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Quench hardening of steel

Abstract:
Hardening of steel is obtained by a suitable quench from within or above the critical range. The
temperatures are the same as those given for full annealing. The soaking time in air furnaces should be
1,2 min for each mm of cross-section or ,! min in salt or lead baths. "neven heating, overheating and
e#cessive scaling should be avoided.The quenching is necessary to suppress the normal breakdown of
austenite into ferrite and cementite, and to cause a partial decomposition at such a low temperature to
produce martensite. To obtain this, steel requires a critical cooling velocity, which is greatly reduced by the
presence of alloying elements, which therefore cause hardening with mild quenching $e.g. oil and
hardening steels%.
Hardening of steel is obtained by a suitable quench from within or above the critical
range. The temperatures are the same as those given for full annealing. The soaking
time in air furnaces should be 1,2 min for each mm of cross-section or ,! min in salt
or lead baths. "neven heating, overheating and e#cessive scaling should be avoided.
The quenching is necessary to suppress the normal breakdown of austenite into
ferrite and cementite, and to cause a partial decomposition at such a low
temperature to produce martensite. To obtain this, steel requires a critical cooling
velocity, which is greatly reduced by the presence of alloying elements, which
therefore cause hardening with mild quenching $e.g. oil and hardening steels%.
&teels with less than ,' ( carbon cannot be hardened effectively, while the
ma#imum effect is obtained at about ,) ( due to an increased tendency to retain
austenite in high carbon steels *ig. 1.
*igure 1. +ariation of hardness of martensite and bainite with carbon content
,ater is one of the most efficient quenching media where ma#imum hardness is
required, but it is liable to cause distortion and cracking of the article. ,here
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hardness can be sacrificed, whale, cotton seed and mineral oils are used. These tend
to o#idise and form sludge with consequent lowering of efficiency.
The quenching velocity of oil is much less than water. *errite and troostite are formed
even in small sections. -ntermediate rates between water and oil can be obtained
with water containing 1-' ( "con, a substance with an inverse solubility which
therefore deposits on the ob.ect to slow rate of cooling. To minimise distortion, long
cylindrical ob.ects should be quenched vertically, flat sections edgeways and thick
sections should enter the bath first. To prevent steam bubbles forming soft spots, a
water quenching bath should be agitated.
*ully hardened and tempered steels develop the best combination of strength and
notch-ductility.
Tempering and toughening
The martensite of quenched tool steel is e#ceedingly brittle and highly stressed.
/onsequently cracking and distortion of the ob.ect are liable to occur after
quenching. 0etained austenite is unstable and as it changes dimensions may alter,
e.g. dies may alter ,12 mm.
-t is necessary, therefore, to warm the steel below the critical range in order to
relieve stresses and to allow the arrested reaction of cementite precipitation to take
place. This is known as tempering.
11-212/. The ob.ect is heated in an oil bath, immediately after quenching,
to prevent related cracking, to relieve internal stress and to decompose
austenite without much softening.
2-312/. "sed to toughen the steel at the e#pense of hardness. 4rinell
hardness is '1-31.
31-)2/. The precipitated cementite coalesces into larger masses and the
steel becomes softer. The structure is known as sorbite, which at the higher
temperatures becomes coarsely spheroidised. -t etches more slowly than
troostite and has a 4rinell hardness of 22-'1. &orbite is commonly found in
heat-treated constructional steels, such as a#les, shafts and crankshafts
sub.ected to dynamic stresses. 5 treatment of quenching and tempering in
this temperature range is frequently referred to as toughening, and it
produces an increase in the ratio of the elastic limit to the ultimate tensile
strength.
The reactions in tempering occur slowly. 0eaction time as well as temperature of
heating is important. Tempering is carried out to an increasing e#tent under
pyrometric control in oil, salt $e.g. equal parts sodium and potassium nitrates for
2-!2/% or lead baths and also in furnaces in which the air is circulated by fans.
