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Steel wire rope

A spool of wire rope made from steel, which is a metal alloy whose major component is iron, with carbon content between 0.02% and 2.14% by mass. Attribution: I, Johannes 'volty' Hemmerlein.


An alloy is a mixture of metals or a mixture of a metal and another non-metalic element. Alloys are defined by a metallic bonding character. An alloy may be a solid solution of metal elements (a single phase) or a mixture of metallic phases (two or more solutions). Intermetallic compounds are alloys with a defined stoichiometry and crystal structure. Zintl phases are also sometimes considered alloys depending on bond types, like Van Arkel-Ketelaar triangle bonding in binary compounds).

Alloys are used in a wide variety of applications. In some cases, a combination of metals may reduce the overall cost of the material while preserving important properties. In other cases, the combination of metals imparts synergistic properties to the constituent metal elements such as corrosion resistance or mechanical strength. Examples of alloys are steel, solder, brass, pewter, duralumin, bronze and amalgams.

The alloy constituents are usually measured by thire mass. Alloys are usually classified as substitutional or interstitial alloys, depending on the atomic arrangement that forms the alloy. They can be further classified as homogeneous (consisting of a single phase), or heterogeneous (consisting of two or more phases) or intermetallic.

Alloying elements are added to a base metal, to induce hardness, toughness, ductility, or other desired properties. Most metals and alloys can be work hardened by creating defects in their crystal structure. These defects are created during plastic deformation by hammering, bending, extruding, etcetera, and are permanent unless the metal is recrystallized. Otherwise, some alloys can also have their properties altered by heat treatment. Nearly all metals can be softened by annealing, which recrystallizes the alloy and repairs the defects, but not as many can be hardened by controlled heating and cooling. Many alloys of aluminium, copper, magnesium, titanium, and nickel can be strengthened to some degree by some method of heat treatment, but few respond to this to the same degree as does steel.

An amalgam is an alloy of mercury with another metal. Almost all metals can form amalgams with mercury, the notable exceptions being iron, platinum, tungsten and tantalum. Silver-mercury amalgams are important in dentistry, and gold-mercury amalgam is used in the extraction of gold from ore.

Examples of how it works


The base metal iron of the iron-carbon alloy known as steel, undergoes a change in the arrangement (allotropy) of the atoms of its crystal matrix at a certain temperature (usually between 1,500 °F (820 °C) and 1,600 °F (870 °C), depending on carbon content). This allows the smaller carbon atoms to enter the interstices of the iron crystal. When this diffusion happens, the carbon atoms are said to be in solution in the iron, forming a particular single, homogeneous, crystalline phase called austenite. If the steel is cooled slowly, the carbon can diffuse out of the iron and it will gradually revert to its low temperature allotrope. During slow cooling, the carbon atoms will no longer be as soluble with the iron, and will be forced to precipitate out of solution, nucleating into a more concentrated form of iron carbide (Fe3C) in the spaces between the pure iron crystals. The steel then becomes heterogeneous, as it is formed of two phases, the iron-carbon phase called cementite (or carbide), and pure iron ferrite. Such a heat treatment produces a steel that is rather soft. If the steel is cooled quickly, however, the carbon atoms will not have time to diffuse and precipitate out as carbide, but will be trapped within the iron crystals. When rapidly cooled, a diffusionless (martensite) transformation occurs, in which the carbon atoms become trapped in solution. This causes the iron crystals to deform as the crystal structure tries to change to its low temperature state, leaving those crystals very hard but much less ductile (more brittle).

While the high strength of steel results when diffusion and precipitation is prevented (forming martinsite), most heat-treatable alloys are precipitation hardening alloys, that depend on the diffusion of alloying elements to achieve their strength. When heated to form a solution and then cooled quickly, these alloys become much softer than normal, during the diffusionless transformation, but then harden as they age. The solutes in these alloys will precipitate over time, forming intermetallic phases, which are difficult to discern from the base metal. Unlike steel, in which the solid solution separates into different crystal phases (carbide and ferrite), precipitation hardening alloys form different phases within the same crystal. These intermetallic alloys appear homogeneous in crystal structure, but tend to behave heterogeneously, becoming hard and somewhat brittle.

A miniscule amount of nickel, aluminium, chrome, vandium, manganese and copper can me added to steel to inprove properties like tensile streng and corrosion resistance. 

Dental amalgam


Amalgam filling on first molar. Author: Kauzio.

Dental amalgam is a liquid mercury and metal alloy mixture used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. Low-copper amalgam commonly consists of mercury (40-50%), silver (~22–32%), tin (~14%), copper (~8%), Zinc (~6-0%) and other trace metals like molybdenum and lead.

