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Carbon steel, or plain-carbon steel, is a metal alloy. It is a combination of two elements, iron and carbon. It is separated into three main subcategories – high carbon steel, medium carbon steel, and low carbon steel.
Low-carbon steel is the most widely used form of carbon steel. These steels usually have a carbon content of less than 0.25 wt.%. They cannot be hardened by heat treatment (to form martensite) so this is usually achieved by cold work.
Carbon steels are usually relatively soft and have low strength. They do, however, have high ductility, making them excellent for machining, welding and low cost.
High-strength, low-alloy steels (HSLA) are also often classified as low-carbon steels, HSLA are more resistant to corrosion than plain low-carbon steels.
Medium-carbon steel has a carbon content of 0.25 – 0.60 wt.% and a manganese content of 0.60 – 1.65 wt.%. The mechanical properties of this steel are improved via heat treatment involving autenitising followed by quenching and tempering, giving them a martensitic microstructure.
High-carbon steel has a carbon content of 0.60– 1.25 wt.% and a manganese content of 0.30 – 0.90 wt.%. It has the highest hardness and toughness of the carbon steels and the lowest ductility. High-carbon steels are very wear-resistant as a result of the fact that they are almost always hardened and tempered.