Steel has revolutionized the entire planet and all the industries that one can think of. Take a look at anything around you, and you will see steel in pretty much everywhere. From construction to household products or even aerospace to regular transportation, steel is used in every single metallic item.
Steel is an alloy rather than a metal. That’s because steel is not just a single-ingredient compound. It’s manufactured with various metals like Carbon, Cobalt, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Silicon, Copper, Molybdenum, Nickel, Titanium, Niobium, Vanadium, Tungsten, Zirconium, etc.
This vastly used alloy has no alternative in the day-to-day application and any industrial use. Since no metal can achieve the properties that steel displays – whether hardness, extreme durability, strength, or wear resistance. And when I was talking about steel – I meant high carbon steel the most used alloy because of its properties that no other metal or alloy can achieve.
What is High Carbon Steel?
As I mentioned steel is an alloy made by mixing several metals to achieve certain properties and toughness. Mostly though metals are used to manufacture steel, i.e., iron, carbon, copper, cobalt, etc. But the key metals for steel are iron and carbon.
Steel can be classified into many categories depending on the carbon content, such as:
- Low Carbon Steel: Contains less than 0.25% carbon.
- Medium Carbon Steel: Contains 0.25% to 0.55% carbon.
- High Carbon Steel: Contains 0.56% or higher carbon content.
Among these steels, high-carbon steel is considered the strongest one because of its carbon content. Yes, the percentage of carbon provides the toughness on any substance – just look at diamond (carbon content 99.95%) and graphite (carbon content 80% to 90%) for instance both is the strongest substance with high carbon content.
Coming back to the high carbon steel; can be defined as an alloy that contains 0.55% to higher carbon and mixed metals like iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, and others.
Iron has to go through an extreme heating environment of 1300°C where the iron molecule changes its shape and the molecule lattice becomes cracked where the carbon is stuck along with other metal molecules. Thus, creates an alloy that achieves different properties from its own.
The necessity of manufacturing high-carbon steel is to achieve certain properties like toughness, extreme metallic strength, and wear resistance. And it’s tremendously tough and won’t break under heavy pressure or force, rather than it will just deform.
The beneficial properties of the high carbon steel make it suitable for large use whether in cookware, sharp edge metals like a knife, strong wires, etc. Besides, this alloy is dominating the massive industrial production and use that low and medium-carbon steel can’t achieve.
Advantages and Disadvantages of High Carbon Steel
Every year, over 2 billion steel is produced for industrial use and vice versa. And the majority of the manufactured steel is high-carbon steel. Why? That’s because of the benefits it offers. But it also has some drawbacks. Let’s see what are those advantages and disadvantages and how to mitigate those:
- Durability: One of the key reasons for creating high-carbon steel and substance like this is to create an extremely durable metal that can withstand anything and last long resulting in lower metal costs for production and other uses. High-carbon steel can withstand an unimaginable amount of pressure and force. It can also absorb shock. That’s why businesses, commercial, governments, and big buildings use high carbon so that they can remain unharmed during natural disasters like earthquakes and others.
- Long Lasting: Since high-carbon steel is one of the most durable compounds and can’t be harmed that easily – it can be used for several years without damage. Thus, it lasts longer than other metals.
- Sustainability: High-carbon steel is highly sustainable. And that’s why it’s being used in almost all sectors. Additionally, its ease of reuse and recycling makes it the right choice for construction, manufacturing, etc.
- Safe to Use: Among all sorts of alloys and metals, high-carbon steel is the easiest option to handle and use. And that’s why it’s used in cookware and other items so no chemical mixes with the food.
- Not Easy to Bend: For various use, high carbon needs to be bent. But one of the major drawbacks of high-carbon steel is bending, which is extremely hard to bend them.
- Low Melting Point: another major drawback of high-carbon steel is the low melting point. When you have increased carbon content, it surely provides high durability but the melting point becomes lower. Therefore, within the low temperature of 200 degrees centigrade, the high-carbon steel melts.
