carbon steel vs alloy steel

Carbon Steel VS Alloy Steel: The Better Choice For Welding?

When it comes to the world of welding, there’s no other material that is more popular than steel. A combination of iron and other materials, steel has been used for centuries for making weapons, creating structures, and of course, welding! 

And if you didn’t know, there are different types of steels available, including carbon steel, alloy steel, stainless steel, and boron steel, among others. You will probably weld steel more often than any other material, so it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the differences between the different types of this metal.

In fact, anybody with even a little bit of time welding will eventually ask themselves the question: should I use carbon steel or alloy steel for welding? 

It’s a pretty common question given the fact that these are the 2 most common steel types, and when it comes to the answer, most experienced welders will corroborate: Carbon steel is superior than alloy steel for welding. This is because of several reasons. 

The first one is that the lack of other materials other than carbon in the iron will improve the weldability of the steel. That is, it’s gonna be much simpler and easier to weld if the steel doesn’t have elements like silicon, magnesium or boron.

The second reason is pricing: carbon steel is significantly cheaper than alloy steel. Since most of the steel used in the USA is carbon steel, the material is dirt cheap, or at least when compared to alloy steel, which tends to be used for more niche applications. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, alloy steel is still a great material for welding, but if you are just starting out on your welding journey, it’s recommended that you start out with carbon steel so that you can learn the ropes of the trade. 

Types Of Carbon Steel And Pros & Cons Of Each For Welding

If you didn’t know, there are several types of different carbon steel types. The one that you choose will depend a lot of what you are trying to do, so for a more comprehensive profile of each steel type, check below!

Low Carbon Or Mild Steel

carbon steel vs alloy steelOut of all the carbon steels, this is the easiest to weld with. This steel type gets its name because of the fact that it has a very small amount of carbon joined with iron. To be more specific, low carbon steel has less than 0.2% percent carbon, and this makes this steel lack resistance, but it also makes it cheap and easy to work with and weld. This is the most common type of steel in the USA, and you shouldn’t have any problems finding it near your area. 

When it comes to welding, low carbon steel is also perfect because you can weld it with any kind of welding equipment. There are some materials that require specific equipment to weld them. Not low carbon steel though. You will be able to weld this type of steel with any type of gear and shielding gas.

High Carbon Steel

High carbon steel, as the name implies, contains much more carbon than the other 2 types of steels, with more than 1% carbon being common on these. This amount of carbon makes this steel very tough and well suited for uses in knives, railroad tracks, and other applications that require very hard steel. 

But there’s one problem with this: High carbon reduces the weldability of steel. This is the reason why high-carbon is not as popular in the welding community as low carbon steel. In fact, high carbon steel requires significant preheating or else the material will most likely crack. 

There’s also one disadvantage of using high carbon steel for welding: it’s more expensive than most other materials. As I said above, this material tends to be used for more specific applications and so the prices are much higher than low carbon steel. High carbon steel can be more than twice the cost than low carbon steel per part. 

I personally only use this steel if I can get it for very cheap. It’s a pain to work with and everything you can do with it you can do with low carbon steel.

There’s also a type of carbon steel called medium carbon steel, which as the name implies, contains more carbon than low carbon steel but more than high carbon steel. Consider this an okay welding option, but you should ideally go for low carbon steel when you have the choice

Types Of Alloy Steel And Which Ones Should You Choose For Welding

First of all, it’s important that you know about what alloy steel really means. The truth is that all steel is an alloy. An alloy is defined as a mix of metals and nonmetals, and this combination gives the new material a desirable characteristic, such as improved hardness or more resistance to heat. 

Both carbon steel and alloy steel are considered alloys, but one differentiates from another by the fact that alloy steel contains non-metals such as manganese and aluminum in significant quantities, while carbon steel only contains a trace amount of them. The nonmetals will give the steel special characteristics. For example, stainless steel is an alloy that contains significant amounts of chromium and just a little bit of carbon.  There are 2 main types of alloy steel: high-alloy and low-alloy steel.

High-alloy steel

As the name implies, high-alloy steel will contain high (over 5%) amounts of non metals, including manganese, nickel, and chromium, among other nonmetals. This steel is very hard and is often used in some special applications such as spaceships, power tools, and some automobile parts. 

If you are reading this article, then you probably won’t be using high alloy steels. They are expensive to purchase and often hard to find. And if you do find them, they require some special instructions to avoid complications and that proper welding is done. For example, welding stainless steel will produce toxic fumes that can damage your body’s cells. The same thing can happen with countless other high-alloy steels, so if you are interested in welding them, make sure you speak with an experienced welder to make sure you are safe before doing so. 

Low Alloy Steels

Low alloy steels will contain less than 5% nonmetals other than carbon. They are similar to high-alloy steels in that they are used to improve the hardness, corrosion or heat resistance of the material, but since they have fewer nonmetals in them, they will not do as good a job as high alloy steels.

Compared to high alloy steels, low alloy steels are both easier to find and cheaper too. They tend to be easier to weld than high alloy steels because they are purer, but they can be dangerous just like them. Please talk to an experienced welder if you are thinking of welding it.

Conclude

So to summarize, carbon steel is much better than alloy steel, at least for welding. It’s cheaper, it’s easier to weld, it’s easier to find, and it’s also safer. But you could still use alloy steels instead if you prefer. I personally would only recommend that you do so if you are pretty experienced though.

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