High Speed Steel: Past and Present
Though it sounds like a thoroughly modern invention, High Speed Steel (HSS) can trace its roots back much, much further. Used primarily today to create high-quality cutting tools like blades and drill bits, HSS also has many other applications across the spectrum of industry.
In the 13th century BC, forms of hardened steel were accidentally created as different types and combinations of iron ore were experimented with. Though the qualities of these metals were instantly recognised, the process was unreliable and it wasn't until thousands of years later, in 1868, that the first true HSS was created.
Known originally as Mushet steel in honour of its metallurgist creator Robert Forester Mushet, the first HSS was an alloy of tungsten, manganese and carbon. Further experimentation showed that chromium was preferable to manganese and, by 1919, the first formally-classified HSS steel was brought to market, patented by the Crucible Steel Company.
HSS has many desirable properties, including:
- Remarkably-high levels of wear resistance and working hardness
- High compressive strength
- Excellent retention of hardness
- Enhanced strength, dramatically reducing the possibility of breakage at crucial junctures such as cutting edge or drilling point
- High cutting and drilling speeds (leading to the name high speed steel)
- Optimal performance even at extreme temperatures