5fter the tempering, the ob.ects may be cooled either rapidly or slowly, e#cept for
steels susceptible to temper brittleness.
Temper colours formed on a cleaned surface are still used occasionally as a guide to
temperature. They e#ist due to the interference effects of thin films of o#ide formed
during tempering, and they act similarly to oil films on water. 5lloys such as stainless
steel form thinner films than do carbon steels for a given temperature and hence
produce a colour lower in the series. *or e#ample, pale straw corresponds to '2/,
instead of 2'2/ $Table 1%.
Table 1.
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Temper Colour Temperature C
Objects
6ale straw 2' 6laning and slotting tools
7ark straw 23 8illing cutters, drills
4rown 21 Taps, shear blades for metals
4rownish-purple 2! 6unches, cups, snaps, twist drills, reamers
6urple 2) 6ress tools, a#es
7ark purple 29 /old chisels, setts for steel
4lue ' &aws for wood, springs
4lue 31-!1 Toughening for constructional steels
*or turning, planing, shaping tools and chisels, only the cutting parts need
hardening. This is frequently carried out in engineering works by heating the tool to
)'2/, followed by quenching the cutting end vertically. ,hen cutting end gets cold,
it is cleaned with the stone and the heat from the shank of the tool is allowed to
temper the cutting edge to the correct colour. Then the whole tool is quenched.
:#idation can be reduced by coating the tool with charcoal and oil.
Changes during tempering
The principles underlying the tempering of quenched steels have a close similarity to
those of precipitation hardening. The overlapping changes, which occur when high
carbon martensite is tempered, are shown in *ig. 2 and as follows;
Stage 1. 1-22/. 8artensite breaks down to a transition precipitate known
as c-carbide $*e2,3/% across twins and a low carbon martensite which results
in slight dispersion hardening, decrease in volume and electrical resistance.
Stage 2. 21-'12/. 7ecomposition of retained austenite to bainite and
decrease in hardness.
Stage . 21-12/. /onversion of the aggregate of low carbon martensite
and c-carbide into ferrite and cementite precipitated along twins, which
gradually coarsens to give visible particles and rapid softening, *ig. '.
Stage !. /arbide changes in alloy steel at 3-)2/. -n steels containing
one alloying addition, cementite forms first and the alloy diffuses to it. ,hen
sufficiently enriched the *e'/ transforms to an alloy carbide. 5fter further
enrichment this carbide may be superseded by another and this formation of
transition carbides may be repeated several times before the equilibrium
carbide forms. -n chromium steel, changes are; *e'//r)/'/r2'/!. -n
steels containing several carbide-forming elements the reactions are often
more comple#, and the carbides which decompose are not necessarily
followed by carbides based on the same alloy elements. The transformation
can also occur in situ by gradual e#change of atoms without any appreciable
hardening< or by resolution of e#isting iron carbides and fresh nucleation of
coherent carbide with considerable hardening that counteracts the normal
softening that occurs during tempering. -n some alloy steels, therefore, the
hardness is maintained constant up to about 12/ or in some cases it rises
to a peak followed by a gradual drop due to breakdown of coherence and
coalescence of the carbide particles. This age-hardening process is known as
secondary hardening and it enhances high temperature creep properties of
steel $e.g. steel = in *ig. 2%. /hromium, for an e#ample, seems to stabilise
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the si>e of the cementite particles over a range 2-12/. +anadium and
molybdenum form a fine dispersion of coherent precipitates $+3/'8o2/% in a
ferrite matri# with considerable hardening. ,hen over-ageing starts the +3/'
grows in the grain boundaries and also forms a ,idmanst?tten pattern of
plates within the grain.
