Carbon steel, also called plain carbon steel, is steel where the main alloying constituent is carbon. The AISI defines carbon steel as: “Steel is considered to be carbon steel when no minimum content is specified or required for chromium, cobalt, columbium [niobium], molybdenum, nickel, titanium, tungsten, vanadium or zirconium, or any other element to be added to obtain a desired alloying effect; when the specified minimum for copper does not exceed 0.40 per cent; or when the maximum content specified for any of the following elements does not exceed the percentages noted: manganese 1.65, silicon 0.60, copper 0.60.”
The term “carbon steel” may also be used in reference to steel which is not stainless steel; in this use carbon steel may include alloy steels.
Steel with a low carbon content has properties similar to iron. As the carbon content rises, the metal becomes harder and stronger but less ductile and more difficult to weld. In general, higher carbon content lowers the melting point and its temperature resistance. Carbon content influences the yield strength of steel because carbon atoms fit into the interstitial crystal lattice sites of the body-centered cubic (BCC) arrangement of the iron atoms. The interstitial carbon reduces the mobility of dislocations, which in turn has a hardening effect on the iron. To get dislocations to move, a high enough stress level must be applied in order for the dislocations to “break away”. This is because the interstitial carbon atoms cause some of the iron BCC lattice cells to distort.
85% of all steel used in the U.S. is carbon steel.