Dental amalgams were first documented in a Tang Dynasty Chinese medical text written by Su Kung in 659, and appeared in Germany in 1528. In the 1800s, amalgam became the dental restorative material of choice due to its low cost, ease of application, strength, and durability.






Aluminium-lithium alloy (Al 2195)


A Space Shuttle External Tank (ET) on its way to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Kennedy.

It is 30 % stronger and 5 % less dense than the Al 2219 alloy used in the original Space Shuttle's external tank.

The alloy composition of Al 2195 aluminium is:

  1. Aluminium: 91.9 to 94.9%
  2. Copper: 3.7 to 4.3%
  3. Lithium: 0.8 to 1.2%
  4. Manganese: 0.25 to 0.8%
  5. Silver: 0.25 to 0.6%
  6. Zirconium: 0.08 to 0.16%
  7. Iron: 0.15% max
  8. Silicon: 0.12% max
  9. Titanium: 0.1% max
  10. Zinc: 0.25% max
  11. Residuals: 0.15% max





A soldered joint used to attach a wire to the pin of a component on the rear of a printed circuit board. Author: MJN123.

Solder on spool

Spool of solder. 1.6 mm.


Desoldering a contact from a wire


Solder (/ˈsoʊldər/,/ˈsɒldər/ or in North America /ˈsɒdər/) is a fusible metal alloy used to create a permanent bond between metal workpieces. The word solder comes from the Middle English word soudur, via Old French solduree and soulder, from the Latin solidare, meaning "to make solid". In fact, solder must be melted in order to adhere to and connect the pieces together, so a suitable alloy for use as solder will have a lower melting point than the pieces it is intended to join. Whenever possible, the solder should also be resistant to oxidative and corrosive effects that would degrade the joint over time. Solder that is intended for use in making electrical connections between electronic components also usually has favorable electrical characteristics.

Soft solder typically has a melting point range of 90 to 450 °C (190 to 840 °F; 360 to 720 K), and is commonly used in electronics, plumbing, and sheet metal work. Manual soldering uses a soldering iron or soldering gun. Alloys that melt between 180 and 190 °C (360 and 370 °F; 450 and 460 K) are the most commonly used. Soldering performed using alloys with a melting point above 450 °C (840 °F; 720 K) is called 'hard soldering', 'silver soldering', or brazing.

In specific proportions, some alloys can become eutectic — that is, their melting point is the same as their freezing point. Non-eutectic alloys have markedly different solidus and liquidus temperatures, and within that range they exist as a paste of solid particles in a melt of the lower-melting phase. In electrical work, if the joint is disturbed in the pasty state before it has solidified totally, a poor electrical connection may result; use of eutectic solder reduces this problem. The pasty state of a non-eutectic solder can be exploited in plumbing as it allows molding of the solder during cooling, e.g. for ensuring watertight joint of pipes, resulting in a so-called 'wiped joint'.

For electrical and electronics work, solder wire is available in a range of thicknesses for hand-soldering, and with cores containing flux. It is also available as a paste or as a preformed foil shaped to match the workpiece, more suitable for mechanized mass-production. Alloys of lead and tin were commonly used in the past, and are still available; they are particularly convenient for hand-soldering. Lead-free solders have been increasing in use due to regulatory requirements plus the health and environmental benefits of avoiding lead-based electronic components. They are almost exclusively used today in consumer electronics. 

Plumbers often use bars of solder, much thicker than the wire used for electrical applications. Jewelers often use solder in thin sheets, which they cut into snippets.


Soldering (AmE: /ˈsɒdərɪŋ/, BrE: /ˈsɒldərɪŋ/), is a process in which two or more items (usually metal) are joined together by melting and putting a filler metal (solder) into the joint, the filler metal having a lower melting point than the adjoining metal. Soldering differs from welding in that soldering does not involve melting the work pieces. In brazing, the filler metal melts at a higher temperature, but the work piece metal does not melt. In the past, nearly all solders contained lead, but environmental and health concerns have increasingly dictated use of lead-free alloys for electronics and plumbing purposes.

There is evidence that soldering was employed as early as 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Soldering and brazing are thought to have originated very early in the history of metal-working, probably before 4,000 BC. Sumerian swords from ~3,000 BC were assembled using hard soldering.

Soldering was historically used to make jewelry items, cooking ware and tools, as well as other uses such as in assembling stained glass.

Soldering is used in plumbing, electronics, and metalwork from flashing to jewelry.

Soldering provides reasonably permanent but reversible connections between copper pipes in plumbing systems as well as joints in sheet metal objects such as food cans, roof flashing, rain gutters and automobile radiators.

Jewelry components, machine tools and some refrigeration and plumbing components are often assembled and repaired by the higher temperature silver soldering process. Small mechanical parts are often soldered or brazed as well. Soldering is also used to join lead came and copper foil in stained glass work.

