Carbon steel

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MFA Acc. #: 1988.547


Steel is an alloy of Iron with a small percentage of Carbon. The amount of carbon present changes the iron from a soft easily worked metal into an extremely hard brittle metal.

--Low carbon (mild, soft) steel contains less than 0.3% carbon. It works well when heated to redness and is easily cast. Soft steel is used in construction and as a substitute for Wrought iron.

--Medium carbon (normal) steel contains between 0.3-0.7% carbon. It is easily cast and forged into many shapes. Normal steel is also used for construction.

--High carbon (hard) steel contains between 0.7-1.5% carbon. It is very hard and brittle and is used to fortify warships.

--Cast iron also contains carbon in concentrations up to 5%.

Synonyms and Related Terms

acier au carbone (Fr.); acero al carbón (Esp.); aço não-ligado (Port.); aço carbono (Port.)

Sources Checked for Data in Record

  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 145
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • David C. Scott, Metallography and Microstructure of Ancient and Historic Metals, The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, 1991
  • Henry Hodges, Artifacts: An Introduction to Early Materials and Technology, Ronald P. Frye, Kingston, Canada, 1988

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