ETYM AS. stęl, styl, style; akin to Dutch staal, German stahl, Old High Germ. stahal, Icel. stâl, Dan. staal, Swed. stal, Old Prussian stakla.
1. A ridged steel rod used to sharpen knives.
2. An alloy of iron with small amounts of carbon and manganese; widely used in construction; mechanical properties can be varied over a wide range.
Alloy or mixture of iron and up to 1.7% carbon, sometimes with other elements, such as manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, and silicon. The US, Russia, Ukraine, and Japan are the main steel producers. Steel has innumerable uses, including ship and automobile manufacture, skyscraper frames, and machinery of all kinds.
Steels with only small amounts of other metals are called carbon steels. These steels are far stronger than pure iron, with properties varying with the composition. Alloy steels contain greater amounts of other metals. Low-alloy steels have less than 5% of the alloying material; high-alloy steels have more. Low-alloy steels containing up to 5% silicon with relatively little carbon have a high electrical resistance and are used in power transformers and motor or generator cores, for example. Stainless steel is a high-alloy steel containing at least 11% chromium. Steels with up to 20% tungsten are very hard and are used in high-speed cutting tools. About 50% of the world’s steel is now made from scrap.
Steel is produced by removing impurities, such as carbon, from raw or pig iron, produced by a blast furnace. The main industrial process is the basic–oxygen process, in which molten pig iron and scrap steel is placed in a container lined with heat-resistant, alkaline (basic) bricks. A pipe or lance is lowered near to the surface of the molten metal and pure oxygen blown through it at high pressure. The surface of the metal is disturbed by the blast and the impurities are oxidized (burned out). The open-hearth process is an older steelmaking method in which molten iron and limestone are placed in a shallow bowl or hearth (see open-hearth furnace). Burning oil or gas is blown over the surface of the metal, and the impurities are oxidized. High-quality steel is made in an electric furnace. A large electric current flows through electrodes in the furnace, melting a charge of scrap steel and iron. The quality of the steel produced can be controlled precisely because the temperature of the furnace can be maintained.
Exactly and there are no combustion by-products to contaminate the steel. Electric furnaces are also used to refine steel, producing the extra-pure steels used, for example, in the petrochemical industry.
The steel produced is cast into ingots, which can be worked when hot by hammering (forging) or pressing between rollers to produce sheet steel. Alternatively, the continuous-cast process, in which the molten metal is fed into an open-ended mold cooled by water, produces an unbroken slab of steel.