Electronic soldering connects electrical wiring and electronic components to printed circuit boards (PCBs).

Types of solder

On July 1, 2006 the European Union Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) came into effect prohibiting the inclusion of significant quantities of lead in most consumer electronics produced in the EU. In the US, manufacturers may receive tax benefits by reducing the use of lead-based solder. Lead-free solders in commercial use may contain tin, copper, silver, bismuth, indium, zinc, antimony, and traces of other metals. Most lead-free replacements for conventional 60/40 and 63/37 Sn-Pb solder have melting points from 5 to 20 °C higher, though there are also solders with much lower melting points.

It may be desirable to use minor modification of the solder pots (e.g. titanium liners or impellers) used in wave-soldering, to reduce maintenance cost due to increased tin-scavenging of high-tin solder.

Lead-free solder may be less desirable for critical applications, such as aerospace and medical projects, because its properties are less thoroughly known.

Tin-Silver-Copper (Sn-Ag-Cu, or "SAC") solders are used by two-thirds of Japanese manufacturers for reflow and wave soldering, and by about 75% of companies for hand soldering. The widespread use of this popular lead-free solder alloy family is based on the reduced melting point of the Sn-Ag-Cu ternary eutectic behavior (217 ˚C), which is below the 22/78 Sn-Ag (wt.%) eutectic of 221 °C and the 59/41 Sn-Cu eutectic of 227 °C (recently revised by P. Snugovsky to 53/47 Sn-Cu). The ternary eutectic behavior of Sn-Ag-Cu and its application for electronics assembly was discovered (and patented) by a team of researchers from Ames Laboratory, Iowa State University, and from Sandia National Laboratories-Albuquerque.

Much recent research has focused on selection of 4th element additions to Sn-Ag-Cu to provide compatibility for the reduced cooling rate of solder sphere reflow for assembly of ball grid arrays, e.g., 18/64/14/4 Tin-Silver-Copper-Zinc (Sn-Ag-Cu-Zn) (melting range of 217–220 ˚C) and 18/64/16/2 Tin-Silver-Copper-Manganese (Sn-Ag-Cu-Mn) (melting range of 211–215 ˚C).

Tin-based solders readily dissolve gold, forming brittle intermetallics; for Sn-Pb alloys the critical concentration of gold to embrittle the joint is about 4%. Indium-rich solders (usually indium-lead) are more suitable for soldering thicker gold layer as the dissolution rate of gold in indium is much slower. Tin-rich solders also readily dissolve silver; for soldering silver metallization or surfaces, alloys with addition of silvers are suitable; tin-free alloys are also a choice, though their wettability is poorer. If the soldering time is long enough to form the intermetallics, the tin surface of a joint soldered to gold is very dull.

Soldering filler materials are available in many different alloys for differing applications. In electronics assembly, the eutectic alloy of 63% tin and 37% lead (or 60/40, which is almost identical in melting point) has been the alloy of choice. Other alloys are used for plumbing, mechanical assembly, and other applications. Some examples of soft-solder are tin-lead for general purposes, tin-zinc for joining aluminium, lead-silver for strength at higher than room temperature, cadmium-silver for strength at high temperatures, zinc-aluminium for aluminium and corrosion resistance, and tin-silver and tin-bismuth for electronics.

A eutectic formulation has advantages when applied to soldering: the liquidus and solidus temperatures are the same, so there is no plastic phase, and it has the lowest possible melting point. Having the lowest possible melting point minimizes heat stress on electronic components during soldering. And, having no plastic phase allows for quicker wetting as the solder heats up, and quicker setup as the solder cools. A non-eutectic formulation must remain still as the temperature drops through the liquidus and solidus temperatures. Any movement during the plastic phase may result in cracks, resulting in an unreliable joint.

Common solder formulations based on tin and lead are listed below. The fraction represent percentage of tin first, then lead, totaling 100%:

63/37: melts at 183 °C (361 °F) (eutectic: the only mixture that melts at a point, instead of over a range)
60/40: melts between 183–190 °C (361–374 °F)
50/50: melts between 183–215 °C (361–419 °F)

For environmental reasons (and the introduction of regulations such as the European RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive)), lead-free solders are becoming more widely used. They are also suggested anywhere young children may come into contact with (since young children are likely to place things into their mouths), or for outdoor use where rain and other precipitation may wash the lead into the groundwater. Unfortunately, most lead-free solders are not eutectic formulations, melting at around 250 °C (482 °F), making it more difficult to create reliable joints with them.

