There are thousands of different steel alloys, but some are used more than others. Each alloy has its unique strengths and practical applications, but they all iron- and carbon-based. Below, we’ve shared the four most common types of steel.
With a carbon range between 0.04% and 1.5%, this alloy makes up about 90% of overall steel production. When carbon content is on the low side (called low carbon steel), the metal is considered “mild” and easy to shape. On the opposite end of the spectrum, high carbon steel is more difficult to weld or form, but it’s well-suited for tools. Carbon steel can be used for a huge variety of applications, including knife blades, automobile parts, structural beams, flat sheets, and other construction-related products. For rust protection, carbon steels are typically treated with hot-dipped galvanization.
To qualify as alloy steel, other elements must be included in the standard mixture of iron and carbon. The most common alloying elements are manganese, chromium, molybdenum, silicon, and nickel, and they all impart distinct properties on the final alloy. These include greater hardness, corrosion resistance, heat resistance, and overall strength. Depending on the composition, some specialty alloy steels can even be found on spaceships and airplane turbines.
These unique alloy steels contain a larger proportion of tungsten, molybdenum, chromium, and vanadium. This makes an ideal alloy for crafting tools. Boasting serious hardness and wear resistance, the alloy can keep a sharp edge even in the hottest environments. That also makes it perfect for cutting, extruding, and molding other metals.
Finally, stainless steel is an extremely popular alloy with at least 10.5% chromium, which helps prevent corrosion and staining. Carbon steel is generally prone to rusting, so it’s not the best metal for handling moisture; on the other hand, stainless steel has a chromium film to block oxidization. Used for medical implements, structural parts, cookware, jewelry, and hundreds of other applications, stainless steel is better than carbon steel in many respects.