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Cover photos from left to right: Bhler Uddeholm Czech Republic,
Uddeholms AB/HRDtekno, Eifeler Werkzeuge, Germany.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial purposes
without permission of the copyright holder.

This information is based on our present state of knowledge and is intended to provide general
notes on our products and their uses. It should not therefore be construed as a warranty of
specific properties of the products described or a warranty for fitness for a particular purpose.
Classified according to EU Directive 1999/45/EC
For further information see our Material Safety Data Sheets.

Edition 8, Revised 06.2012, not printed

The latest revised edition of this brochure is the English version, SS-EN ISO 9001
SS-EN ISO 14001
which is always published on our web site


What is tool steel? 4

Hardening and tempering 4
Dimensional and shape stability 11
Surface treatment 12
Testing of mechanical properties 14
Some words of advice to tool designers 15
Hardness after hardening and tempering 17
Hardness conversion table 18


The purpose of this brochure is to lighter parts, greater precision and

provide a general idea of how tool increased reliability.
steel is heat treated and how it Uddeholm has concentrated its and tempering
behaves during this process. Special tool steel range on high alloyed types
When a tool is hardened, many
attention is paid to hardness, tough- of steel, intended primarily for pur-
factors influence the result.
ness and dimensional stability. poses such as plastic moulding, blan-
king and forming, die casting, extru-
sion, forging, wood-working industry,
Some theoretical aspects
In soft annealed condition, most of
What is tool steel? recycling industry and component
business. Powder metallurgy (PM) the carbide-forming alloying elements
Tool steels are high-quality steels steels are also included in the range. are bound up with carbon in car-
made to controlled chemical compo- Tool steel is normally delivered in bides.
sition and processed to develop the soft annealed condition; this When the steel is heated up to
properties useful for working and makes the material easy to machine hardening temperature, the matrix is
shaping of other materials. The car- with cutting tools and it provides a transformed from ferrite to austenite.
bon content in tool steels may range microstructure suitable for harden- This means that the Iron atoms
from as low as 0.1% to as high as ing. change their position in the atomic
more than 1.6% C and many are The soft annealed microstructure lattice and generate a new lattice
alloyed with alloying elements such as consists of a soft matrix in which with different crystallinity.
chromium, molybdenum and vana- carbides are embedded. See picture
dium. below. = Iron atoms
Tool steels are used for applica- In carbon steel, these carbides are = Possible positions for
tions such as blanking and forming, Iron carbides, while in alloyed steel carbon atoms
plastic moulding, die casting, extru- they are chromium (Cr), tungsten
sion and forging. (W), molybdenum (Mo) or vanadium
Alloy design, the manufacturing (V) carbides, depending on the
route of the steel and quality heat composition of the steel. Carbides
treatment are key factors in order to are compounds of carbon and
develop tools or parts with the en- alloying elements and are character-
hanced properties that only tool ized by very high hardness. Higher
steel can offer. carbide content means a higher 2.86 A
Benefits like durability, strength, resistance to wear.
corrosion resistance and high-tem- Unit cell in a ferrite crystal.
Also non-carbide forming alloying
Body centred cubic (BCC).
perature stability are also attractive elements are used in tool steel, such
for other purposes than pure tool as cobalt (Co) and nickel (Ni) which
applications. For this reason, tool are dissolved in the matrix. Cobalt is
steel is a better choice than con- normally used to improve red hard-
struction or engineering steel for ness in high speed steels, while nickel
strategic components in the different is used to improve through-hardening
industries. properties and also increase the
More advanced materials easily toughness in the hardened condi-
result in lower maintenance costs, tions.
3.57 A

Unit cell in an austenite crystal.

Face centred cubic (FCC).

2.98 A

Uddeholm Dievar, soft 2.85 A

annealed structure.
Unit cell in a martensite crystal.

