Steel is often classified by its carbon content: a high-carbon steel is serviceable for dies and cutting tools because of its great hardness and brittleness; low- or medium-carbon steel is used for sheeting and structural forms because of its amenability to welding and tooling. Alloy steels, now most widely used, contain one or more other elements to give them specific qualities. Aluminum steel is smooth and has a high tensile strength. Chromium steel finds wide use in automobile and airplane parts on account of its hardness, strength, and elasticity, as does the chromium-vanadium variety. Nickel steel is the most widely used of the alloys; it is nonmagnetic and has the tensile properties of high-carbon steel without the brittleness. Nickel-chromium steel possesses a shock resistant quality that makes it suitable for armor plate. Wolfram (tungsten), molybdenum, and high-manganese steel are other alloys. Stainless steel, which was developed in England, has a high tensile strength and resists abrasion and corrosion because of its high chromium content.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.