Mild Steel vs Carbon Steel: Types, Uses, and Manufacturing

Is carbon steel superior to mild steel? It’s a trick question since mild steel falls under the carbon steel category.

Carbon is a fundamental element found in all steel varieties. The resulting alloy is classified as carbon steel when carbon is the primary alloying element. Mild steel is also known as “low-carbon” steel due to its lower carbon content. There are various carbon steels, each with different levels of carbon. The suitability of one over the other largely depends on the specific use or application the steel is intended for.

Types of Carbon Steel

Carbon steel, the most commonly utilized material in engineering, makes up about 85% of the global annual steel production. Its carbon content ranges from 0.25% to 2.0% carbon. This broad spectrum offers varied properties, from increased hardness and strength to improved wear resistance, making it suitable for various demanding applications. The classification into low, medium, and high carbon steel further tailors its uses to specific needs. 

  • Mild Steel or Low Carbon Steel: Mild steel is characterized by its notably low carbon content, typically less than 0.25%. This minimal carbon composition renders it more malleable and ductile than higher carbon steels, making it exceptionally easy to weld, cut, and form. This affordability, weldability, and versatility make mild steel a staple in various industries and applications.

Key applications include:

  • Construction: Due to its weldability and strength, it is used in building frames, beams, and structural components.
  • Automotive: Forms a large part of the automotive body, including car chassis and panels, offering a good balance of strength and formability.
  • Furniture: Provides a cost-effective option for metal furniture frames, thanks to its ease of shaping and joining.
  • Decorative Ironwork: Favored for gates, railings, and decorative items, where its ability to be easily shaped and molded into intricate designs is a significant advantage.
  • Machinery Parts: Mild steel is often used for components that require a certain degree of pliability without sacrificing structural integrity, such as brackets and frames.
  • Medium Carbon Steel: This type balances ductility and strength with a carbon content ranging from 0.25% to 0.5%. It’s often used to manufacture gears, rails, and machinery parts requiring higher tensile strength and wear resistance.
  • High Carbon Steel: The carbon content ranges from 0.5 to 1.25%, offering the highest level of strength and hardness. This makes it ideal for high-strength wires, springs, cutting tools, and blades, where durability and resistance to wear are paramount.

Mild Steel vs. High Carbon Steel: 6 Key Differences Between

FactorMild SteelHigh Carbon Steel
1. Carbon ContentLess than 0.25%0.5 to 1.25%
2. Mechanical StrengthLower compared to high carbon steelHigher due to greater carbon content
3. DuctilityHigher, more easily shapedLower, especially in high-carbon varieties
4. Corrosion ResistanceLess resistant to corrosionMore resistant, particularly high-carbon varieties
5. WeldabilityBetter, and easier to weld due to lower carbon contentVariable, but generally lower especially for high-carbon steel
6. CostGenerally lowerGenerally higher, varies with carbon content

*Mild Steel vs. High Carbon Steel Comparison Table

Manufacturing Process of Carbon Steel

The manufacturing process involves several intricate stages, each crucial in determining the final product’s properties and quality.

Primary Processes

Through the BOF process, steel can be produced using entirely recycled materials or a blend of recycled and virgin steel.

  • Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF): The primary method for producing mild and carbon steel involves transforming raw materials like iron ore and coke into liquid steel. The process begins with charging the furnace with scrap metal, iron ore, and fluxes. Oxygen is then blown into the furnace at supersonic speeds, which oxidizes impurities like carbon, silicon, and phosphorus. The heat from the oxidation reactions further melts the iron ore, resulting in liquid steel. The liquid steel is then cast into molds to form slabs or ingots, ready for further processing.

Secondary Processes

Market demands for higher-quality steel products have spurred the development of secondary steelmaking processes, allowing manufacturers to tailor the steel composition to produce low carbon steel, medium carbon steel, or high carbon steel.

  • Electric Arc Furnace (EAF): In this process, the steel composition is altered by adding or removing specific components or manipulating the temperature. 

