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Stainless Steel vs Carbon Steel – What’s The Difference?

How does stainless steel compare to carbon steel? Both of these are incredibly durable, but which one is tougher and which one is the better choice for your projects?

Durability

Stainless steel is considered one of the strongest metals, and this alloy made from combining chromium and iron (and often other metals as well). This means it is remarkably tough, according to Stainless Europe. It is used in a wide range of projects where durability is especially important. It’s tougher even than titanium, but how does stainless steel compare to carbon steel?

In a showdown between these two metals, carbon steel comes out on top. Carbon steel is made from combining iron and carbon (which itself is a byproduct of superheated carbon). If you are looking for the tougher alloy, carbon steel is the clear winner, but that’s not the only factor to consider when choosing a metallic alloy for your projects. 

Versatility

How easily can stainless steel or carbon steel be fabricated to make specific shapes and designs? That’s an important factor to consider, as you may need a strong alloy for railing, ductwork, tubing, and other applications. 

Carbon steel is tough to work with and is not nearly as flexible and versatile as stainless steel. This means that in order to get an intricately crafted product from carbon steel, it will take a lot more time, money, and resources than it would to use stainless steel. You should consider whether that extra effort and expense is worth it for the additional durability carbon steel offers. 

Since carbon steel is so incredibly tough, it is difficult to bend it into shape for any kind of use beyond straight bars, sheets, blades, or beams (source). This is why carbon steel is primarily used in completely straight metallic products where its durability can be retained and the fabricators would not have to work and work at trying to bend it into a specific shape. 

Maintenance

You should also consider the ability of the alloy to resist corrosion, decay, and rust. Stainless steel is well known for its corrosion resistance. It is useful in applications that would require this metal to be utilized outdoors in coastal regions or cold environments. In these locations, salt corrosion and temperature damage are factors that would limit which metals could be used and how they can be used. Stainless steel does an excellent job of resisting corrosion and weathering effects and maintaining its toughness. It is one of the most reliable metals in any kind of environment, able to withstand extremes of heat and cold while also offering strong resistance against corrosion of any kind.

Carbon steel, on the other hand, is much more likely to experience rust and decay. It lacks the barrier of chromium that stainless steel and other kinds of steel would have, and that opens it up to corrosion. 

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