Plain carbon steel

Plain carbon steel

Plain carbon steel

Plain carbon steel

Plain carbon steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. It has good machineability and malleability. It is different from cast iron as regards the percentage of carbon. It contains carbon from 0.06 to 1.5% whereas cast iron possesses carbon from 1.8 to 4.2%. Depending upon the carbon content, a plain carbon steels can divided to the following types:

1. Dead carbon steel — up to 0.15% carbon

2. Low carbon or mild steel — 0.15% to 0.45% carbon

3. Medium carbon steel — 0.45% to 0.8% carbon

4. High carbon steel — 0.8% to 1.5% carbon

Each type is discussed as under.


It possesses very low percentage of carbon varying from 0.05 to 0.15%. It has a tensile strength of 390 N/mm2 and a hardness of about 115 BHN. Steel wire, sheets, rivets, screws, pipe, nail and chain are made from this steel. This steel is used for making camshafts, sheets and strips for fan blades, welded tubing, forgings, chains, stamping, rivets, nails, pipes, automobile body etc.


Low carbon steel is sometimes known as mild steel also. It contains 0.20 to 0.30% C which has tensile strength of 555 N/mm2 and hardness of 140 BHN. It possesses bright fibrous structure. It is tough, malleable, ductile and more elastic than wrought iron. It can be easily forged and welded. It can absorb shocks. It rusts easily. Its melting point is about 1410°C. It is used for making angle, channels, case hardening steel, rods, tubes, valves, gears, crankshafts, connecting rods, railway axles, fish plates, small forgings, free cutting steel shaft and forged components etc.

Plain carbon steel


1. Mild steel containing 0.15 to 0.20% carbon

It is used in structure steels, universal beams, screws, drop forgings, case hardening
steel, bars, rods, tubes, angles and channels etc.

2. Mild steel containing 0.20-0.30% carbon

It is used in making machine structure, gears, free cutting steels, shafts and forged
components etc.


Medium carbon steel contains carbon from 0.30 to 0.8%. It possesses having bright fibrous structure when fractured. It is tough and more elastic in comparison to wrought iron.

It can be easily forged, welded, elongated due to ductility and beaten into sheets due to its good malleability. It can easily absorb sudden shocks. It is usually produced as killed or semi killed steels and is harden able by treatment. Hardenability is limited to thin sections or to the thin outer layer on thick parts. Its tensile strength is better than cast iron and wrought iron but compressive strength is better than wrought iron but lesser than cast iron. It rusts readily. Its melting point is 1400°C. It can be easily hardened and it possesses good balance of strength and ductility.

It is generally used for making railway coach axles, bolts, connecting rods, key stock, wires and rods, shift and break levers, spring clips, gear shafts, small and medium forgings, railway coach axles, crank pins on heavy machines, spline shafts, crankshafts, forging dies, set screws, die blocks, self tapping screws, clutch discs, valve springs, plate punches, thrust washers etc. The applications of different kinds of medium carbon steel are given as under.


1. Plain carbon steels having carbon % 0.30 to 0.45. Axles, special duty shafts, connecting rods, forgings, machinery steel, spring clips, turbine, rotors, gear shafts, key stock, forks and bolts.

2. Plain carbon steels having carbon % 0.45 to 0.60. Railway coach axles, crank pins, crankshafts, axles, spline shafts, loco tyres.

3. Plain carbon steels having carbon % 0.60 to 0.80. Drop forging dies, die blocks, bolt heading dies, self-tapping screws, valve spring, lock washers, hammers, cold chisels, hacksaws, jaws for vices etc.


High carbon steels (HCS) contain carbon from 0.8 to 1.5%. Because of their high hardness, these are suitable for wear resistant parts. Spring steel is also high carbon steel. It is available in annealed and pre-tempered strips and wires. High carbon steel loses their hardness at temperature from 200°C to 250°C. They may only be used in the manufacture of cutting tools operating at low cutting speeds. These steels are easy to forge and simple to harden.

These steels are of various types which are identified by the carbon percentage, hardness and applications HCS containing 0.7 to 0.8% carbon possesses hardness of 450-500 BHN. It has application for making cold chisels, drill bits, wrenches, wheels for railway service, jaws for vises, structural wires, shear blades, automatic clutch discs, hacksaws etc.

Steel containing 0.8 to 0.9% C possesses hardness of 500 to 600 BHN. This steel is used for making rock drills, punches, dies, railway rails clutch discs, circular saws, leaf springs, machine chisels, music wires, Steel containing 0.90 to 1.00% carbon is also known as high carbon tool steel and it possesses hardness of 550-600 BHN. Such steel is used for making punches, dies, springs keys and shear blades.

Steel containing 1.0 to 1.1 % C is used for making railway springs, mandrels, taps, balls, pins, tools, thread metal dies. Steel containing 1.1 to 1.2% C is used for making taps, twist drills, thread dies, knives. Steel containing 1.2 to 1.3% carbon is used for making files, reamers Files, dies for wire drawing, broaches, saws for cutting steel, tools for turning chilled iron. Cutting tool materials imply the materials from which various lathe tools or other cutting tools are made. The best tool material to use for a certain job is the one that will produce the machined part at the lowest cost. To perform good during cutting, the tool
material should possess the following properties for its proper functioning.

1. A low coefficient of friction between tool material and chip material.

2. Ability to resist softening at high temperature.

3. Ability to absorb shocks without permanent deformation.

4. Sufficient toughness to resist fracture and bear cutting stresses.

5. Strength to resist disintegration of fine cutting edge and also to withstand the stresses developed, during cutting, in the weakest part of the tool.

6. High hardness that means tool must be harder than the material being cut.

According to Indian standard IS 1570-1961, plain carbon steels are designated by the alphabet ‘C’ followed by numerals which indicate the average percentage of carbon in it. For example C40 means a plain carbon steel containing 0.35% to 0.45% C (0.40% on average), although other elements like manganese may be present. In addition to the percentage of carbon, some other specification may include e.g. C55Mn75 means the carbon content lies between 0.50% to 0.60% and the manganese content lies between 0.60 to 0.90%. It may be noted that only average contents are specified in such designation of steel.

Reference Introduction to basic Manufacturing Processes and Workshop Technology by Rajender Singh.

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