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4/22/2019 Carbon steel - Wikipedia

Carbon steel
Carbon steel is a steel with carbon content up to 2.1% by weight. The definition of carbon steel from the American
Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) states:

Steel is considered to be carbon steel when:

no minimum content is specified or required for chromium, cobalt, molybdenum, nickel, niobium, titanium,
tungsten, vanadium or zirconium, or any other element to be added to obtain a desired alloying effect;
the specified minimum for copper does not exceed 0.40 percent;
or the maximum content specified for any of the following elements does not exceed the percentages
noted: manganese 1.65, silicon 0.60, copper 0.60.[1]

The term "carbon steel" may also be used in reference to steel which is not stainless steel; in this use carbon steel may
include alloy steels.

As the carbon percentage content rises, steel has the ability to become harder and stronger through heat treating;
however, it becomes less ductile. Regardless of the heat treatment, a higher carbon content reduces weldability. In
carbon steels, the higher carbon content lowers the melting point.[2]

Mild or low-carbon steel
High-tensile steel
Higher-carbon steels
AISI Classification
Low-carbon steel
Medium-carbon steel
High-carbon steel
Ultra-high-carbon steel
Heat treatment
Case hardening
Forging temperature of steel
See also


Mild or low-carbon steel

Mild steel (iron containing a small percentage of carbon, strong and tough but not readily tempered), also known as
plain-carbon steel and low-carbon steel, is now the most common form of steel because its price is relatively low while
it provides material properties that are acceptable for many applications. Mild steel contains approximately 0.05– 1/6
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0.25% carbon[1] making it malleable and ductile. Mild steel has a relatively low tensile strength, but it is cheap and
easy to form; surface hardness can be increased through carburizing.[3]

In applications where large cross-sections are used to minimize deflection, failure by yield is not a risk so low-carbon
steels are the best choice, for example as structural steel. The density of mild steel is approximately 7.85 g/cm3
(7850 kg/m3 or 0.284 lb/in3)[4] and the Young's modulus is 200 GPa (29,000 ksi).[5]

Low-carbon steels suffer from yield-point runout where the material has two yield points. The first yield point (or
upper yield point) is higher than the second and the yield drops dramatically after the upper yield point. If a low-
carbon steel is only stressed to some point between the upper and lower yield point then the surface develops Lüder
bands.[6] Low-carbon steels contain less carbon than other steels and are easier to cold-form, making them easier to

High-tensile steel
High-tensile steels are low-carbon, or steels at the lower end of the medium-carbon range, which have additional
alloying ingredients in order to increase their strength, wear properties or specifically tensile strength. These alloying
ingredients include chromium, molybdenum, silicon, manganese, nickel and vanadium. Impurities such as
phosphorus or sulphur have their maximum allowable content restricted.

41xx steel

4140 steel
4145 steel
4340 steel

300M steel
EN25 steel – 2.5% nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel
EN26 steel

Higher-carbon steels
Carbon steels which can successfully undergo heat-treatment have a carbon content in the range of 0.30–1.70% by
weight. Trace impurities of various other elements can have a significant effect on the quality of the resulting steel.
Trace amounts of sulfur in particular make the steel red-short, that is, brittle and crumbly at working temperatures.
Low-alloy carbon steel, such as A36 grade, contains about 0.05% sulfur and melts around 1,426–1,538 °C (2,599–
2,800 °F).[8] Manganese is often added to improve the hardenability of low-carbon steels. These additions turn the
material into a low-alloy steel by some definitions, but AISI's definition of carbon steel allows up to 1.65% manganese
by weight.

AISI Classification
Carbon steel is broken down into four classes based on carbon content:[1]

Low-carbon steel
0.05 to 0.30% carbon (plain carbon steel) content..[1]

Medium-carbon steel
Approximately 0.3–0.6% carbon content.[1] Balances ductility and strength and has good wear resistance; used for
large parts, forging and automotive components.[9][10] 2/6
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High-carbon steel
Approximately 0.60 to 1.00% carbon content.[1] Very strong, used for springs, edged tools, and high-strength wires.[11]

Ultra-high-carbon steel
Approximately 1.25–2.0% carbon content.[1] Steels that can be tempered to great hardness. Used for special purposes
like (non-industrial-purpose) knives, axles or punches. Most steels with more than 2.5% carbon content are made
using powder metallurgy.

