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Engineering handbooks point out that the classification of steels comes under the authority of the Society of Automotive Engineers (S.A.E.)
or American Iron and Steel Institute (A.I.S.I.) for its coding system. The system of coding was originated in the early 1940’s and it was done
with the expressed intention of giving engineers, designers, draftsmen, or heat treaters specific information on the types and grades of
steel available. The system is very effective for steels using the A.I.S.I. and S.A.E. standards.

The S.A.E. or A.I.S.I. classifications contains 4 to 5 numeric characters with additional alpha characters added to designate special
characteristics of the steel. Here is the coding system definition. (Examples: 1018, 12L14, 4140, 41L40 )

The very first number depicts a general category grouping of steels. That is:

1 indicates carbon steel 1XXXX

4 indicates molybdenum steel 4XXXX
5 indicates chromium steel 5XXXX
6 indicates chrome vanadium steel 6XXXX
8 indicates nickel chromium molybdenum, steel 8XXXX
9 indicates silicon manganese steel 6XXXX

The second number gives indication if there are elements present that effect attributes of the steel. The last two digits (three digits for a few
grades) represents the actual nominal percentage of carbon content present.

Take for instance 1018 steel. The zero in the 10XX indicates there are no major secondary elements present such as sulfur. Sulfur in steel
increases machinability, but all free machining agents, such as sulfur, lead, calcium, etc., are in essence dirt, or elements taken directly
from the earth. Such free machining elements improve the machinability but do not homogenize in the steel making process and can cause
pockets, stringers or other faults that can affect some applications.

The last two characters represent the carbon content of the steel. For instance, 1018 is a basic carbon steel, with no added alloying
elements, and contains .18 % of carbon. The actual standards will show a carbon range of .15/.20%. During the steel making process the
carbon and alloy contents cannot be controlled to a specific percentage and thus the percentage shown is stated as the nominal.

Now let’s us examine what takes place if you see an 11XX number. The first ‘1’ indicates it to is also a simple carbon steel, the second ‘1’
indicates the basic analysis has been modified. In steel bearing the ‘11’ designation examining the chemistry tells us sulfur has been
added to improve machining. These steels are typically used in automatic screw machine operations, or often when threading needs to be
done. (thus any grade carrying ‘11’ refers to re-sulfurized steels. Re-sulfurized means the sulfur was added to the crucible at the end of the
heat, prior to pouring into an ingot, which prevents it from being burning away. Familiar grades such as 1113, 1117, 1141 are re-sulfurized

There are some gaps in the numbering system such as 2XXX, 3XXX and 7XXX. At one time there were steels in some of these categories
but were not popular enough to continue in manufacturing and were retired.

Often you will see an alpha character has been added in between the code groups, such as: 11L17, 11L41, 12L14 or a 50B40. The ‘L’
designates a lead addition. The lead like sulfur improves machinability and if combined with an already re-sulfurized grade, improves it
that much more. The letter B stands for Boron which is on occasion added to low carbon steels to aid in increasing the hardness of the

Steels with the letter ‘H’, which simply means ‘hardenability’, added to the end of the grade designation, signifies the steel is guaranteed to
be capable of hardening to a specific depth.

We already briefly looked at the 1XXX grade classification and explained 2XXX, 3XXX and 7XXX are not being used, now here are the
remaining classifications of steel categories.

4XXX Series are Chromium Molybdenum Steel.


41XX Chromium Molybdenum (4150)

43XX Chromium Nickel Molybdenum (4340)
48XX Nickel Molybdenum (4815)

5XXX Series are Chromium Steel Low Chromium.


51XX High Chromium (52100)

6XXX Series are Chromium Vanadium Steel
8XXX Series are Nickel-Chromium-Molybdenum Steel
9XXX Series are Silicon Manganese Steel
PDF by Vijay Gurav (Blooming Mill).