Carbon steel is a metal alloy that combines iron and carbon. The various uses of carbon steel depend on the amount of carbon added to the alloy; for instance, carbon steel with the lowest amount of carbon is called wrought iron and is used for things like fencing. Medium-carbon steel, also called mild steel, is the type of steel that is used for structural purposes in buildings and bridges. High-carbon steel is used for springs and steel wires, while ultra-high carbon steel is called cast iron and is often used to make pots.
There are two types of steel alloy that are typically familiar to the average person: carbon steel and stainless steel. Carbon steel combines iron with carbon, while stainless steel combines iron with chromium. It is easy for most people to identify stainless steel, because the chromium creates a shiny coating over the metal that is reflective and nonporous, making stainless steel simple to clean and decorative. One of the common definitions of carbon steel is any steel that is not stainless.
Carbon steel with the lowest carbon content is typically called wrought iron; the metal is hard, but not brittle. This type of carbon steel is used for fences, chain links, gates and railings. Its lower carbon content means that it has the flexibility to be “worked” into designs for ornamental purposes.
The most commonly used carbon steel has a medium carbon content; uses of carbon steel in this category include structural steel to build buildings and bridges. It is also used for parts in consumer products like automobiles, refrigerators and washing machines. Ships use medium-carbon steel as a structural component.
High-carbon steel is hard but brittle and less easily worked. The uses of carbon steel in this category are typically for manufacturing purposes. This type of carbon steel is often used to create springs and high-strength wires. The increased hardness makes this category of steel ideal for cutting tools, punches, dies and industrial knives.