Tool steel - what it is, types, applications

Tool steel - what it is, types, applications

Tool steel - not just a metal, but the foundation of industry

Much more than a simple metal, tool steel plays a huge role in advanced engineering and industrial technology. Tool steel is designed to meet the most stringent technical requirements. Thanks to its unique composition, where components such as chromium provide corrosion resistance, tungsten enhances hardness at high temperatures, manganese improves hardening ability and molybdenum increases mechanical strength, this steel is the key to innovation and manufacturing efficiency.


The use of tool steel is not limited to conventional tools and equipment. Its unique properties enable the creation of advanced components critical to the operation of high-pressure turbines, precision mechanisms in aviation, and specialised instruments used in surgery. 

Tool steel as the foundation of industry

In the construction industry, tool steel is indispensable in the manufacture of concrete moulds or reinforcement elements, where its wear resistance and ability to maintain precise dimensions translate into safety and durability of structures.

Highlighting the role of tool steel in shaping and supporting modern industries demonstrates its importance not only as a material, but also as a foundation for innovation and technological progress. Thanks to constant research into improving its properties, tool steels are constantly evolving to adapt to ever newer requirements and challenges, which accounts for their key role in the industries of the future.

Practical application of tool steel

Tool steel is particularly valued in many applications where standard materials do not meet technical requirements. Its use is particularly important in areas where not only mechanical strength but also particular resistance to fatigue, wear and temperature is required. Tool steel is most often used in the manufacture of tools for forming or machining. It can also be used to build a variety of casting moulds and to manufacture turning tools, drill bits and cutters. In the polymer industry, tool steel is used in the manufacture of injection moulds for the polymer industry, where the precision and durability of the mould determine the quality and economy of production. 


Designation of industrial steel

Additionally, in the automotive industry, tool steel is crucial in the manufacture of moulds and dies used in the mass production of metal automotive components. Its ability to withstand heavy loading and frequent temperature changes is irreplaceable in the manufacture of parts with complex shapes and high quality finishes. 

Tool steel tools are also indispensable in the aerospace industry, where every component must meet stringent standards of strength and precision. 

Tool steel, thanks to its unique properties, allows the production of tools with exceptional durability, which is crucial in the jewellery and watchmaking industries. Here, where manufacturing precision has a direct impact on the functionality and aesthetics of the product, tool steel enables the highest quality details to be achieved. It is also worth noting its growing use in renewable energy technologies, such as the manufacture of components for wind and hydraulic turbines, where the steel must demonstrate both corrosion resistance and long-term strength to withstand dynamic loads. This market represents a significant field for purchase of tool steelwhich highlights the strategic value of recycling and reusing this material.

Key differences between steel and alloyed steel

A more thorough understanding of the differences between ordinary steel and alloy steel is crucial for engineers, designers, as well as tool and component manufacturers. Carbon steel is a basic type of steel that obtains its mechanical properties mainly through its carbon content. It is relatively cheap to produce and is widely used in components with lower strength requirements, such as the manufacture of nails, bolts or simple structural components.

Alloy steels, on the other hand, offer much broader engineering possibilities due to the addition of a variety of metals and are suited to applications in more demanding environments. For example, the addition of nickel enhances the steel's formability and hardenability, as well as improving low-temperature cracking resistance, which is invaluable in structures exposed to extreme weather conditions. Chromium, on the other hand, added to steel increases its corrosion resistance, which is crucial in the manufacture of components exposed to continuous contact with water or moisture, such as pipes or marine structures. Vanadium, introduced into steel, increases its hardness and abrasion resistance, which is useful in the production of high-quality cutting tools and machine components, while manganese increases abrasion resistance.

Tool steels and their specific applications

Tool steels are used in numerous specialised areas of industry that require materials with unique properties. One example is hot working tool steel, which is essential for processes such as forging, extrusion and die casting. Thanks to its ability to retain its hardness and mechanical strength at elevated temperatures, hot tool steel is ideal for the manufacture of tools and dies that are subjected to cyclic heating and cooling.

Another specific use of tool steel is in the manufacture of woodworking tools such as mills and circular saws. These tools must not only be mechanically strong, but also resistant to the effects of acids and moisture, which are natural components of wood.

Tool steels are also key in modern technologies, such as the manufacture of components for the semiconductor industry, where absolute precision and minimum tolerances are required. Tools and components made from tool steels enable the production of delicate electronic components that are essential in today's digital devices.

These applications highlight the versatility of tool steels and their key role in many demanding industrial sectors where traditional materials fail to meet expectations. Through continued development and optimisation of chemical compositions, tool steels will continue to play a central role in industrial innovation, increasing production efficiency and the quality of end products.

Designation of tool steels

Tool steel markings are a vital piece of information that allows specialists in various industries to accurately identify the material suitable for a specific application. Understanding these markings is key to ensuring proper material selection, which is critical to final product performance and durability.

The tool steel designation system is not globally uniform, but is based on several standards, which may vary from country to country or region to region. In Europe, the EN ISO classification system is commonly used, where tool steels are designated by a series of letters and numbers that indicate their main characteristics. For example, designations such as '1.2344' or 'H13' refer to a high-chromium hot-working tool steel, where the numbers and letters have a specific meaning: the first number (1) indicates the type of steel (hot-working steel), the next three numbers (234) are a code for the specific chemical composition, and the letter (H) indicates the category of use (hot-hardened steel).

In the US, it is popular to use the AISI/SAE designations, which are also based on a letter-number system. For example, the 'A2' series refers to a cold-working tool steel with chromium and molybdenum, which offers good dimensional stability after quenching and low susceptibility to fracture.

In addition, the JIS (Japanese Institute of Standards) designation system uses letters and numbers to indicate the specific properties of the steel. For example, 'SKD11' is the Japanese equivalent of the US 'D2', indicating a high-carbon cold-working tool steel with good machinability and wear resistance.