Difference between carbon steel and alloy steel

Steel is an alloy that mostly contains iron. But its properties can be changed to suit specific requirements by adding certain other elements. This explains the differences between alloy steel and carbon steel. As the name indicates, alloy steel has other elements added to it whereas carbon steel is a kind of steel having higher carbon content. There are other differences also that will be talked about in this article.

Alloy Steel vs Carbon Steel
Carbon steel

Carbon steel is also known as the iron-carbon alloy containing less than 2% carbon WC.
Generally also contain small amounts of silicon, manganese, sulfur, phosphorus and carbon steel, in addition to carbon use can be divided into carbon steel and carbon structural steel, carbon tool steel, and ease of cutting structural steel three categories. Carbon structural steel is divided into building structural steel and machinery manufacturing structural steel two kinds.

According to the carbon steel, carbon content can be divided into low-carbon steel (WC ≤ 0.25%), medium carbon steel (WC0.25% - 0.6%) phosphorus, sulfur content and high-carbon steel (WC> 6%) can be divided into ordinary carbon steel (containing phosphorus, sulfur higher), high-quality carbon steel (containing phosphorus, low sulfur) and high quality steel (phosphorus, sulfur less), generally, the higher carbon content, the higher the hardness, higher strength but lower ductility.

Alloy steel

Alloy steel is a type of steel that has presence of certain other elements apart from iron and carbon. Commonly added elements in alloy steel are manganese, silicon, boron, chromium, vanadium and nickel. The quantity of these metals in alloy steel is primarily dependent upon the use of such steel. Normally alloy steel is made to get desired physical characteristics in the steel.

Alloy steels are divided into low alloy steels and high alloy steels. When the percentage of added elements goes past 8 (in terms of weight), the steel is referred to as high alloy steel. In cases where added elements remain below 8% by weight of the steel, it is a low alloy steel. Low alloy steels are more common in the industry. In general, addition of one or more of such elements to steel makes it harder and more durable. Such steel is also resistant to corrosion and tougher than normal steel. To alter the properties of steel, it needs heat treatment when elements are added to it.

To keep the alloy steel weldable, carbon content needs to be reduced. As such carbon content is lowered down to 0.1% to 0.3% and alloying elements are also decreased in proportion. These alloys of steel are known as high strength, low alloy steels. You would be surprised to know that stainless steel is also an alloy steel with a minimum of 10% of chromium by weight.

In brief Alloy Steel vs Carbon Steel:

Q&A

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The most important and desired changes in alloy steel are:

Alloy steels are made by combining carbon steel with one or several alloying elements, such as manganese, silicon, nickel, titanium, copper, chromium and aluminum. These metals are added to produce specific properties that are not found in regular carbon steel. The elements are added in varying proportions (or combinations) making the material take on different aspects such as increased hardness, increased corrosion resistance, increased strength, improved formability (ductility); the weldability can also change.

  • Increased hardenability.
  • Increased corrosion resistance.
  • Retention of hardness and strength.

Nearly all alloy steels require heat treatment in order to bring out their best properties.

Alloying Elements & Their Effects

  • Chromium – Adds hardness. Increased toughness and wear resistance.
  • Cobalt – Used in making cutting tools; improved Hot Hardness (or Red Hardness).
  • Manganese – Increases surface hardness. Improves resistance to strain, hammering & shocks.
  • Molybdenum – Increases strength. Improves resistance to shock and heat.
  • Nickel – Increases strength & toughness. Improves corrosion resistance.
  • Tungsten – Adds hardness and improves grain structure. Provides improved heat resistance.
  • Vanadium – Increases strength, toughness and shock resistance. Improved corrosion resistance.
  • Chromium-Vanadium – Greatly improved tensile strength. It is hard but easy to bend and cut.
ASTM A335 P11 alloy pipe


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