Steel has become ubiquitous in American life. Most people recognize structural steel when they see skyscrapers under construction. We can find stainless steel in our dining utensils and appliances. And carbon steel is often used to create lightweight yet strong bicycle frames.
Steel is made of iron and carbon. Different types of steel have different percentages of iron and carbon and other additives that form alloys. Here are three of the most common types of steel for metal fabrication. Learn a little about how they differ from each other.
The smooth shine of stainless steel graces everything from dining utensils in kitchen drawers to large architectural structures like bridges and building exteriors. Stainless steel comes in several varieties, but one can distinguish it from other types of steel by the addition of 10.5 to 20 percent chromium and some aluminum.
Stainless steel resists corrosion and has anti-bacterial properties that make it a metal of choice for surgical instruments, food preparation surfaces, and high-touch surfaces like door and cabinet handles. Metal fabricators create stainless steel railings, components for tables and appliances, and decorative architectural components for residences and commercial buildings.
Carbon steel includes structural steel and has up to two percent carbon content. Fabricators use low-, medium-, and high-carbon steel for different purposes.
Low-carbon steel, the most common type of steel available for metal fabrication, includes up to 0.3 percent carbon. It’s inexpensive and has the best combination of tensile strength and ductility (the ability to stretch or deform without cracking) to create beams that support building structures. Manufacturers also use fabricated low-carbon steel for machinery, pipes, auto components, and appliances.
Medium-carbon steel is steel with between .31 and .60 percent carbon, plus .31 to 1.6 percent magnesium. It’s very strong but has lower ductility than low-carbon steel. You may find medium-carbon steel in gears or train tracks.
High-carbon steel has .61 to 1.5 percent carbon and .31 and .90 percent magnesium. It’s very hard and tough, making it durable and difficult to cut or weld. High-carbon steel is used for springs, plates, and railways.
Metal fabricators use different types of machinery to cut and form steel. One of the most powerful machines is the fiber laser cutting machine, which uses targeted, superheated laser light to cut sheet metal into precise shapes.
Machines that punch, stamp, or bore through metal are often made of a common type of steel used in metal fabrication called tooling steel. It is hard and heat resistant due to the addition of metals like tungsten, molybdenum, cobalt, and vanadium.
Tooling steel falls into various classifications based on what its particular formulation does best. The classifications relate to how the steel was “quenched” or hardened during manufacturing with hot, cold, or air hardening. There are also grades for high-speed spinning tools, shock resistance, and suitability for tooling uses like cutting, stamping, or punching.
These common types of steel are used in metal fabrication for manufacturing, repair, and construction. They can create a wide variety of tools, structures, appliances, parts, and components that we encounter in homes, businesses, and industries.