Heat Treatment of Metals (3)-Hardening

November 2, 2009

Heat Treatment of Metals (3)-Hardening


Hardening is the process of heating a piece of steel to a temperature within or above its critcal range and then cooling it in rapidly. If the carbon content of the steel is known, the proper temperature to which the steel should be heated may be obtained by reference to the iron – iron carbide phase diagram. However, if the composition of the steel is unknown,  a little preliminary experimentation may be necessary to determine the range. A good procedure to follow is to heat quench a number of small specimens of the steel at various temperatures and observe the results, either by hardness testing or by microscopic examination. When the correct temperture is obtained, there will be a marked change in hardness and other properties.

In any heat treating operation the rate of heating is important. Heat flows from the exterior to the interior of steel at a definite rate. If the steel is heated too fast, the outside become hotter than the interior and uniform structure can not be obtained. If a piece is irregular in shape, a slow rate is all the more essential to eliminate warping and cracking. The heavier the section, the longer must be the heating time to achieve uniform results. Even after the correct temperature has been reached, the piece should be held at that temperature for a sufficient period of time to permit its thickest section to attain a uniform temperature.

The hardness obtained from a given treatment depends on the quenching rate, the carbon content, and the work size. In alloy steels the kinid and amount of alloying element influences only the hardenability( the ability of the workpiece to be hardened to depths) of the steel and does not affect the hardness except in unhardened or partially hardened steels.

Steel with low carbon content will not respond appreciably to hardening treatments. As the carbon content in steel increases up to around 0.60%, the possible hardness obtainable also increases. Above this point the hardness can be increased only slightly, because steels above the eutectoid point are made up entirely of pearlite and cementite in the annealed state. Pearlite reponds best to heat treating operations; any steel composed mostly of pearlite can be transformed into a hard steel.

As the size of parts to be hardened increases, the surface hardness decreases somewhat even though all other conditions have remained the same. There is a limit to the rate of heat flow through steel. No matter how cool the quenching medium maybe, if the heat inside a large piece can not escape faster than a certain critical rate, there is a definite limit to the inside hardness. However, brine or water quenching is capable of rapidly bringing the surface of the quenched part to its own temperature and maintaining it at or close to this temperature. Under these circumstances there would always be some finite depth of surface hardening regardless of size. This is not true in oil quenching, when the surface temperature maybe high during the critical stages of quenching.

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