Steel and metal share many properties to the point that many people confuse one over the other. Metals are naturally occurring pure elements while steel is a metal alloy of iron, carbon and other pure elements.
All steels are metal, but metals are not steel. While metal is a pure, naturally occurring element, steel is a variation of metal, formed by two or more metal elements.
Find out other key differences between metal and steel below.
Metal vs. Steel: Key Differences
Metals are pure chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Most metals are naturally hard and strong except for sodium, which you can cut with a knife, and mercury which is the only metal in liquid state.
Discovery and usage of metal started way back in 6000 BC. They used metals like gold and copper to make jewelry, tools, statues, and more. Through the centuries, the use of metal transcended to weaponry, technology, construction, and manufacturing.
Metals have good mechanical properties. They have outstanding electrical and thermal conductivity because of their unique metal bond or how their atoms are connected. Metals are also known to be lustrous, ductile, and malleable: metals can be bent, stretched, rolled, and fused.
Metals are also non-corrosive and nonmagnetic with high tarnishing resistance. All these attributes make metal a popular raw material for application in various industries.
Aluminum is the pure metal most commonly used in metal fabrication. Other metals used in the industry include iron, copper, magnesium, and nickel.
Unlike metal, steel is not a pure chemical element. It is an alloy of two or more other chemical elements.
To make steel, impurities are removed from a metal element before adding the alloying element/s. Carbon is one of the most used alloying material in steel production. Other elements include copper, tungsten, aluminum, nickel, zinc, and more.
Steel and metal share some properties like durability, ductility, malleability, and luster. Since the impurities are removed, steel is much stronger than pure metal. Steels have a relatively longer fatigue life than other pure metals.
Unlike metal, some steels are not as powerful when it comes to thermal or electrical conductivity. Some steels are not as corrosion-resistant as other metals but this can be solved with coatings and finishes.
In 2017, the record for world crude steel production reached 1,691.2 million tonnes.
Carbon steel is the most common type of steel, accounting for 90% of the total steel production. Stainless steel is also one of the most popular steels used in different industries. Other alloy steels are made by combining one or several alloying elements such as aluminum, nickel, copper, and chromium to carbon steel.