Stainless Steel vs Carbon Steel – What’s The Difference?

You could say that both carbon steel and stainless steel are ‘modern metals’. That doesn’t mean modern in the sense of new, because carbon steel, in particular, has been manufactured in one form or another since 500AD, when it was first used in sword making. Instead, we’re talking about ‘modern’ in the sense that they’re both used on many contemporary structures, machinery, vehicles and apparatus. From the latest kitchen knives and vehicles through to jaw-dropping architecture, stainless steel and carbon steel, epitomise modernity like no other metals can.

That said, they do have their differences and if you’re trying to understand the right metal to use for your project, then you really need to know what those are.

Varying degrees of alloys – It’s all about the percentages!

The main difference between the two materials is the main element content. Or rather the percentage each holds. Steel as a material is made up both iron and carbon and it’s the carbon percentage that can vary depending upon whether it’s carbon or stainless steel.

For example in steel, the carbon percentage can vary between 0.2% and 2.1%. In addition, when other elements like tungsten, manganese and chromium are added, it affects the inner properties of the metal making it more durable, or having a higher tensile strength, etc.

Alternatively, in carbon steel (and as the name suggests) the main element is, of course, carbon! Other elements are present, such as silicone and copper, however unlike steel, these are too low in quantity to affect the internal properties of the metal. That said because carbon steel contains more carbon it does mean that the material is more malleable, has a lower melting point, and has better heat distribution.

So how can you tell at a glance?

When you hold a piece of stainless steel you should notice a lustrous sheen to it. This is increased the more chromium you add until you have a beautifully mirrored, stainless steel finish. On the flip side, carbon steel has a dull greyish matte finish, comparable to a cast iron pot or a wrought iron fence, so it’s unlikely to win any awards in the aesthetics department.

Stainless steel vs carbon steel – best use

As a result, stainless steel is mainly used in construction and design and on many products where aesthetics are key. Whereas, carbon steel is often used in machinery, car parts and manufacturing whereby the metal is hidden from view.

Here at Metro Steel we design and fabricate a wide range of stainless steel apparatus including fence posts, stairs, beams, bollards, and balustrades. We also make parts to order, so if you’re looking for a fabrication depot who can turn your designs into cold hard steel, give our Kabi Circuit fab shop a call on 07 3204 1000 today!

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