglossy in appearance. Depending on their carbon content, carbon steels are classified as: low carbon or mild carbon steel, medium carbon steel and high carbon steel. Carbon steel is found in a variety of applications and is a great choice for structural steel.
2. Alloy Steel
Alloy steel contains varying amounts of alloying elements to change the steel’s properties. Alloying elements include manganese, copper, aluminum and nickel. Depending on the proportions, these alloys affect characteristics such as the steel’s strength, weldability and formability. Adding alloying elements can also make the steel cheaper. Alloy steels are used in motors, jet engines and transformers.
3. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel contains 10 to 20 percent chromium as the alloying element, which makes stainless steel more resistant to corrosion than other types of workable steel. There are more than 100 grades of stainless steel, making it a versatile material. Because it is shiny, non-corrosive and can withstand high temperatures, stainless steel is often found in home appliances, kitchens and cooking tools.
Stainless steel is divided into three types: austenitic, ferritic and martensitic. Austenitic steel is the most common type of stainless steel, used in kitchen products, food processing and piping. Ferritic steel is known for its magnetic properties. Martensitic steel is magnetic and heat-treatable, and is used in kitchen equipment and dental tools.
4. Tool Steel
Like other types of workable steel, tool steel is comprised of different alloying elements to make it heat-resistant and scratch-resistant. There are six kinds of tool steel: water-hardening, cold-work, shock-resistant, high-speed, hot-work and special purpose. Its properties make this durable steel good for (as the name suggests) tools, such as hand tools, cutting and drilling equipment. Tool steel is also helpful in shaping other metals and materials.
With the right type of workable steel in-hand, a knowledgeable fabricator can create myriad items for a wide breadth of different applications. All it takes is a keen understanding of the properties of each type of steel and the demands of the final application.