Carbon steel, also called plain carbon steel, is a malleable, iron-based metal containing carbon, small amounts of manganese, and other elements that are inherently present. Steels can either be cast to shape or wrought into various mill forms from which finished parts are formed, machined, forged, stamped, or otherwise shaped.
Cast steels are poured to near-final shape in sand molds. The castings are then heat treated to achieve specified properties and machined to required dimensions.
Wrought steel undergoes two operations. First, it is either poured into ingots or strand cast. Then, the metal is reheated and hot rolled into the finished, wrought form. Hot-rolled steel is characterized by a scaled surface and a decarburized skin. Hot-rolled bars may be subsequently finished in a two-part process. First, acid pickling or shot blasting removes scale. Then, cold drawing through a die and restraightening improves surface properties and strength. Hot-rolled steel may also be cold finished by metal-removal processes such as turning or grinding. Wrought steel can be subsequently heat treated to improve machinability or to adjust mechanical properties.
Carbon steels may be specified by chemical composition, mechanical properties, method of deoxidation, or thermal treatment (and the resulting microstructure).
Composition: Wrought steels are most often specified by composition. No single element controls the characteristics of a steel; rather, the combined effects of several elements influence hardness, machinability, corrosion resistance, tensile strength, deoxidation of the solidifying metal, and microstructure of the solidified metal.
Effects of carbon, the principal hardening and strengthening element in steel, include increased hardness and strength and decreased weldability and ductility. For plain carbon steels, about 0.2 to 0.25% C provides the best machinability. Above and below this level, machinability is generally lower for hot-rolled steels.
Mechanical properties: Cast and wrought products are often specified to meet distinct mechanical requirements in structural applications where forming and machining are not extensive. When steels are specified by mechanical properties only, the producer is free to adjust the analysis of the steel (within limits) to obtain the required properties. Properties may vary with cross section and part size.
Mechanical tests are usually specified under one of two conditions: mechanical test requirements and no chemical limits on any element, or mechanical test requirements and chemical limits on one or more elements, provided that such requirements are technologically compatible.
Free-machining steels: Several free-machining carbon steels are available as castings and as hot-rolled or cold-drawn bar stock and plate. Machinability in steels can be improved in several ways.
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