What’s the Difference Between Iron and Steel?

May 18, 2020 10:42 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Iron and steel are both frequently used in construction, although steel is the modern metal of choice. Some people think of them as interchangeable, but there are several key differences between the materials. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between iron and steel in Indiana, read on to learn what these metals are made of.


Iron has been used in construction for about 6,000 years, although it’s not as popular as it once was. Structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty are constructed with iron, which is quite durable and attractive.

Iron is a natural element commonly found throughout the earth’s crust. Pure iron isn’t used for building structures—most iron is combined with another element to form an alloy. These are stronger and more durable than pure iron alone.

Pure iron also has a tendency to corrode when exposed to oxygen, forming rust. Obviously, that’s undesirable for buildings and objects.


Steel is the alloy you get when you combine iron and carbon, along with small amounts of other minerals. Steel comes in many different varieties, each engineered to provide different and specific results, but all of them are stronger and more durable than pure iron. Today, steel is overwhelmingly used in construction. About half of the world’s steel is produced in China.

Steel is formed by heating up the iron, carbon and other metals until they melt and react with oxygen to form an alloy. This can be done with a flame or electricity—which method is used will affect how precisely the steelworkers can monitor and make the alloy.

There are four main types of steel:

  • Carbon steels: Carbon steels contain a small amount of carbon (usually 1 percent or less)—the more carbon content in the metal, the more brittle it will become. Most steel is considered carbon steel, and it can be used for everything from wrought iron to car engines.
  • Alloy steels: Alloy steels contain other metals besides iron and carbon. These other metals are usually chosen to produce a specific result, and are often more durable and harder than carbon steels.
  • Tool steels: Tool steels are also made with other metals to increase their hardness. They’re also tempered, which means the steel is heated up, cooled down quickly and then reheated to a specific temperature. This type of steel is used for things like tools and dies, as well as machine components.
  • Stainless steels: Stainless steels are common in household and medical tools. These steels have a higher proportion of chromium and nickel, and resist corrosion and chemical reactions. This makes them much easier to keep clean and prevent rust—you probably have stainless steel around the house in the form of cooking pots and pans, kitchen scissors and knives.

Benchmark Fabricated Steel has been offering expert structural steel construction services since 1971. Interested in learning more about the difference between iron and steel in Indiana, or ready to get started on your project? Call us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you.

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