Heat treatment
The purpose of heat treating carbon steel is to change the mechanical
properties of steel, usually ductility, hardness, yield strength, or impact
resistance. Note that the electrical and thermal conductivity are only
slightly altered. As with most strengthening techniques for steel, Young's
modulus (elasticity) is unaffected. All treatments of steel trade ductility for
increased strength and vice versa. Iron has a higher solubility for carbon in
the austenite phase; therefore all heat treatments, except spheroidizing and
process annealing, start by heating the steel to a temperature at which the
austenitic phase can exist. The steel is then quenched (heat drawn out) at a
moderate to low rate allowing carbon to diffuse out of the austenite Iron-carbon phase diagram,
forming iron-carbide (cementite) and leaving ferrite, or at a high rate, showing the temperature and
trapping the carbon within the iron thus forming martensite. The rate at carbon ranges for certain types of
which the steel is cooled through the eutectoid temperature (about 727°C) heat treatments.
affects the rate at which carbon diffuses out of austenite and forms
cementite. Generally speaking, cooling swiftly will leave iron carbide finely
dispersed and produce a fine grained pearlite and cooling slowly will give a coarser pearlite. Cooling a hypoeutectoid
steel (less than 0.77 wt% C) results in a lamellar-pearlitic structure of iron carbide layers with α-ferrite (nearly pure
iron) between. If it is hypereutectoid steel (more than 0.77 wt% C) then the structure is full pearlite with small grains
(larger than the pearlite lamella) of cementite formed on the grain boundaries. A eutectoid steel (0.77% carbon) will
have a pearlite structure throughout the grains with no cementite at the boundaries. The relative amounts of
constituents are found using the lever rule. The following is a list of the types of heat treatments possible:

Spheroidizing: Spheroidite forms when carbon steel is heated to approximately 700 °C for over 30 hours.
Spheroidite can form at lower temperatures but the time needed drastically increases, as this is a diffusion-
controlled process. The result is a structure of rods or spheres of cementite within primary structure (ferrite or
pearlite, depending on which side of the eutectoid you are on). The purpose is to soften higher carbon steels and
allow more formability. This is the softest and most ductile form of steel. The adjacent image shows where
spheroidizing usually occurs.[12]
Full annealing: Carbon steel is heated to approximately 40 °C above Ac3? or Acm? for 1 hour; this ensures all
the ferrite transforms into austenite (although cementite might still exist if the carbon content is greater than the
eutectoid). The steel must then be cooled slowly, in the realm of 20 °C (36 °F) per hour. Usually it is just furnace
cooled, where the furnace is turned off with the steel still inside. This results in a coarse pearlitic structure, which
means the "bands" of pearlite are thick.[13] Fully annealed steel is soft and ductile, with no internal stresses, which
is often necessary for cost-effective forming. Only spheroidized steel is softer and more ductile.[14]
Process annealing: A process used to relieve stress in a cold-worked carbon steel with less than 0.3% C. The
steel is usually heated to 550–650 °C for 1 hour, but sometimes temperatures as high as 700 °C. The image
rightward shows the area where process annealing occurs.
Isothermal annealing: It is a process in which hypoeutectoid steel is heated above the upper critical
temperature. This temperature is maintained for a time and then reduced to below the lower critical temperature
and is again maintained. It is then cooled to room temperature. This method eliminates any temperature gradient.
Normalizing: Carbon steel is heated to approximately 55 °C above Ac3 or Acm for 1 hour; this ensures the steel
completely transforms to austenite. The steel is then air-cooled, which is a cooling rate of approximately 38 °C 3/6
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(100 °F) per minute. This results in a fine pearlitic structure, and a more-uniform structure. Normalized steel has a
higher strength than annealed steel; it has a relatively high strength and hardness.[15]
Quenching: Carbon steel with at least 0.4 wt% C is heated to normalizing temperatures and then rapidly cooled
(quenched) in water, brine, or oil to the critical temperature. The critical temperature is dependent on the carbon
content, but as a general rule is lower as the carbon content increases. This results in a martensitic structure; a
form of steel that possesses a super-saturated carbon content in a deformed body-centered cubic (BCC)
crystalline structure, properly termed body-centered tetragonal (BCT), with much internal stress. Thus quenched
steel is extremely hard but brittle, usually too brittle for practical purposes. These internal stresses may cause
stress cracks on the surface. Quenched steel is approximately three times harder (four with more carbon) than
normalized steel.[16]
Martempering (Marquenching): Martempering is not actually a tempering procedure, hence the term
"marquenching". It is a form of isothermal heat treatment applied after an initial quench, typically in a molten salt
bath, at a temperature just above the "martensite start temperature". At this temperature, residual stresses within
the material are relieved and some bainite may be formed from the retained austenite which did not have time to
transform into anything else. In industry, this is a process used to control the ductility and hardness of a material.
With longer marquenching, the ductility increases with a minimal loss in strength; the steel is held in this solution
until the inner and outer temperatures of the part equalize. Then the steel is cooled at a moderate speed to keep
the temperature gradient minimal. Not only does this process reduce internal stresses and stress cracks, but it
also increases the impact resistance.[17]
Tempering: This is the most common heat treatment encountered, because the final properties can be precisely
determined by the temperature and time of the tempering. Tempering involves reheating quenched steel to a
temperature below the eutectoid temperature then cooling. The elevated temperature allows very small amounts
of spheroidite to form, which restores ductility, but reduces hardness. Actual temperatures and times are carefully
chosen for each composition.[18]
Austempering: The austempering process is the same as martempering, except the quench is interrupted and
the steel is held in the molten salt bath at temperatures between 205°C and 540°C, and then cooled at a
moderate rate. The resulting steel, called bainite, produces an acicular microstructure in the steel that has great
strength (but less than martensite), greater ductility, higher impact resistance, and less distortion than martensite
steel. The disadvantage of austempering is it can be used only on a few steels, and it requires a special salt

