Tool Steel - Water-hardening Grades

Water-hardening Grades

W-grade tool steel gets its name from its defining property of having to be water quenched. W-grade steel is essentially high carbon plain-carbon steel. This type of tool steel is the most commonly used tool steel because of its low cost compared to other tool steels. They work well for small parts and applications where high temperatures are not encountered; above 150 °C (302 °F) it begins to soften to a noticeable degree. Hardenability is low so W-grade tool steels must be quenched in water. These steels can attain high hardness (above HRC 60) and are rather brittle compared to other tool steels.

The toughness of W-grade tool steels are increased by alloying with manganese, silicon and molybdenum. Up to 0.20% of vanadium is used to retain fine grain sizes during heat treating.

Typical applications for various carbon compositions are:

  • 0.60–0.75% carbon: machine parts, chisels, setscrews; properties include medium hardness with good toughness and shock resistance.
  • 0.76–0.90% carbon: forging dies, hammers, and sledges.
  • 0.91–1.10% carbon: general purpose tooling applications that require a good balance of wear resistance and toughness, such as drills, cutters, and shear blades.
  • 1.11–1.30% carbon: small drills, lathe tools, razor blades, and other light-duty applications where extreme hardness is required without great toughness.

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