Steel vs Iron: Understanding the Differences and Applications in CNC Machining(aircraft fasteners types Selena)

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When it comes to CNC machining, understanding the materials used is crucial for achieving optimal results. Among the most commonly utilized metals are steel and iron. Although they possess similar characteristics, there are distinct differences that make each material unique. This article aims to shed light on the contrasting properties of steel and iron and how they are employed in CNC machining processes.

Steel - A Versatile Metal:

With its exceptional durability, strength, and versatility, steel has become a preferred choice in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, construction, and manufacturing. It is an alloy consisting primarily of iron, carbon, and other elements like chromium, nickel, or manganese. The varying combinations of these elements yield different types of steel with specific properties fitting for numerous applications.

When it comes to CNC machining, steels characterized by their high machinability, such as low-carbon mild steels (A36) or free-cutting steels (12L14), offer excellent performance. These steels can be easily shaped, drilled, threaded, and milled while producing precise and consistent results. In addition, stainless steels, known for their resistance to corrosion and heat, find extensive use in CNC machining involving challenging environmental conditions.

Iron - An Industrial Workhorse:

Iron is one of the most abundant elements found on Earth and has been widely used throughout history due to its remarkable strength. However, compared to steel, iron lacks certain desirable properties needed for CNC machining. Pure iron tends to have poor ductility, low tensile strength, and limited hardness, which affects its machinability. Therefore, iron alone is rarely used in modern CNC machining but its alloys, such as cast iron, are still prevalent in certain applications.

Cast iron, produced by melting iron and adding small amounts of carbon and silicon, possesses remarkable vibration damping capabilities, high wear resistance, and exceptional thermal conductivity. These properties make it suitable for components subject to heavy loads and high temperatures, such as engine blocks, machine bases, or gears. Though more challenging to machine compared to steel, modern CNC techniques effectively handle cast iron providing accurate finishes.

Comparing Steel and Iron:

Steel and iron have both similarities and differences that warrant their specific applications in CNC machining processes. While steel is more ductile and malleable, allowing for easier shaping and fabricating, iron exhibits superior hardness and wear resistance. Steel provides better machinability due to its consistency, strength, and lower carbon content while iron is often more difficult to machine but boasts unique properties suited for specific applications.

Moreover, the price point can be a factor when choosing between steel and iron for CNC machining projects. Generally, steel is more costly than iron; however, this cost difference can vary depending on factors like alloy type, availability, and manufacturing requirements. Thus, considering the project's specifications and desired performance characteristics is vital when deciding which material is most appropriate.


In the world of CNC machining, understanding the distinctive properties of materials is crucial. Steel and iron remain prominent metals with their own merits and applications. Steel's versatility, high machinability, and corrosion resistance make it an excellent choice for numerous industrial sectors. On the other hand, iron, particularly cast iron, excels in handling heavy loads, high temperatures, and vibration damping, despite being somewhat harder to machine.

Ultimately, determining whether steel or iron is best suited for a CNC machining project requires evaluating factors such as the desired performance, budget constraints, and environmental circumstances. Collaborating with experienced professionals in the field will ensure the selection of the optimal material to achieve efficient and reliable results. CNC Milling CNC Machining