Case hardening
Case hardening processes harden only the exterior of the steel part, creating a hard, wear resistant skin (the "case")
but preserving a tough and ductile interior. Carbon steels are not very hardenable meaning they can not be hardened
throughout thick sections. Alloy steels have a better hardenability, so they can be through-hardened and do not
require case hardening. This property of carbon steel can be beneficial, because it gives the surface good wear
characteristics but leaves the core tough.

Forging temperature of steel

[20] 4/6
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Steel Type Maximum forging temperature (°F / °C) Burning temperature (°F / °C)
1.5% carbon 1920 / 1049 2080 / 1140
1.1% carbon 1980 / 1082 2140 / 1171
0.9% carbon 2050 / 1121 2230 / 1221
0.5% carbon 2280 / 1249 2460 / 1349
0.2% carbon 2410 / 1321 2680 / 1471
3.0% nickel steel 2280 / 1249 2500 / 1371
3.0% nickel–chromium steel 2280 / 1249 2500 / 1371
5.0% nickel (case-hardening) steel 2320 / 1271 2640 / 1449
Chromium–vanadium steel 2280 / 1249 2460 / 1349
High-speed steel 2370 / 1299 2520 / 1385
Stainless steel 2340 / 1282 2520 / 1385
Austenitic chromium–nickel steel 2370 / 1299 2590 / 1420
Silico-manganese spring steel 2280 / 1249 2460 / 1350

See also
Cold working
Hot working

1. "Classification of Carbon and Low-Alloy Steels" (
2. Knowles, Peter Reginald (1987), Design of structural steelwork (
cC&pg=PA1) (2nd ed.), Taylor & Francis, p. 1, ISBN 978-0-903384-59-9.
3. Engineering fundamentals page on low-carbon steel (
4. Elert, Glenn, Density of Steel (, retrieved 23 April
5. Modulus of Elasticity, Strength Properties of Metals – Iron and Steel (
g_spec/properties_of_metals_strength.htm), retrieved 23 April 2009.
6. Degarmo, p. 377.
7. "Low-carbon steels" ( efunda. Retrieved
25 May 2012.
8. Ameristeel article on carbon steel ( Archived (htt
ps:// 18
October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
9. Nishimura, Naoya; Murase, Katsuhiko; Ito, Toshihiro; Watanabe, Takeru; Nowak, Roman. "Ultrasonic detection of
spall damage induced by low-velocity repeated impact". Central European Journal of Engineering. 2 (4): 650–655.
doi:10.2478/s13531-012-0013-5 (
10. Engineering fundamentals page on medium-carbon steel (
11. Engineering fundamentals page on high-carbon steel (
12. Smith, p. 388 5/6
4/22/2019 Carbon steel - Wikipedia

13. Alvarenga HD, Van de Putte T, Van Steenberge N, Sietsma J, Terryn H (April 2009). "Influence of Carbide
Morphology and Microstructure on the Kinetics of Superficial Decarburization of C-Mn Steels". Metal Mater Trans
A. doi:10.1007/s11661-014-2600-y (
14. Smith, p. 386
15. Smith, pp. 386–387
16. Smith, pp. 373–377
17. Smith, pp. 389–390
18. Smith, pp. 387–388
19. Smith, p. 391
20. Brady, George S.; Clauser, Henry R.; Vaccari A., John (1997). Materials Handbook (14th ed.). New York, NY:
McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-007084-9.

Degarmo, E. Paul; Black, J T.; Kohser, Ronald A. (2003), Materials and Processes in Manufacturing (9th ed.),
Wiley, ISBN 0-471-65653-4.
Oberg, E.; et al. (1996), Machinery's Handbook (25th ed.), Industrial Press Inc, ISBN 0-8311-2599-3.
Smith, William F.; Hashemi, Javad (2006), Foundations of Materials Science and Engineering (4th ed.), McGraw-
Hill, ISBN 0-07-295358-6.

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