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What is high speed steel? The ABRAMS Steel Guide® explains!

What is Tool Steel? - Model in a burning steel box

HSS, is a high alloyed tool steel for cutting tools like taps or milling heads but also tools like saws, lath tools or for cold forming. Tools cutting through steel and iron have to withstand high stresses and have to work, at the same time, precise and efficient.

HSS features a high creep resistance with a possible working temperature of up to 600°C.This working temperature makes this steel group unique and different compared to cold work steel with a working temperature of up to 200°C or hot work steel with a working temperature from 200°C to 400°C. Apart of the high creep resistance, HSS has good ductility and a high wear resistance and thermal hardness (red hardness).

FAQ - Questions about high speed steel

Why is it called high speed steel?

The name high speed steel derives from the actual cutting speed this steel grade can achieve. HSS can reach a three to four times higher cutting speed compared to common tool steel, and cutting speeds up to 10 times higher can be reached when comparing low alloyed steel to HSS. It is made possible to reach these cutting speeds through added alloys like chromium, molybdenum, tungsten, vanadium, or cobalt as the steel undergoes extreme thermal stresses.

HSS can have a carbon content of up to 2.06% and a mass fraction up to 30% of alloys.

Other terms for High Speed Steel include:

  • High Performance Cutting Steel
  • High-Speed Steel

HS and HSS are describing the same steel, HS (High Speed) Steel or HSS (High Speed Steel).

HSS-E has added cobalt and is used for machining material with a high hardness and long cutting channels where high temperatures might be generated.

AHSS belongs to the group of unalloyed steel and name the modern, high strength, unalloyed cold work steels. AHSS stands for “Advanced High Strength Steel” and does not belong to the high speed steel group by definition.

HSS-PM stands for powder metallurgical high speed steel and is being manufactured from powdered steel. All the needed components are melted in an induction oven and atomized by subjecting it to a strong gas jet. The resulting droplets will find their solid form in under a second and will form a very fine powder, they then get filtered and poured into a capsule. The capsule is vacuum-sealed and hot isostatically pressed (HIP). Due to the temperature of approx. 1150°C and high pressure, after time a solid and 100% dense steel block is formed.

The resistance to fractur stresses of PM-steel is due to its fine and evenly distributed carbides, its high purity and optimized homogeneity, all these properties make this high speed steel a steel with high tensile strength/high creep resistance.

High speed steel has various advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of high speed steel:

  • Hardness and wear resistance: High speed steel is known for its high hardness and wear resistance. As a result the steel holds its cutting edge and tool life when exposed to high temperatures and long machining times.
  • High cutting speeds: Due to its high hardness, high speed steel manages high cutting speeds which result in better productivity and efficiency while machining.
  • Good temperature resistance: High speed steel can withstand high temperatures without effecting hardness and tensile strength. With those properties it makes it ideal for applications where heat generation might be a problem, e.g., cutting metals.
  • Precision machining: High speed steel makes it possible, due to it hardness and tensile strength, to machine precise and accurate.

Disadvantages of high speed steel:

  • Decline of hardness at 600°C: Hardness declines rapidly from a temperature of 600°C. For this reason, high speed steel is not suitable for higher machining temperatures. When higher temperatures are needed, carbides or cutting ceramics should be considered.

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