Austenite has a higher solubility limit Precipitated secondary (newly It is possible to make use of different
for carbon and alloying elements, and formed) carbides and newly formed combinations of these factors that
the carbides will dissolve into the martensite can increase hardness will result in the same hardness level.
matrix to some extent. In this way during high temperature tempering. Each of these combinations corre-
the matrix acquires an alloying con- Typical of this is the so called sec- sponds to a different heat treatment
tent of carbide-forming elements that ondary hardening of e.g. high speed cycle, but certain hardness does not
gives the hardening effect, without steels and high alloyed tool steels. guarantee any specific set of proper-
becoming coarse grained. Usually a certain hardness level is ties of the material. The material
If the steel is quenched sufficiently required for each individual applica- properties are determined by its
rapidly in the hardening process, the tion of the steel, and therefore heat microstructure and this depends on
carbon atoms do not have the time treatment parameters are chosen to the heat treatment cycle, and not on
to reposition themselves to allow the some extent in order to achieve the the obtained hardness.
reforming of ferrite from austenite, as desired hardness. It is very important Quality heat treatment delivers not
in for instance annealing. Instead, they to have in mind that hardness is the only desired hardness but also opti-
are fixed in positions where they mized properties of the material for
really do not have enough room, and Hardness the chosen application.
the result is high micro-stresses that Tool steels should always be at
contribute to increased hardness. C least double tempered. The second
This hard structure is called marten- B tempering takes care of the newly
site. Thus, martensite can be seen as a D formed martensite during cooling
forced solution of carbon in ferrite. after the first tempering.
When the steel is hardened, the Three temperings are recom-
matrix is not completely converted mended in the following cases:
into martensite. There is always some high speed steel with high carbon
Tempering temperature
austenite that remains in the struc- content
A = martensite tempering
ture and it is called retained austenite. complex hot work tools, especially
B = carbide precipitation
The amount increases with increasing C = transformation of retained austenite to in the case of die casting dies
alloying content, higher hardening martensite
big moulds for plastic applications
temperature, longer soaking times D = tempering diagram for high speed steel
and high alloy tool steel when high dimension stability is
and slower quenching. A+B+C = D a demand (such as in the case of
After quenching, the steel has a
The diagram shows the influence of gauges or tools for integrated
microstructure consisting of marten-
different factors on the secondary circuits)
site, retained austenite and carbides.
This structure contains inherent
stresses that can easily cause crack-
ing. But this can be prevented by result of several different factors,
reheating the steel to a certain tem- such as the amount of carbon in the
perature, reducing the stresses and martensitic matrix, the micro-
transforming the retained austenite stresses contained in the material, the
to an extent that depends upon the amount of retained austenite and the
reheating temperature. This reheating precipitated carbides during temper-
after hardening is called tempering. ing.
Hardening of tool steel should always
be followed immediately by temper-
It should be noted that tempering
at low temperatures only affects the
martensite, while tempering at high
temperature also affects the retained
After one tempering at a high tem-
perature the microstructure consists
of tempered martensite, newly
formed martensite, some retained Uddeholm Dievar,
austenite and carbides. 20m
hardened structure.


