Chemical & Physical Properties of Steel

By Kari Wolfe; Updated April 24, 2017

Steel is an alloy consisting of iron and carbon. The chemical and physics properties of steel are dependent on the chemical composition of the steel itself.

Classification of Standard Steels


Standard steels can be classified into three major groups: carbon, alloy and stainless steels. Each of these groups has similar chemical and physical properties with variations based on the elements contained within the steel. Tool steels have additional carbon that makes them hard and wear resistant.

Properties of Carbon Steels

Carbon steel

The alloy elements involved do not exceed these limits: 1 percent carbon; 0.6 percent copper; 1.65 percent manganese; 0.4 percent phosphorus; 0.6 percent silicon; and 0.05 percent sulfur. (See Reference 1) These steels have similar properties to iron. The more carbon included, the harder and stronger the metal but the more difficult to weld and less ability to deform without cracking.

Properties of Alloy Steels

Alloy steel

These steels contain alloy elements of amounts higher than the carbon steels including steels containing elements not found in carbon steels: nickel, chromium, cobalt and more. Compared to carbon steels, these steels have greater toughness, strength, wear resistance and hardness but they typically require some sort of heat treatment to achieve them.

Properties of Stainless Steels

Stainless steel

Stainless steels contain at least 10 percent chromium regardless of other elements involved. There are three grades of stainless steels: austenitic (18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel); ferritic (very little nickel and either 17 percent chromium or 12 percent chromium with aluminum or titanium); and martensitic (12 percent chromium and no nickel). (See Reference 1) Stainless steel is typically corrosion-resistant and does not rust as easily as ordinary steel.

Properties of Tool Steel

Steel tools

Naturally, tool steel is a variety of steels that are made into tools. It is generally heat-treated and has a particular hardness, ability to hold a sharp edge, resistance to deformation and a resistance to abrasion.

About the Author

Located in Colorado Springs, CO, Kari Wolfe has written nonfiction articles for Demand Studios since 2008. Wolfe's main interests consist of literature, science, health, technology and philosophy. She holds a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and physics from Marshall University in Huntington, WV