- Rust and Corrosion: High carbon steel is not rust and is corrosion resistant. So with time and contact with moisture, high-carbon steel will rust and lose its durability.
How to Mitigate High Carbon Steel Drawbacks
Low melting point and bending are the two most common drawbacks of high carbon steel, but these can be mitigated and easy to deal with a few precautions, such as:
- Don’t Bend with Too Much Force: Since it is extremely durable – so when trying to bend them, it breaks. Thus, it’s necessary to apply little force to bend high-carbon steel slowly bend them.
- Don’t Apply Too Much Heat: If not necessary, don’t apply too much heat on the high-carbon steel. Instead, try to use heat little by little.
- Make Sure to Avoid Moisture: to avoid rust and corrosion from high-carbon steel, you have to keep the alloy far from moisture.
High Carbon Steel vs. Other Types of Steel
There are 4 types of steel produced; carbon steel, alloy steel, stainless steel, and tool steel. However, It is classified as carbon steel that contains over 0.55% and higher carbon contents.
High carbon steel has several differences from other types of steel, such as:
High Carbon Steel vs. Alloy Steel
Where high carbon steel contains mostly iron and carbon and some other metals but a limited amount. However, alloy steel contains mostly other metals like nickel, copper, aluminum, and chromium. These alloying metals increase the wear resistance, ductility, lifespan, and other properties of the steel.
High Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is completely different from high-carbon steel. That’s because the chromium contents are a lot higher, which is up to 10-20%. At the same time, other alloying metals are also used to craft stainless steel, i.e., silicon, nickel, manganese, and carbon.
Stainless steel may not be as durable high carbon steel, but it has solved the major drawbacks of high-carbon steel; rust and corrosion, low melting point, and ductility.
The name stainless steel states clearly that it’s highly rust and corrosion-resistant, and no matter how the moisture or humidity is in the environment, the metal won’t rust or corrode, which does not apply to high-carbon steel.
Also, high-carbon steel is less ductile, as a result, it breaks when trying to bend or apply force. But stainless steel is quite soft and won’t break with force and while bending. And since the carbon contents are limited, the melting point is high as well.
High Carbon steel vs. Tool Steel
Tool steels contain mostly cobalt, molybdenum, tungsten, etc. Those metals provide the effective properties of carbon steel that are excellent for cutting tools, sharp edge blades, various equipment, etc. These types of steel are mostly seen in knives, swords, and others. This steel is very durable and has fewer carbon contents which make it different from high-carbon steel. Additionally, this steel and another metal, called Damascus steel are used in knife crafting.
How to Work with High Carbon Steel
High-carbon steel is already extremely durable, but that also makes it vulnerable to force rust and heat, but some strategies can help to effectively work with high-carbon steel and enhance its lifespan.
1. Add Carbon on Melting Point
Carbon bonds with the iron on high-carbon steel when the heat is at its peak. And as the carbon contents go up, the durability also increases. So, the right time to increase the carbon content of the steel is at its melting point, only then the carbon will bond with the iron and the carbon contents will increase. While adding, you can add graphite or coke that are high in carbon and will release more and more carbon on the steel.
2. Keep the Metal Far from Moisture
High carbon steel is not rust and is corrosion-resistant. And that’s a great threat to its lifespan. When it comes to contact with moisture, water, or/and humidity it starts to rust and corrode. Therefore, it’s wise to keep the metal far from moisture and direct contact with water.
3. Use Other Alloying Metals
High-carbon steel is undoubtedly durable, but it lacks ductility. And it can break while bending and with force. But if other alloying metals can be used with high carbon steel like cobalt, copper, molybdenum, or even stainless steel, the durability, ductility, and stainless properties will be enhanced.
Common Applications of High Carbon Steel
Among all types of steel, high-carbon steel is the most used metal in history. Take a look at any metal accessory or product, you will find high-carbon steel. And the reason is its durability and reuse properties. However, to make my assumptions clear, here are a few real-world applications.
