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We see steel objects in every aspect of our lives. Steel is used in the cars we drive, the bridges our cars drive over, and the massive buildings that reach towards the heavens. There are small items made from steel, as well as big things.

There are four basic classifications of steel. Certain classifications are only used for specific projects or items. There is a cost difference associated with making these different types of steel as well.

Just as there are hundreds of things in our lives made of steel, there are different types of steel used to make them. Here are the four common types of steel and a few examples of the products we use every day that are made from them.

Tool Steel

The first type of steel we’ll explain is called tool steel, or tool-grade steel. It is a type of steel composed of various important alloying elements. The actual final product is critical in determining the quantity that each of these elements exists.

These elements used in making tool steel are cobalt, tungsten, vanadium and molybdenum. Again the blend of these four elements is relative to the hardness and pliability of the final steel product.

The amount of these four alloying elements will also dictate how durable and heat-resistant the final product will be. These differences in the final composition will also dictate what items can be made from the finished steel. Here are some ways tool steel is used.

Steel pipe and tubing 

  • Steel pipe and tubing – H-group tool steel is specifically made to withstand cutting and shaping at extremely high temperatures.

Flanges, Fittings and Valves – pipe flanges and fittings

  • Flanges, Fittings and Valves – For the same reason, different series of tool steel is commonly used in pipe flanges and fittings. High temperature valves are also made using this type of steel.

Tools, Appliances and Auto Parts – tool steel

  • Tools, Appliances and Auto Parts – Logically, tool steel has the necessary characteristics for hundreds of different tools. Depending on the hardness and resistance traits, tool steel is also used in certain car parts and different components on appliances.

Alloy Steel

The second most common type of steel is called alloy steel. There are other materials in the final chemical composition. This type of steel will have varying levels of aluminum, chromium, copper, manganese and nickel.

High grades of alloy steel may also contain silicon and titanium in different amounts. There are two groups of alloy steel, low alloys and high alloys. The category of an alloy steel depends on the percentage of elements.

Many high alloy steels are designated in a specific category of steel, but not as a true alloy steel. Common low alloy steels comprise most of the final products manufactured using this type of steel. The types of alloy steel items include:

Pipeline –used for long stretches of pipeline

  • Pipeline – Alloy steel is a common type used for long stretches of pipeline. With a higher percentage of nickel and silicon, the steel will stronger and have a higher resistance to corrosion.

Electric Motors, Generators and Transformers –alloy steel

  • Electric Motors, Generators and Transformers – An extra percentage of tungsten in an alloy steel raises the melting point. This is important in large motors and generators that are subject to intense heat.

Carbon Steel

Like other types of steel, carbon steel has different classifications. There are essentially three classes of carbon steel, low carbon or mild steel, medium carbon steel and high carbon steel.

These three classifications are defined by the percentage of carbon. Anything carbon content up to 0.3-percent is low carbon. From 0.3-percent to 0.6-percent is considered medium carbon, with a carbon content of more than 0.6-percent categorized as high carbon steel.

The percentage of carbon not only establishes the category for each type of carbon steel, but limits what final products that can be made using it. Here are a few products made with various types of carbon steel.

Fasteners and Bolts –

  • Fasteners and Bolts – Standard nuts and bolts are made using the lowest grade of carbon steel. Occasionally, the percentage level of carbon can drop slightly below the 0.3-percent mark.

Hand tools –

  • Hand tools – Small hand tools such as screwdrivers and pliers are commonly made with medium carbon steel. Less expensive tools may use low carbon. Gears, shafts and higher strength nuts and bolts may also use medium carbon steel.

Aircraft Landing Gear –types of welded and seamless tubing

  • Aircraft Landing Gear – The most common use for high carbon steel is in the aircraft industry. High carbon steel is also necessary in automatic transmission gears and many types of welded and seamless tubing.

Stainless Steel

The final category of steel is the one with the most limited number of final products. Part of the reason is the more extensive the process of arriving at stainless steel. Stainless steel has the ultimate resistance to corrosion.

Like the other types of steel, stainless steel is broken down into sub-categories by the percentage of different elements. With stainless steel it primarily involves the percentage of chromium, nickel and carbon.

Austentitic stainless steel has the highest percentage of chromium and nickel. It will have at least an 18-percent level of chromium and around 8-percent nickel. Ferritic stainless steel has less chromium, between 12 and 17-percent, and only a trace of nickel.

Each of the first two types of stainless will also contain less than 1-percent carbon. Martensitic stainless steel has roughly the same level of chromium, but less than a half a percent of nickel and a full 1.2-percent carbon. Here a few of the thousands of products made using stainless steel.

Personal Hygiene Products –

  • Personal Hygiene Products – This category of things that are made using stainless steel includes, nail clippers, razor blades and eyeglasses.

Utensils and Kitchenware –

  • Utensils and Kitchenware – One of the earliest uses of stainless steel was for surgical supplies. This type of use expanded into kitchen knives and utensils. High quality scissors are also frequently made with stainless steel.

Appliances –

  • Appliances – There are now entire lines of appliances made with stainless steel. A stainless steel kitchen is the ultimate modern look.

Stainless Steel Pipe – Stainless steel pipe

  • Stainless Steel Pipe – The oil and gas industry uses miles of stainless steel pipe because of its high resistance to corrosion. Stainless steel pipe is also excellent for high pressure and high temperature operations.

These are the four basic types of steel. Each has an important purpose in building the thousands of steel items we use in our lives. Certain steel products use different compositions of these four main categories. But, these are the four basic types and the differences between them, plus a few things we see and use very day.