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What is the Best Type of Steel


With over 3,500 different steel types to choose from, it’s hardly surprising that “what is the best type of steel” is such a frequently asked question. Unfortunately there is no simple answer as it primarily depends on the application the steel is required for. In this post we look at the differences between various primary steel types along with what they are typically used for.

It’s interesting to note that steel is known to have been produced almost 4000 years ago. Excavated ironware artifacts from Anatolia in modern day Turkey, dating from around 1800 BC, show that steel was in production way back then and steel weapons, such as those used by the Roman military, were manufactured from Noric Steel, derived from the Celtic kingdom of Noricum in modern day Austria.

What is Steel?

The basic two elements used in all steels are iron and carbon. But the many thousands of individual steel types incorporate additional elements, which may include any combination of: nickel, copper, magnesium, molybdenum, silicon, vanadium, chromium, or aluminium, among others.

Various types of steel are produced with different qualities to suit a huge variety of applications. These steel types are created by combining the basic elements, iron and carbon, with specific percentages of various additional elements to give the steel the attributes required. For simplification these steel types can be categorised into four main groups:

  1. Carbon Steel
  2. Alloy Steel
  3. Tool Steel
  4. Stainless Steel
high security steel chain
High Security Steel Chain

Carbon Steel

Carbon Steel accounts for around 90% of total, worldwide steel production and can be divided into three main sub groups: Low, Medium and High carbon steel.

Low carbon steel typically contains between 0.04% and 0.3% carbon and is the largest sub group of carbon steels.

Sometimes known as mild steel, it is available in many shapes and forms, from wires and bars to flat sheet and structural beams. Depending on the application it is intended for, additional elements will be added to the mix and the carbon level adjusted as required. For example, structural steel has a higher level of carbon content and the manganese level is increased.

Medium carbon steel typically contains between 0.3% and 0.6% carbon, with a manganese content between 0.06% and 1.65%. This produces a steel which is stronger than low carbon steel, but is more difficult to weld, cut or form.

Medium carbon steel is often hardened and tempered using heat treatment, making it suitable for use in a wide range of applications from knife-making, which requires the capability to retain a sharp cutting edge, to security chains, which need to withstand physical attacks such as cropping with bolt-croppers.

High carbon steel is often referred to as carbon tool steel and typically contains between 0.61% and 1.5% carbon. It is very strong and extremely hard, making it resistant to wear but it retains moderate ductility. High carbon steel is very difficult to weld, cut, or bend and once heat treated becomes extremely hard and brittle.

High carbon steel is often used for cutting tools due to its ability to resist wear and retain a sharp edge. It’s also used for masonry nails which can be hammered into concrete and brick without bending.

Alloy Steel

Alloy steels include different alloying elements such as molybdenum, manganese, nickel, chromium, vanadium, silicon, and boron. The amounts of these alloying elements vary from between 1 and 50%, added to increase strength, hardness, wear resistance, and toughness. These steels are used for a wide range of applications from manufacturing pipelines, to electric motors and automotive parts.

boron steel atlas bolt
Boron Steel Atlas Bolt

Stainless Steel

Widely known as rustless steel, stainless steel incorporates chromium in its composition. It’s well known to domestic users in the form of everyday items including cutlery, pots, pans and worksurfaces. It’s also widely used in the manufacture of nuts, bolts, screws and other fastenings, intended for use in applications where other steels would quickly rust or corrode.

There are various grades or types of stainless steel which each have different properties and offer different levels of corrosion resistance. The two most common types are 304 and 316.

Type 304 SS is typically referred to as A2 when used to describe the metal used for nuts, bolts and screws. A2 stainless steel is also called 18/8 which signifies an 18% chromium content with 8% nickel. Although it offers a good level of corrosion resistance in many types of application, A2 stainless is not suitable for use in more hostile environments such as coastal regions.

Type 316 SS, commonly referred to as A4 stainless steel, is the preferred material choice for manufacturing food grade containers, due to its greater resistance to salt and stronger acidic compounds such as lemon or tomato juice. Given its greater resistance to salts and acids, it is also the best steel for marine applications, for use in coastal or other hostile environments.

Tool Steel

Tool steel is produced with a distinctive hardness. It contains elements such as tungsten, cobalt, molybdenum and vanadium in different amounts, to make the steel hard enough to be used for drilling and cutting equipment. Tool steel is designed to provide durability and increased heat resistance making it suitable for a wide variety of applications such as forming, stamping and cutting of plastics and metals and stamping parts from metal sheets in manufacturing operations.

High Quality Steel for High Quality Products

Here at Insight Security we pay a lot of attention to the rigorous assessment of all products before they are offered from our online shop. Our assessments include detailed examination of the materials used in their manufacture, from self-tapping screws to high security chains. Our customers know that everything we sell is manufactured to the highest standards using the highest quality steels available today.

If you need help with any aspects of safety and security please give us a call on 01273 475500. We are always happy to help.

This message was added on Thursday 28th January 2021

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