Ferrous metals are those that contain iron as the base metal. The properties of ferrous metals may be changed by adding various alloying elements. The chemical and mechanical properties need to be combined to produce a metal to serve a specific purpose. The basic ferrous metal form is pig iron. Pig iron is produced in a blast furnace that is charged with an iron ore, coke, and limestone. The four principal iron ores are hematite, limonite, magnetite and faconite.


Cast iron is a metal that is widely used. It is a hard, brittle metal that has good wear resistance. Cast iron contains 2 to 4 percent carbon. White cast iron is very hard and is used mostly where abrasion and wear resistance is required. White cast iron may be made into malleable iron by heating it; then cooling it very slowly over a long period of time. Malleable iron is stronger and tougher than white cast iron; however, it is much more expensive to produce. Gray iron is another form of cast iron. It is used mostly for castings because of its ability to flow easily into complex shapes.


Wrought iron is an iron that has had most of its carbon removed. It is tough; however, it can be bent or twisted very easily. Wrought iron is used mostly in ornamental ironwork, such as fences and handrails, because it is welded or painted easily and it rusts very slowly.


Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon or other alloying elements. When the alloying element is carbon, the steel is referred to as carbon steel. Carbon steels are classified by the percentage of carbon in “points” or hundredths of 1 percent they contain.

Low Carbon Steel (Carbon content up to 0.30 percent or 30 points). This steel is soft and ductile and can be rolled, punched, sheared, and worked when either hot or cold. It is easily machined and can be readily welded by all methods. It does not harden to any great amount; however, it can be easily case- or surface-hardened.

Medium Carbon Steel (Carbon content from 0.30 to 0.50 percent or 30 to 50 points). This steel may be heat-treated after fabrication. It is used for general machining and forging of parts that require surface hardness and strength. It is made in bar form in the cold-rolled or the normalized and annealed condition. During welding, the weld zone will become hardened if cooled rapidly and must be stress-relieved after welding.

High Carbon Steel (Carbon content from 0.50 to 1.05% or 50 to 105 points). This steel is used in the manufacture of drills, taps, dies, springs, and other machine tools and hand tools that are heat-treated after fabrication to develop the hard structure necessary to withstand high shear stress and wear. It is manufactured in bar, sheet, and wire forms, and in the annealed or normalized condition in order to be suitable for machining before heat treatment. This steel is difficult to weld because of the hardening effect of heat at the welding joint.

Tool Steel (carbon content from 0.90 to 1.70 percent or 90 to 170 points). This steel is used in the manufacture of chisels, shear blades, cutters, large taps, woodturning tools, blacksmith’s tools, razors, and other similar parts where high hardness is required to maintain a sharp cutting edge. It is difficult to weld due to the high carbon content.

High-Speed Steel. High-speed steel is a self-hardening steel alloy that can withstand high temperatures without becoming soft. High­speed steel is ideal for cutting tools because of its ability to take deeper cuts at higher speeds than tools made from carbon steel.

Tungsten Carbide. Tungsten carbide is the hardest man-made metal. It is almost as hard as a diamond. The metal is molded from tungsten and carbon powders under heat and pressure. Tools made from this metal can cut other metals many times faster than high­speed steel tools.

Alloy Steels. Steel is manufactured to meet a wide variety of specifications for hardness, toughness, machinability, and so forth. Manufacturers use various alloying elements to obtain these characteristics. When elements other than carbon, such as chromium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, tungsten, and vanadium are used. The resulting metals are called alloy steels. Figure 2-12 shows some of the general characteristics obtained by the use of various alloying elements.

Figure 2-12. General characteristics of common alloys.