*igure 2.Tempering curves for ,'1 ( / steel and die steel
a% 5s quenched. @aths with high
density of dislocation
b% Tempered '2/. ,idmanst?tten
precipitation of carbides within laths
c% Tempered 12/. 0ecovery of
dislocation structure into cells with
laths
d% Tempered !2/. 0ecrystallisation
cemen-tite re-nucleated equio#ed ferrite
boundaries
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e% High / twinned martensite
f% Tempered 12/. *ine e-carbides across
twins
g% Tempered 22/. /oherent
cementite along twins. c-carbides
dissolve
h% Tempered 32/. 4reakdown of twinned
structure. /arbides grow and spheroidise
*igure '. @ow carbon lath martensites have a high 8s temperature and some
tempering often occurs on cooling, i.e. autotempering.
Tempering at '2/ causes precipitation of carbides within the laths in
,idmanst?tten form $*ig. '%. Tempering at 12/ promotes the recovery of the
dislocation tangle into cells within the laths with carbides precipitated along
boundaries. Tempering at !2/ gives rise to recrystallisation into equio#ed ferrite
with carbides re-nucleated at the boundaries.
Quench cracks
The volume changes, which occur when austenite is cooled, are; a% e#pansion when
gamma iron transforms to ferrite< b% contraction when cementite is precipitated< c%
normal thermal contraction.
,hen steel is quenched these volume changes occur very rapidly and unevenly
throughout the specimen. The outside cools most quickly, and is mainly martensitic,
in which contraction $b% has not occurred. The centre may be troostitic and
contraction $b% started.
&tresses are set up which may cause the metal either to distort or to crack if the
ductility is insufficient for plastic flow to occur. &uch cracks may occur some time
after the quenching or in the early stages of tempering.
Auench cracks are liable to occur;
a% due to presence of non-metallic inclusions, cementite masses, etc.<
b% when austenite is coarse grained due to high quenching temperature<
c% owing to uneven quenching<
d% in pieces of irregular section and when sharp re-entrant angles are present in the
design.
The relation of design to heat-treatment is very important. 5rticles of irregular
section need special care. ,hen steel has been chosen which needs a water-quench,
then the designer must use generous fillets in the corners and a uniform section
should be aimed at. This can sometimes be obtained by boring out metal from bulky
parts without materially affecting the design< e#amples are given in *ig. 3.
5 hole drilled from the side to meet a central hole may cause cracking and it should
be drilled right through and temporarily stopped up with asbestos wool during heat-
treatment. 5 crack would also form at the .unction of the solid gear with the shaft.
There is a serious danger of cracks at the roots of the teeth, owing to the great
change in si>e of section. This design could be improved by machining the metal
away under the rim to make a cross-section of uniform mass.
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*igure 3. The relation of design to heat-treatment
Fundamentals of heat-treatment
Heat-treatment of steel involves the change of austenite, a face-centred cubic iron
lattice containing carbon atoms in the interstices, into a body-centred cubic ferrite
with a low solubility for carbon.
The carbon atoms segregate into areas to form cementite. This involves mobility or
diffusion of the carbon atoms and both time and temperature are important. 5tomic
movements are rapid at high temperatures but increasingly sluggish as the
temperature decreases.
5s the rate of cooling of an austenitised steel increases the time allowed for the
changes is shortened and the reactions are incomplete at !-)2/. 0esidual
austenite, therefore, transforms at lower temperatures, with shorter movements of
atoms and finer structures. 5t temperatures below about 212/ diffusion is so slow
that another transition structure is formed.
The effect of rapid cooling on the critical points is comple# $*ig. 1%. -ncrease in the
rate of cooling has the following effects;
1. 5rrest temperatures are depressed.
2. 5r' merges with 5r1 producing a single depressed point known as 5rB. *ine
laminated troostite is formed.
'. 5ccelerated cooling causes another arrest to appear at '1-112/, known
as 5rB. Troostite and martensite are formed.
3. 0apid quenching causes 5rB to merge into 5rB. 8artensite is formed.
1. The arrest due to the formation of bainite at 1-212/ does not usually
appear with carbon steel, but is present with many alloy steels.
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*igure 1. =ffect of cooling rate on the transformation of austenite
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