EAF processes include:

  • Stirring: Separating non-metallic impurities to ensure the steel’s homogeneous combination and composition.
  • Ladle furnace: Enables precise temperature control and the measured injection of alloy components.
  • Ladle injection: Inert gas is injected into the bottom of the steel bath to achieve a stirring effect.
  • Degassing: Removes hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen while lowering the product’s sulfur content.
  • Composition adjustment: Crucial for achieving stirring, often done through sealed argon bubbling with oxygen blowing (CAS-OB).
  • Deoxidizing Steel: Eliminating oxygen is vital in secondary steelmaking. As molten steel solidifies, oxygen reacts with carbon, producing carbon monoxide gas. Controlling deoxidation can alter the material properties of the final product, affecting its suitability for various applications. 

Deoxidizing steel processes include:

  • Rimming steels: Non-deoxidized or partially deoxidized steels.
  • Capped steels: Similar to rimming, but the mold is capped to prevent the creation of carbon monoxide.
  • Semi-killed steels: Partially deoxidized with a carbon content of 0.15–0.3%.
  • Killed steels: Totally deoxidized until no carbon monoxide is produced during solidification.
  • Casting: Traditional casting methods involve pouring molten steel into individual molds on rail cars. Continuous casting, however, allows molten steel to be cast into shapes more suitable for downstream processing using casting machines. Ingots are then moved to soaking pits to be reheated for hot rolling. A continuous casting machine produces steel into slabs, blooms, or billets.

Finishing Processes

  • Rolling: Rolling is critical in shaping steel into its final form. Hot rolling involves heating the steel above its recrystallization temperature and passing it through a series of rollers to achieve the desired shape and dimensions. On the other hand, cold rolling occurs at room temperature and is used further to refine the steel’s surface finish and mechanical properties.
  • Heat Treatment: Heat treatment processes like normalizing, annealing, and quenching modify the steel’s microstructure and mechanical properties. Normalizing involves heating the steel to a specific temperature and cooling it in air, improving grain structure and mechanical properties. Annealing involves heating the steel to a specific temperature and then slowly cooling it to relieve internal stresses and improve ductility. Quenching involves rapidly cooling the steel in a quenching medium to achieve high hardness and strength.
  • Surface Treatment: Surface treatments like hot dip and electrolytic galvanizing are applied to steel to improve its corrosion resistance and appearance. Hot dip galvanizing involves immersing the steel in a bath of molten zinc, while electrolytic galvanizing involves applying a zinc coating using an electric current. These treatments provide long-lasting protection against corrosion and enhance the steel’s aesthetic appeal.
  • Downstream Secondary Processing: Downstream companies further process steel raw materials into finished products through various procedures, such as machining and welding. These processes add value to the steel products and tailor them to specific applications and industries.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Type of Carbon Steel

When selecting the right type of carbon steel for your project, you must weigh various factors to ensure the material meets your needs. 

Here’s what to consider:

Project Requirements

Evaluate the specific strength, durability, and flexibility required for your project. High carbon steel’s resilience is valuable for high-stress environments, whereas mild steel’s versatility may be preferable for less demanding applications. For example, high carbon steel is the best choice for projects requiring a heavy-duty industrial platform under harsh environments due to its unmatched strength and resilience. Conversely, mild steel offers the ideal blend of malleability and structural integrity when crafting lightweight artistic installations.

Corrosion Environment

Consider the corrosion resistance needed for your project. Mild steel often requires additional measures to prevent rust, while high carbon steel, especially high-carbon varieties, naturally offers better resistance. For instance, when crafting a garden trellis or outdoor furniture exposed to rain and humidity, high carbon steel proves resilient against corrosion without extra treatment. Conversely, mild steel may need protective coatings to withstand outdoor conditions.

Cost Efficiency

When deciding between high carbon steel and mild steel, assessing the project’s long-term value and performance requirements ensures you make the optimal investment. Mild steel often provides a more budget-friendly option, offering savings for various projects. This affordability can benefit you as you work on home renovations, build garden structures, or fabricate furniture. Conversely, high carbon steel may come with higher costs but proves valuable in applications requiring greater strength and durability, such as structural components in construction projects.

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Choosing between different carbon steel types requires carefully considering your project’s specific needs. FastMetals stands ready to support your decision with instant pricing, same-day shipment, and no minimum order requirements. Whether a small DIY project or a specialized fabrication task, FastMetals guarantees a seamless, customer-focused experience. Make the right choice today and unlock the potential of your project with FastMetals as your trusted steel supplier.