The 4 Basic Steel Categories

Because steel is an alloy, comprised of iron and various other ingredients, its exact composition can vary. In fact, there are thousands of different steel grades, each with its own particular properties and suitability for various tasks.

Thankfully, to make it all a bit less confusing, steel can be divided into four distinct classes. This makes it a much easier task if you're not sure what type you need for a specific purpose, helping you to narrow down your choices and find a suitable candidate more quickly.

Carbon steel

To a certain extent, the name tells you the main distinguishing characteristics of carbon steel. In addition to iron, this type of steel contains carbon to some extent. It may also contain other elements, but only in very small quantities that don't affect its qualities.

By far the most common type of steel, a massive 90% of all steel production, is of the carbon variety. Carbon steel is divided into three sub-categories, depending on how much carbon is used. These are high carbon steel, medium carbon steel, and low carbon or mild steel.

Carbon steel has a huge range of uses, which accounts for its popularity. The more carbon used, the harder the resulting steel, although it also becomes more brittle.

Alloy steel

Alloy steel has materials other than carbon added to it. These materials include manganese, silicon, boron, aluminium, and copper. The additives are chosen for the ways in which they alter the steel's properties. For example, a substance may be added to make the steel harder, more malleable, resistant to corrosion, or able to withstand higher temperatures.

Stainless steel

The 'stainless' part of its name refers to the fact that this type of steel is resistant to corrosion. This is because of the inclusion of a significant amount of chromium in the alloy mix.

Because of its resistance, it's commonly used in kitchen equipment and other food preparation applications, medical environments, and places where it will come into contact with water frequently.

Stainless steel is useful for any application where rust and corrosion is a risk, including huge outdoor monuments and for cladding parts of buildings.

Tool steel

Tool steel is an alloy with carbides, making it extremely hard and resistant to abrasion. This makes it highly suited for all types of tools, including both manual and machine kinds, and it can hold its shape well in extreme conditions like high temperatures.