The purpose of this brochure is to pro-vide some idea of how tool steel is heattreated and how it behaves.Special attention is paid to hardness,toughness and dimensional stability.
= Possible positions for carbonatoms= Iron atoms3,57 A2,85 A2.98 A2,86 A
Unit cell in a martensite crystal Unit cell in an austenite crystal Face centred cubic (FCC) Unit cell in a ferrite crystal Body centred cubic (BCC)
What is tool steel?
Uddeholm has concentrated its toolsteel range on high alloyed types of steel, intended primarily for purposessuch as plastics moulding, blanking andforming, die casting, extrusion, forgingand wood-working.Conventional high speed steels andpowder metallurgy (PM) steels are alsoincluded in the range.Tool steel is normally delivered in thesoft annealed condition. This is to makethe material easy to machine with cutt-ing tools and to give it a microstructuresuitable for hardening.The microstructure consists of a softmatrix in which carbides are embedded.In carbon steel, these carbides consist of iron carbide, while in the alloyed steelthey are chromium (Cr), tungsten (W),molybdenum (Mo) or vanadium (V)carbides, depending on the compositionof the steel. Carbides are compounds of carbon and these alloying elements andare characterized by very high hardness.A higher carbide content means higherresistance to wear.In alloy steels, it is important that thecarbides are evenly distributed.Other alloying elements are alsoused in tool steel, such as cobalt (Co)and nickel (Ni), but these do not formcarbides. Cobalt is normally used to im-prove red hardness in high speed steels,nickel to improve through-hardeningproperties.
When a tool is hardened, many factorsinfluence the result.
SOME THEORETICAL ASPECTS
In soft annealed tool steel, most of thealloying elements are bound up withcarbon in carbides. In addition to thesethere are the alloying elements cobaltand nickel, which do not form carbidesbut are instead dissolved in the matrix.When the steel is heated for harden-ing, the basic idea is to dissolve the car-bides to such a degree that the matrixacquires an alloying content that givesthe hardening effect—without becom-ing coarse grained and brittle.Note that the carbides are partially dis-solved. This means that the matrix be-comes alloyed with carbon andcarbide-forming elements.When the steel is heated to the hard-ening temperature (austenitizing tem-perature), the carbides are partially dis-solved, and the matrix is also altered. Itis transformed from ferrite to austenite.This means that the iron atoms changetheir position in the atomic lattice andmake room for atoms of carbon andalloying elements. The carbon and alloy-ing elements from the carbides are dis-solved in the matrix.If the steel is quenched sufficientlyrapid in the hardening process, the car-bon atoms do not have time to reposi-tion themselves to allow the reformingof ferrite from austenite, i.e. as in an-nealing. Instead, they are fixed in posi-tions where they really do not haveenough room, and the result is highmicrostresses that can be defined as in-creased hardness. This hard structure iscalled martensite. Thus, martensite canbe seen as a forced solution of carbonin ferrite.When a steel is hardened, the matrixis not completely converted into mar-tensite. Some austenite is always leftand is called “retained austenite”. Theamount increases with increasing alloy-ing content, higher hardening tempera-ture and longer soaking times.After quenching, the steel has amicrostructure consisting of martensite,retained austenite and carbides. Thisstructure contains inherent stresses thatcan easily cause cracking. But this canbe prevented by reheating the steel to acertain temperature, reducing the stres-ses and transforming the retained aus-tenite to an extent that depends uponthe reheating temperature. This reheat-ing after hardening is called tempering.
Hardening of a tool steel should always be followed immediately by tempering.
It should be noted that tempering atlow temperatures only affects the mar-tensite, while tempering at high tem-perature also affects the retained auste-nite.After one tempering at high tem-perature, the microstructure consists of tempered martensite, newlyformedmartensite, some retained austenite andcarbides.