Differences Between High Carbon Steel & Low Carbon Steel

What are the Differences Between High Carbon Steel and Low Carbon Steel


By itself iron is fairly soft and ductile metal. It is also highly prone to oxidation, rusting. However, once you add carbon via smelting, iron’s softness and susceptibility to corrosion are greatly reduced and improved. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), carbon steel must contain up to 2% carbon, no more than 1.65% manganese, 0.6% silicon, and 0.6% copper, and no less than 0.4% copper.

So what is the difference between a high carbon steel and a low carbon steel?

High carbon steel or carbon tool steel contain between 0.6% and 1% carbon and manganese levels that vary between 0.3% and 0.9%. The steel can undergo heat treatment and tempering which is one of the most desirable qualities highly sought after by knife and sword makers. High carbon steels tend to be much more expensive and harder to work with than low and medium carbon steels because the techniques and technology needed to work with them are somewhat more specialized than regular carbon steel.

High Carbon Steels are used in:

  •   – Springs
  •   – High-strength wires
  •   – High-end chef’s knives
  •   – Modern sword reproductions for martial artists and collectors
  •   – Other cutting tools
  •   – Hammer heads
  •   – Punches
  •   – Dies
  •   – Masonry nails
  •   – Cookery
  •   – Radiators
  •   – Lampposts

Low carbon steels, mild or plain carbon steel contain between 0.05% and 0.3% carbon content and manganese levels that vary between 0.4% and 1.5%. Low carbon steels are one of the most common and readily available metals due to their low production costs and relative ease of manufacture. Their physical properties also make them well suited to a wide array of applications. For instance, they are much more malleable and ductile than high carbon steels and are much easier to machine. While low carbon steels display a great deal of strength and toughness, they tend to not do well with tempering, and cannot be made as hard as higher carbon content steels.

Low Carbon Steels are used in:

  •   – Wire products
  •   – Building panels
  •   – Beams and other structural materials
  •   – Fasteners
  •   – Bolts
  •   – Fences
  •   – Chain links
  •   – Gates
  •   – Railings

Contact Coastal Metals today to start your project and our team will help you decide what kind of carbon steel works best for you.

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