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How To Make Tool Steel

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Carbon Alloy Tool Steel Manufacturing Methods

Durable carbon alloy steel is a rigid material commonly used to produce and repair machine tools, hand tools, and other applications. Tool steel alloys provide good abrasion and deformation resistance while maintaining a cutting edge at high temperatures. Tool steel’s beneficial hardness qualities make it the ideal material for shaping various products and tools.

Tool Steel Grade Options

Carbon alloy steel is available in several grades. Each tool steel grade provides its unique qualities and features. Whether it’s tool steel for pressing, extruding, coining, or another function, carbon alloy tool steel is available in several grades to meet your application requirements. Grade options for tool steel include:
  • Water hardening
  • Air hardening
  • D-Type
  • Oil hardening
  • Shock resistant
  • Hot-Working

Popular Grades of Carbon Alloy Tool Steel

The most popular forms of tool steel are O-1 and A-2 tool steels, which are both part of the cold-work group of tool steels.
  • O-1 - General purpose oil-hardening steel with good hardness, strength, and wear resistance. It is mainly used for items like knives and forks.
  • A-2 - Air hardening steel with good machinability and a balance of wear resistance and toughness. A-2 is the most common air-hardening steel and is often used for blanking and forming punches, trimming dies, and injection mold dies.

Tool Steel Grade Consideration Factors

The tool steel grade that offers the best results for your project will depend on several factors, including:
  • The tool’s required sharpness
  • Abrasion resistance conditions
  • Heat treatment requirements
  • Impact loading characteristics

Tool Steel Processing

The basic process of making tool steel starts with recycled steel scrap, melted in an electric arc furnace, along with any alloying elements. The molten mixture is poured into a giant ladle and mixed with chemicals to prevent oxidation. After impurities are removed through this refining stage, the steel can flow down into large molds to make ingots.
After un-molding, the red-hot ingots are forged with massive mechanical dies to press them into the desired size and shape. The finished forgings are annealed by re-heating to reduce internal stresses formed during the forging process. The annealed materials are then allowed to cool slowly in water, air, or an oil bath, allowing the metal crystals to re-form. This annealing process keeps the steel soft enough to work without cracking. It can then be cold- or hot-rolled into the desired shape. Application processes that utilize carbon alloy steel processing methods include:
  • Carbon alloy steel for cutting
  • Tool steel for extruding
  • Carbon alloy steel for coining

Advanced Tool Steel Processing Methods

An alternative method of making tool steel is to position the ladle of hot molten steel over a vertical open-ended mold. The molten steel runs down through the cooled mold and hardens near the mold’s inner surface. As more steel passes through the mold, the partially hardened metal moves down and then out onto water-cooled rollers. The result is a long, continuous bar or rod of steel.

Electro-Slag Re-Melting (ESR) Tool Steel Processing

For tool steel with better surface quality and fewer imperfections, manufacturers use a process called electro-slag re-melting (ESR). Giant water-cooled molds are filled with a pool of heated slag containing reactive chemicals. A consumable steel ingot, called an electrode, is lowered down into the slag. An electric current passed through the electrode causes it to melt, its liquid drops of steel pulled by the current towards the bottom of the mold. As the bubbles flow downward through the hot slag, impurities react with chemicals in the pool and float to the top. Only pure steel droplets reach the bottom, where they solidify and eventually build up a homogeneous steel ingot inside the mold.

Powdered Metal Carbon Alloy Steel Processing

Another, more advanced process uses powdered metal to form tool steel with improved hardening and machinability. This process has better results for tool steel with higher percentages of carbon and alloying material required for applications such as aerospace components.

Contact IMS for Hard and Durable Carbon Alloy Tool Steel Today

Strong and resilient, tool steel delivers the highest quality tools on the planet. Contact IMS for premium tool steel metal products for your next project.
Industrial Metal Supply offers tool steel bar in O-1 and A-2 grades. For more information on ordering carbon alloy tool steel, visit Industrial Metal Supply.

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