Experts Explain The Differences Between The 4 Types Of Steel

You might find many manuals and formulas to understand the differences between carbon steel, stainless steel, alloy steel and tool steel. The main difference is the alloying metals and additives the manufacturers mix with iron. However, a detailed study might clear the fog better. 


Carbon Steel


The most extensively used steel type contains no more than 2% carbon, besides iron, and occasionally a small quantity of elements like manganese. The quantity of carbon controls its formability and strength. Steel with more carbon can be stronger but less versatile. Some common applications are car parts, structural beams, nails, and pipes. 


Carbon steel can be put into the following categories:


  • Low carbon: It has .30% or lower carbon content. As the most familiar and economical type of steel type, it retains elasticity even under strain. Hence, it is useful in making bolts, wires, and pipes.
  • Medium carbon: Carbon content ranging between 0.31% and 0.60%. It has strength and lower ductility. This makes it relatively less mouldable under the application of pressure. It is often used in railroad tracks and gears.
  • High carbon: The toughest variety has more than 0.61% carbon content. Preparing sharp tools for cutting, such as trencher blades, is helpful. 


Stainless Steel


Characterized by its resistance to corrosion and rust, this variety of steel contains minimally 10% chromium. However, it can be alloyed with molybdenum and nickel. The layer of chromium shields the iron from getting oxidized.  


The most common divisions of stainless steel include:


  • Martensitic alloys: Toughness is the key. However, this steel variety can also be vulnerable to corrosion. It is ideal for making pliers, instruments, cutleries and the like. 
  • Ferritic Alloys: They contain a lesser quantity of nickel and carbon but have chromium-induced sheen and strength. The economical variety is a common choice among car manufacturers.
  • Austenitic Alloys: Its high nickel and chromium content makes it resistant to corrosion and non-magnetic. This type of steel is also easy to clear up, hence suitable for manufacturing kitchen appliances.
  • Duplex alloys: A blend of ferritic and austenitic alloys, it is a common choice to manufacture pipework and instruments used in oil, chemical and gas industries. 


Alloy Steel


Elements like molybdenum, cobalt, and tungsten, common in tool steel, are also used to make different steel varieties.  Some of the alloys are added to make such alloy steel more versatile. For example:


  • Manganese: With its impact resistance, it has been used in manufacturing high-on-strength safes, plates for anti-drill plates and bulletproof cabinets.
  • Aluminium: The heat resistant and lightweight steel is helpful in power generators and heated exhaust systems.
  • Vanadium: It is vibration-resistant and shock-absorbent. It is used in automotive parts such as springs and shocks. 
  • Copper: Many of the premier Tool Steel Suppliers in India,like TJKSS, offer copper as an alloy to customers looking for solutions for industry-grade heat exchangers and electrical wires.
  • Silicon: Its soft nature with magnetic power helps produce electric transformers.
  • Molybdenum: It is a common choice for gas and oil pipelines.


Tool Steel


As the name justifies, this steel is ideal for making tools owing to its wear resistance and hardness. Apart from carbon and iron, it combines a significant quantity of chromium, molybdenum, vanadium and/or tungsten. The different types include:


  • Air-hardening: With extra chromium added, the steel does not distort even in high temperatures.
  • Water-hardening: Water-quenched while using, this affordable variety is ideal for making common tools.
  • Oil-hardening: The oil-quenched variety is resistant to wear from slipping and useful for producing shears and knives.
  • High-speed: Highly impact and abrasion-resistant; its use is common in power saws and drill bits.
  • Hot-working: It survives tremendous heat and is helpful in casting and forging. 
  • Shock-resisting: Some molybdenum, carbon, and silicon harden the steel and prepare it for riveting tools and punches.


The above types are further categorized by the manufacturing they belong to and by toughness and hardness.