What is the Difference Between Carbide and High Speed Steel

Carbide and high speed steel are two different compounds known for their exceptional strength. Though they share several similarities, there is a considerable difference between carbide and high-speed steel in terms of cost, hardness, etc. This article aims to provide a briefing of the two compounds and a side-by-side comparison of them.

What is the difference between carbide and high speed steel? Carbide is harder and more heat-resistant than high-speed steel.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Carbide  
      – Definition, Features 
2. What is High-Speed Steel
      – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Carbide and High-Speed Steel
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Carbide and High-Speed Steel
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Carbide and High-Speed Steel
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Carbide, High-Speed Steel

Difference Between Carbide and High Speed Steel  - Comparison Summary

What is Carbide

A carbide is a compound composing carbon and a less electronegative element, often a metal. One of the most well-known carbides is calcium carbide, primarily used in the production of acetylene gas. This chemical compound has played an important role in various industrial applications, particularly in welding and metal cutting, owing to acetylene’s high heat release upon combustion.

Tungsten carbide is another notable example, renowned for its exceptional hardness and wear resistance. This material has extensive application in manufacturing cutting tools, such as drills and saw blades, as well as in various industrial processes that demand durability and longevity.

Tungsten Carbide

Carbides can exist in different forms, including cemented carbides, which involve a metal matrix bonded with carbide particles. Widely utilized in mining, drilling, and machining operations, cemented carbides provide a balance between hardness and toughness, making them valuable in challenging environments.

Silicon carbide (SiC) has gained attention in electronics for its semiconductor properties. With a wide bandgap, SiC is utilized in the production of high-power and high-temperature electronic devices, contributing to advancements in power electronics and electric vehicles.

The versatility of carbides extends beyond these examples, with applications ranging from cutting tools and abrasives to the development of advanced materials for modern technologies.

What is High-Speed Steel

High-speed steel (HSS) is a durable tool material widely used in the manufacturing and metalworking industries. Developed in the early 20th century, HSS revolutionized machining processes due to its exceptional combination of hardness, wear resistance, and high-temperature stability.

Composed primarily of iron, carbon, and alloying elements such as chromium, vanadium, and tungsten, HSS undergoes a heat treatment process known as quenching and tempering. This enhances its hardness and toughness, making it suitable for cutting tools, drills, taps, and other applications that demand prolonged usage under harsh conditions.

High Speed Tool Steel

What sets High-speed steel apart is its ability to maintain a keen cutting edge even at elevated temperatures, a quality crucial for high-speed machining operations. This characteristic significantly extends the tool’s lifespan and enables faster material removal rates, enhancing overall efficiency in manufacturing processes.

HSS finds applications in various industries, from aerospace and automotive to general machining. Its versatility makes it a preferred choice for cutting tools in scenarios where other materials might fail to withstand the demanding conditions. Despite advancements in tool material technology, High-speed steel remains relevant and widely used, particularly in scenarios where a balance of cost-effectiveness and performance is crucial.

Similarities Between Carbide and High-Speed Steel

  1. Carbide and high-speed steel are types of tool materials used in cutting applications.
  2. Both materials exhibit high hardness.

Difference Between Carbide and High-Speed Steel


  • Carbide is a compound composing carbon and a metal, often tungsten or titanium, while high-speed steel (HSS) is an alloy of steel containing high amounts of tungsten, molybdenum, chromium, and vanadium.


  • Carbide tools are extremely hard and can maintain their hardness at high temperatures, making them suitable for high-speed machining. High-speed steel is less hard than carbide but still retains a good level of hardness and can withstand higher temperatures compared to regular steel.


  • Furthermore, carbide tools tend to be more expensive than high-speed steel tools due to the higher cost of carbide materials.


In summary, carbide and high-speed steel are two materials used in manufacturing and metalworking, each with its own strengths. Carbide is extremely hard and heat-resistant, making it great for high-speed machining, especially in tough environments. High-speed steel is an alloy that balances hardness and toughness, allowing it to stay sharp even at high temperatures. The decision between carbide and high-speed steel depends on the specific machining needs, with carbide being preferred for its hardness despite being more expensive.

FAQ: Carbide and High-Speed Steel

1. Is high-speed steel stronger than carbide?

Carbide is generally harder and more wear-resistant, making it suitable for high-speed machining and cutting applications.

2. Which is better, carbide or steel?

Carbide is generally better for demanding applications requiring hardness and durability, such as cutting tough materials like metals. Steel may be preferable for tasks requiring precision and versatility at a lower cost, but it may require more frequent sharpening or replacement.

3. What is stronger than carbide?

Diamonds are the most scratch-resistant material known so far. Metals like titanium are far less scratch-resistant, and even extremely hard ceramics or tungsten carbide cannot compete with diamonds in terms of hardness or scratch resistance.

4. What category is high-speed steel?

High-speed steel (HSS) belongs to a class of high alloy steels that contain significant amounts of elements such as tungsten (W), molybdenum (Mo), cobalt (Co), vanadium (V), and chromium (Cr), in addition to iron (Fe) and carbon (C). These alloys impart exceptional properties to HSS, including high hardness, wear resistance, and heat resistance.

5. Why is carbide so expensive?

Compared with other metals, carbide is very expensive because it contains cobalt, which is severely short. It also has a high demand in various fields, such as batteries for smartphones or other electrical appliances.


1. “High Speed Steel.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.
2. “Carbide.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Tempering curve for M2 high-speed tool steel” cddBy MHz`as – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Tungsten carbide” By Splarka at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons. (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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