Carbon Steel Info
Steels can be classified by a variety of different systems depending on:
  • The composition, such as carbon, low-alloy or stainless steel.
  • The manufacturing methods, such as open hearth, basic oxygen process, or electric furnace methods.
  • The finishing method, such as hot rolling or cold rolling
  • The product form, such as bar plate, sheet, strip, tubing or structural shape
  • The de-oxidation practice, such as killed, semi-killed, capped or rimmed steel
  • The microstructure, such as ferritic, pearlitic and martensitic
  • The required strength level, as specified in ASTM standards
  • The heat treatment, such as annealing, quenching and tempering, and thermo mechanical processing
  • Quality descriptors, such as forging quality and commercial quality.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) define carbon steel as follows:

Steel is considered to be carbon steel when no minimum content is specified or required for chromium, cobalt, columbium [niobium], molybdenum, nickel, titanium, tungsten, vanadium or zirconium, or any other element to be added to obtain a desired alloying effect; when the specified minimum for copper does not exceed 0.40 per cent; or when the maximum content specified for any of the following elements does not exceed the percentages noted: manganese 1.65, silicon 0.60, copper 0.60.

Carbon steel can be classified, according to various de-oxidation practices, as rimmed, capped, semi-killed, or killed steel. De-oxidation practice and the steelmaking process will have an effect on the properties of the steel. However, variations in carbon have the greatest effect on mechanical properties, with increasing carbon content leading to increased hardness and strength. As such, carbon steels are generally categorized according to their carbon content. Generally speaking, carbon steels contain up to 2% total alloying elements and can be subdivided into low-carbon steels, medium-carbon steels, high-carbon steels, and ultrahigh-carbon steels; each of these designations is discussed below.

As a group, carbon steels are by far the most frequently used steels. More than 85% of the steel produced and shipped in the United States is carbon steel.

Low-carbon steels contain up to 0.30% C. The largest category of this class of steel is flat-rolled products (sheet or strip), usually in the cold-rolled and annealed condition. The carbon content for these high-formability steels is very low, less than 0.10% C, with up to 0.4% Mn. Typical uses are in automobile body panels, tin plate, and wire products. For rolled steel structural plates and sections, the carbon content may be increased to approximately 0.30%, with higher manganese content up to 1.5%. These materials may be used for stampings, forgings, seamless tubes, and boiler plate.

Medium-carbon steels are similar to low-carbon steels except that the carbon ranges from 0.30 to 0.60% and the manganese from 0.60 to 1.65%. Increasing the carbon content to approximately 0.5% with an accompanying increase in manganese allows medium carbon steels to be used in the quenched and tempered condition. The uses of medium carbon-manganese steels include shafts, axles, gears, crankshafts, couplings and forgings. Steels in the 0.40 to 0.60% C range are also used for rails, railway wheels and rail axles. High-carbon steels contain from 0.60 to 1.00% C with manganese contents ranging from 0.30 to 0.90%. High-carbon steels are used for spring materials and high-strength wires.

Ultrahigh-carbon steels are experimental alloys containing 1.25 to 2.0% C. These steels are thermo-mechanically processed to produce microstructures that consist of ultrafine, equiaxed grains of spherical, discontinuous proeutectoid carbide particles.

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