One of the most common applications of high-carbon steel can be seen on knives. Almost 8 out of 10 knives are crafted with high-carbon steel. Not just knives, swords, machetes, and other sharp-edged tools are also great examples.
The high carbon contents allow knives to retain the sharp edge and maintain it. And the sharpening is easy because of the carbon content of the steel. Durability is also a factor in why knives are crafted with high-carbon steel.
Cars and other vehicles need durable materials so that the safety of the car and passengers won’t compromise and the car can function well. Whether the clip holder of the radio, airbags, seats and even engine – your car has a vast amount of steel.
3. Manufacturing and Production Industry
I assume you all know the manufacturing and production industry requires heavy machinery, which is expensive, has a high maintenance cost, and risks damaging parts skyrocketing. So, to avoid those types of issues, highly durable material is where high carbon steel comes in. Its extreme durability makes it the perfect choice for manufacturing machinery.
What are the mechanical properties of high-carbon steel?
High carbon steel is dominating the steel and metal world because of its extreme strength and durability, comparative ductility, and wears resistance properties.
Does high-carbon steel rust?
The answer is YES. The high-carbon steel may be super durable, but it isn’t rust-resistant. When the high-carbon steel comes in contact with moisture, it will start to rust.
Is high-carbon steel strong?
Yes, and that’s the major beneficial property of high-carbon steel. It’s extremely durable compared to other metals and other types of steel.
Is high-carbon stainless steel good for knives?
Again the answer is YES. High carbon steel has over 2% carbon content that provides a sharp edge blade. And its wear resistance allows knives to retain their sharpness longer. Recently I published a blog post about D2 Steel Good For Knives on my website.
How is high-carbon steel tested for quality and performance?
Generally, the Virtual spark test is the most common test that determines the quality of the steel. A piece of steel is required and placed on the grinding wheel for testing.
How is high-carbon steel different from other types of steel?
All steels can be categorized into 4 types, and high-carbon steel is one among the four. The main difference from all steels with high carbon steel is the carbon content.
Can high-carbon steel be used for outdoor or marine applications?
You can use high-carbon steel outside or for marine applications, but the metal will rust and corrode soon. That’s because high-carbon steels aren’t rust and corrosion-resistant. Thus, making contact with outside moisture or sea water will corrode the metal.
How does the carbon content of high-carbon steel affect its properties?
High carbon steel has high carbon contents that make the metal harden and tougher. It also makes the melting point low and less ductile.
What are some examples of products made with high-carbon steel?
One of the most common examples of high-carbon steel products is kitchen knives that you are using. Besides, it’s used in coils, wires, and other countless products as well.
What are some common manufacturing processes used to make high-carbon steel?
Some of the most common manufacturing processes for making high-carbon steel are:
- Heat treatment.
What are some common tests used to evaluate high-carbon steel?
These tests certify the quality of the high-carbon steel along with other types of steel:
- Ultrasonic testing for defects.
- Steel testing for phrases.
- Brinell hardness test.
- Martial S-strength test and yields.
How do you maintain high-carbon steel to prolong its lifespan?
I will use it with more care. For starters, I always make sure that my high-carbon steel doesn’t come in contact with moisture and water. Then I always apply little pressure and force.
What are some safety considerations when working with high-carbon steel?
After working with high-carbon steel, always wash your hand so that you won’t get those metals on your food and suffer from diseases.
How can you tell if a material is a high-carbon steel or another type of steel?
With carbon contents on the steel, you can determine whether it’s high carbon steel or any other steal.
High-carbon steel is the most suitable option for the manufacturing and production industry due to its extreme durability, strength, and toughness along with comparative ductility. But since its super durable, it also breaks when applying force and melts at a lower temperature.
But, aside from all the drawbacks, high-carbon steel is an evolutionary metal that has changed the world. And if you care about the drawbacks, you can enhance the functionality of the high-carbon steel as I mentioned.