Other common solders include low-temperature formulations (often containing bismuth), which are often used to join previously-soldered assemblies without un-soldering earlier connections, and high-temperature formulations (usually containing silver) which are used for high-temperature operation or for first assembly of items which must not become unsoldered during subsequent operations. Alloying silver with other metals changes the melting point, adhesion and wetting characteristics, and tensile strength. Of all the brazing alloys, silver solders have the greatest strength and the broadest applications. Specialty alloys are available with properties such as higher strength, the ability to solder aluminum, better electrical conductivity, and higher corrosion resistance.

Flux is a reducing agent designed to help reduce (return oxidized metals to their metallic state) metal oxides at the points of contact to improve the electrical connection and mechanical strength. The two principal types of flux are acid flux (sometimes called "active flux"), used for metal mending and plumbing, and rosin flux (sometimes called "passive flux"), used in electronics, where the corrosiveness of the vapors released when acid flux is heated would risk damaging delicate circuitry.

Due to concerns over atmospheric pollution and hazardous waste disposal, the electronics industry has been gradually shifting from rosin flux to water-soluble flux, which can be removed with deionized water and detergent, instead of hydrocarbon solvents.

In contrast to using traditional bars or coiled wires of all-metal solder and manually applying flux to the parts being joined, much hand soldering since the mid-20th century has used flux-core solder. This is manufactured as a coiled wire of solder, with one or more continuous bodies of non-acid flux embedded lengthwise inside it. As the solder melts onto the joint, it frees the flux and releases that on it as well.

Hard solders are used for brazing, and melt at higher temperatures. Alloys of copper with either zinc or silver are the most common.

In silversmithing or jewelry making, special hard solders are used that will pass assay. They contain a high proportion of the metal being soldered and lead is not used in these alloys. These solders vary in hardness, designated as "enameling", "hard", "medium" and "easy". Enameling solder has a high melting point, close to that of the material itself, to prevent the joint desoldering during firing in the enameling process. The remaining solder types are used in decreasing order of hardness during the process of making an item, to prevent a previously soldered seam or joint desoldering while additional sites are soldered. Easy solder is also often used for repair work for the same reason. Flux or rouge is also used to prevent joints from desoldering.

Silver solder is also used in manufacturing to join metal parts that cannot be welded. The alloys used for these purposes contain a high proportion of silver (up to 40%), and may also contain cadmium.

Arquerite, a natural amalgam of silver and mercury


Arquerite is a natural amalgam of silver and mercury. Attribution: Rob Lavinsky, – CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Arquerite is a naturally occurring alloy of silver with mercury. It is a very rare mineral, consisting of a silver-rich variety of amalgam, containing about 87% silver and 13% mercury. Arquerite has been reported from only four localities worldwide, two are in Chile and the other two are in British Columbia, Canada. Other names for arquerite include, argental mercury, mercurian silver, and silver amalgam.

Zinc amalgam


Potassium amalgam


Sodium amalgam


Aluminium amalgam


Tin amalgam


Other amalgams


Cupronickel (also known as copper-nickel)


Depleted uranium




Tungsten carbide (chemical formula: WC)




Vanadium steel


Manganese steel


Stainless steel


Surgical [stainless] steel and cutlery stainless steel

Surgical stainless steel is an informal term which refers to certain grades of stainless steel that are used in biomedical applications. The most common "surgical steels" are austenitic 316 stainless and martensitic 440 and 420 stainless steels. There is no formal definition on what constitutes a "surgical stainless steel", so product manufacturers and distributors apply the term to refer to any grade of corrosion resistant steel.

316 stainless steel, also referred to as marine grade stainless steel, is a chromium, nickel, molybdenum alloy of steel that exhibits relatively good strength and corrosion resistance. Along with the titanium alloy Ti6Al4V, 316 stainless is a common choice of material for biomedical implants. Although Ti6Al4V provides greater strength per weight and corrosion resistance, 316 stainless components can be more economical to produce. However, immune system reaction to nickel is a potential complication of 316. Implants and equipment that are put under pressure (bone fixation screws, prostheses, body piercing jewelry) are made out of austenitic steel, often 316L and 316LVM compliant to ASTM F138. 316 surgical steel is used in the manufacture and handling of food and pharmaceutical products where it is often required in order to minimize metallic contamination. ASTM F138 -compliant steel is also used in the manufacture of body piercing jewellery and body modification implants.

440 and 420 stainless steels, known also by the name "Cutlery Stainless Steel", are high carbon steels alloyed with chromium. They have very good corrosion resistance compared to other cutlery steels, but their corrosion resistance is inferior to 316 stainless. Biomedical cutting instruments are often made from 440 or 420 stainless due to its high hardness coupled with acceptable corrosion resistance. This type of stainless steel may be slightly magnetic.

Aviation steel


Electrical resistance wire


Titanium steel




Gold-mercury amalgam


Copper-mercury amalgam (Viennese metal cement)


How it is done


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