Why Understanding the Different Types of Engineering Steel is Important.

Posted: 11 Apr 22

Let’s start with the basics. Steel is a type of alloy made up of iron to create its strength. It’s used across the world in commonly known areas such as car manufacture, frameworks, bridges, and pipelines to more obscure areas like cutlery, sunglasses, and handrails. But all this steel comes in many different grades that are chosen to suite the application. So how can we understand the differences? That’s where this blog comes in.

It’s not unusual to wonder about the differences between steel, especially if you’re a business that specialises in using steel for your products, or you are venturing into a new hobby such as blacksmithing or knife making. The important thing is understanding the different types and knowing what works best for the application. The types of steel that will be discussed in this blog are mild steel and tool steel.

Mild steel is a metal that is made from alloy and carbon. The amount of carbon in mild steel is low, varying from 0.5 to 0.25. It is affordable and is used in mechanical engineering applications for parts that will not be subject to high stress. Different grades of mild steel include EN1A (also known as 230M07PD) and EN3B (also known as 080A15). Both grades are useful in their own way depending on the application.

EN1A is most suitable for free cutting. It has increased straightness and a cleaner finish. It is also cold drawn which means the Steel can be brought closer to the finished machine size, providing reductions in machining costs. EN1A is often used for:

  • Brake pistons, wheel nuts, and inserts
  • Brake hose ends, hydraulic parts
  • Control linkages, low-stress hubs, shafts, casings, and handles
  • Padlock vice jaws, shackles
  • Nuts, studs, and bolts
  • Gearbox components

EN3B grade is used for welding and can be used in more engineering applications. It is more suitable for low stress and where heat treatment isn’t involved. EN3B is used for:

  • Shafts and rollers
  • Machinery parts
  • Spindles and axles
  • Engineering applications
  • Bushings and bolts
  • Brackets, linkages, and base plates

The second type of steel is tool steel. Tool steel is very hard steel that can be tampered with by melting the material to create different tools. Tool steel is wear and heat resistant and incredibly strong. It is usually used in high-impact environments that are very abrasive.

Tool steel is used in a variety of ways to best serve the requirements. The different types of tool steel include air-hardening, water-hardening, oil-hardening, high-speed, hot-working and shock-resisting. Different applications for tool steel include:

  • Forming, cutting, and shearing of plastics and metals
  • Extrusion of plastic sections e.g., vinyl window frames
  • Slitting of steel coils

The three types of tool steel we sell at Steel Products Direct are D2, 01 and H13.

D2 is a high carbon, high chromium, molybdenum, vanadium air hardening tool steel that offers increased resistance against abrasive wear due to a high volume of hard carbides in the steel. D2 tool steel hardens in air with a low order of movement and offers a measure of corrosion resistance when polished. Commonly used for tools operating under conditions of severe wear and abrasion or as an alternative to oil hardening tool steel grades when long runs are required.

Features of D2 include:

  • Water Resistant
  • Heat Treatable
  • High resistance against abrasive wear
  • Good dimension stability
  • High toughness and strength
  • Good general purpose tool steel

Due to D2’s high toughness and strength, this makes it perfect for burnishing, centres and use in cold weather. It’s abrasion resit makes it suitable for wire drawing and its edge and abrasion good for shaving and wire glass slitting.

Size Range: 10mm to 600mm+

H13 steel is an air hardening steel which can be used for a range of applications such as hot forging and pressing dies. As a reliable hot work steel, it is suitable for a wide variety of applications. It combines very good red-hardness with toughness and tools may be water-cooled in service. H13 may be cold-hobbed in the annealed condition.

Features of H13 include:

  • High strength and hardness
  • Good resistance to thermal softening
  • High toughness
  • Resistance to heat

H13 Hardness makes it perfect for use in pins, forging/coining hot and nozzles.

01 steel is a cold, hardening steel that offers good durability and is a good general purpose tool steel. 01 steel can be hardened in oil and is wear resistance.

It’s stability and precise size controls make it good for use in straight edges, stripper plates, spindles, and cams. O1 tool steel offers good durability, is also excellent wear resistance, and holds a good cutting edge. These properties make it an excellent general purpose tool steel that can often be used where the expense of a high carbon high chromium tool steel would not be justified.

Features of 01 include:

  • Hardened in oil
  • Better at avoiding cracking
  • Can be manipulated to change size easily
  • Wear-resistance
  •  Low-end with high carbon and manganese

Overall steel can be complicated due its different types, properties and applications but having a better understanding of steel helps to make an exact match for the application.