Effects of Common Alloying Elements in Steel



By definition, steel is a combination of iron and carbon. Steel is alloyed with various elements to improve physical properties and to produce special properties such as resistance to corrosion or heat. Specific effects of the addition of such elements are outlined below:

Carbon (C)

The most important constituent of steel. It raises tensile strength, hardness, and resistance to wear and abrasion. It lowers ductility, toughness and machinability.

Chromium (CR)

Increases tensile strength, hardness, hardenability, toughness, resistance to wear and abrasion, resistance to corrosion, and scaling at elevated temperatures.

Cobalt (CO)

Increases strength and hardness and permits higher quenching temperatures and increases the red hardness of high speed steel. It also intensifies the individual effects of other major elements in more complex steels.

Columbium (CB)

Used as stabilizing elements in stainless steels. Each has a high affinity for carbon and forms carbides, which are uniformly dispersed throughout the steel. Thus, localized precipitation of carbides at grain boundaries is prevented.

Copper (CU)

In significant amounts is detrimental to hot-working steels. Copper negatively affects forge welding, but does not seriously affect arc or oxyacetylene welding. Copper can be detrimental to surface quality. Copper is beneficial to atmospheric corrosion resistance when present in amounts exceeding 0.20%. Weathering steels are sold having greater than 0.20% Copper.

Manganese (MN)

A deoxidizer and degasifier and reacts with sulfur to improve forgeability. It increases tensile strength, hardness, hardenability and resistance to wear. It decreases tendency toward scaling and distortion. It increases the rate of carbon-penetration in carburizing.

Molybdenum (MO)

Increases strength, hardness, hardenability, and toughness, as well as creep resistance and strength at elevated temperatures. It improves machinability and resistance to corrosion and it intensifies the effects of other alloying elements. In hot-work steels and high speed steels, it increases red-hardness properties.

Nickel (NI)

Increases strength and hardness without sacrificing ductility and toughness. It also increases resistance to corrosion and scaling at elevated temperatures when introduced in suitable quantities in high-chromium (stainless) steels.

Phosphorus (P)

Increases strength and hardness and improves machinability. However, it adds marked brittleness or cold-shortness to steel.

Silicon (SI)

A deoxidizer and degasifier. It increases tensile and yield strength, hardness, forgeability and magnetic permeability.

Sulfur (S)

Improves machinability in free-cutting steels, but without sufficient manganese it produces brittleness at red heat. It decreases weldability, impact toughness and ductility.

Tantalum (TA)

Used as stabilizing elements in stainless steels. Each has a high affinity for carbon and forms carbides, which are uniformly dispersed throughout the steel. Thus, localized precipitation of carbides at grain boundaries is prevented.

Titanium (TI)

Used as stabilizing elements in stainless steels. Each has a high affinity for carbon and forms carbides, which are uniformly dispersed throughout the steel. Thus, localized precipitation of carbides at grain boundaries is prevented.

Tungsten (W)

Increases strength, wear resistance, hardness and toughness. Tungsten steels have superior hot-working and greater cutting efficiency at elevated temperatures.

Vanadium (V)

Increases strength, hardness, wear resistance and resistance to shock impact. It retards grain growth, permitting higher quenching temperatures. It also enhances the red-hardness properties of high-speed metal cutting tools.

Data is typical and should not be construed as actual values for any catagory.
Applications and technical information require engineers and tool designers to exercise independent judgement.