Lead is a heavy metal and has been used by people for thousands of years. The Romans used it to make water pipes and sweetened their wine with lead (II) acetate. Today it is used, among other things, for shielding against radiation and in electrical engineering.

Lead is suitable as an alloying element if it is added in the maximum quantity of 0.5%. At this content, lead improves machinability and is mainly used for free-cutting steels. The addition of lead increases process reliability and forms shorter chips. The quality of the cut surfaces is improved as a result.

Despite the low Mohs hardness of 1.5 and the low melting point of around 328°C, lead does not affect other mechanical properties of steel.

Directive on the prohibition of the use of lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium

In 2005, the use of the above elements was re-evaluated due to their hazardous effect on health.

In the process, the use of lead as an alloying element in the EU was also severely restricted and limited to 0.1 percent by weight. There are only a few exceptions where the limit value may be exceeded. These materials are excluded from the ban as long as a higher lead content is unavoidable. In the meantime, intensive material research has led to a progress in the production of lead-free steels, which still provide very good machining properties.

In the form in which it is supplied, steel alloyed with lead does not pose a health risk, as the element is firmly bound in the steel and cannot be inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Suitable protective measures must be taken during processing to prevent health hazards.

See also

Accompanying Elements

Steel does not only consist of iron and carbon. Other elements can influence the properties of steel.

Read more
Alloying Elements

There is a large number of different alloying elements. Each one influences the material properties.

Read more

Here you can find out why aluminium was discovered so late and how aluminium can be produced.

Read more

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