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Pros and Cons of Carbon Steel: What You Should Know

  • October 10, 2018

Some people assume that all steel is the same, but this isn’t necessarily true. Steel, by definition, is an alloy metal consisting primarily of iron and carbon as well as other trace elements. It has high tensile strength and is relatively inexpensive to produce, making it a popular metal used by manufacturing companies. However, there are different types of steel, each of which has its unique characteristics. Carbon steel, for example, is often preferred over other types of steel. What is carbon steel exactly, and is it the right choice for your company’s needs?

Overview of Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is a special type of steel that, as the name suggests, has a higher concentration of carbon than other types of steel. Most types of steel have a relatively low carbon content of about 0.05% to 0.3%. In comparison, carbon steel has a carbon content of up to 2.5%. Two-and-a-half percent carbon may sound insignificant, but it introduces several attractive benefits that aren’t found elsewhere.

Carbon Steel Advantages

There are several advantages to choosing carbon steel over traditional steel, one of which is increased strength. The use of carbon makes iron — or steel — stronger by shuffling around its crystal latice. While carbon steel can still stress and break under pressure, it’s less likely to occur than with other types of steel. This makes carbon steel particularly effective in applications where strength is needed. Japanese bladesmiths, for example, produced swords out of high-carbon steel known as tamahagane steel many centuries ago. Today, carbon steel is used to make everything from construction materials to tools, automotive components and more.

Carbon Steel Disadvantages

But there are also some disadvantages to choosing carbon steel over traditional steel. Because it’s so strong, carbon steel is difficult to work with. It can’t be easily bent and molded into different shapes, thus limiting its utility in certain applications. Carbon steel is also more susceptible to rust and corrosion than other types to steel. To make steel “stainless,” manufacturers add chromium — usually about 10% to 12%. Chromium acts as a barrier of protection over the steel itself, thereby protecting it from moisture that could otherwise cause rusting. Carbon steel doesn’t contain chromium, however, so it may rust when exposed to moisture for long periods of time.

To recap, carbon steel is an alloy metal consisting of iron and carbon. Unlike stainless steel and other types of steel, though, it’s characterized by a high carbon content, typically around 2% to 2.5%.

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