Stress relieving exceptions cheaper than making di- In the case of big tools with complex
Distortion due to hardening must be mensional adjustments during finish geometry a third preheating step
taken into account when a tool is machining of a hardened tool. close to the fully austenitic region is
rough machined. Rough machining recommended.
The correct work sequence before hard-
causes thermal and mechanical ening operaiton is:
stresses that will remain embedded rough machining, stress relieving and Holding time at
in the material. This might not be semi-finish machining. hardening temperature
significant on a symmetrical part of It is not possible to briefly state exact
simple design, but can be of great recommendations to cover all heat-
importance in an asymmetrical and Heating to ing situations.
complex machining, for example of hardening temperature Factors such as furnace type, hard-
one half of a die casting die. Here, As has already been explained, ening temperature, the weight of the
stress-relieving heat treatment is stresses contained in the material charge in relation to the size of the
always recommended. will produce distortion during heat furnace, the geometry of the different
This treatment is done after rough treatment. For this reason, thermal parts in the charge, etc., must be
machining and before hardening and stresses during heating should be taken into consideration in each case.
entails heating to 550700C (1020 avoided. The use of thermocouples permits
1300F). The material should be The fundamental rule for heating an overview of the temperature in
heated until it has achieved a uniform to hardening temperature is there- the different areas of the various
temperature all the way through, fore, that it should take place slowly, tools in the charge.
where it remains 23 hours and then increasing just a few degrees per The ramping step finishes when the
cooled slowly, for example in a fur- minute. In every heat treatment, the core of the parts in the furnace reach
nace. The reason for a necessary heating process is named ramping. the chosen temperature. Then the
slow cooling is to avoid new stresses The ramping for hardening should be temperature is maintained constant
of thermal origin in the stress-free made in different steps, stopping the for a certain amount of time. This is
material. process at intermediate tempera- called holding time.
The idea behind stress relieving is tures, commonly named preheating The generally recommended hold-
that the yield strength of the material steps. The reason for this is to equal- ing time is 30 minutes. In the case of
at elevated temperatures is so low ise the temperatures between the high speed steel, the holding time will
that the material cannot resist the surface and the centre of the part. be shorter when the hardening tem-
stresses contained in it. The yield Typically choosen preheating tem- perature is over 1100C (2000F). If
strength is exceeded and these peratures are 600650C (1100 the holding time is prolonged, micro-
stresses are released, resulting in a 1200F) and 800850C (1450 structural problems like grain growth
greater or lesser degree of plastic 1560F). can arise.
The excuse that stress relieving
takes too much time is hardly valid
when the potential consequences are
considered. Rectifying a part during
semi-finish machining is with few


Yield strength

Residual stresses
contained in the material



The use of thermocouples gives an overview of the temperature in different areas during
heat treatment. Photo: Bhler Uddeholm Czech Republic


Quenching Temperature in two steps. First it is cooled from

The choice between a fast and a slow AC3
the hardening temperature until the
quenching rate is usually a compro- AC1 temperature at the surface is just
mise. To get the best microstructure above the Ms temperature. Then it
and tool performance the quenching must be held there until the tem-
rate should be rapid. To minimize perature has been equalised between
distortion, a slow quenching rate is the surface and the core. After this,
recommended. the cooling process continues. This
Slow quenching results in less method permits the core and the
temperature difference between the Core surface to transform into martensite
surface and the core of a part, and Surface at more or less the same time and
sections of different thickness will diminishes thermal stresses. Step
have a more uniform cooling rate. quenching is also a possibility when
This is of great importance when quenching in vacuum furnaces.
MS The maximum cooling rate that can
quenching through the martensite
range, below the Ms temperature. be obtained in a part depends on the
Martensite formation leads to an heat conductivity of the steel, the
increase in volume and stresses in Martensite cooling capacity of the quenching
the material. This is also the reason media and the cross-section of the
why quenching should be interrupted part.
The quenching process as expressed in a
before room temperature has been CCT graph.
reached, normally at 5070C (120
160F). Temperature
However, if the quenching rate is Air hardening is reserved for steel Hardening temperature
too slow, especially with heavier with high hardenability, which in most
cross-sections, undesirable transfor- of the cases is due to the combined
mations in the microstructure can presence of manganese, chrome and
take place, risking a poor tool per- molybdenum. Polymer Vacuum
formance. Risk of distortion and hardening Salt bath
Quenching media used for alloyed cracks can be reduced by means of Water
steel nowadays are: hardening oil, step quenching or martempering. In Room
polymer solutions, air and inert gas. this process the material is quenched
Cooling rates for various media.

A poor quenching rate will lead to
carbide precipitation at the grain
boundaries in the core of the part,
and this is very detrimental to the
mechanical properties of the steel.
Also the obtained hardness at the
surface of larger parts could be lower
Batch prepared for heat treatment.
Photo: Bhler Uddeholm Czech Republic. for tools with bigger cross-sections
Core than that for smaller parts, as the
high amount of heat that has to be
It is still possible to find some heat transported from the core through
treatment shops that use salt baths, Surface the surface produces a self-tempering
but this technique is disappearing due MS effect.
to environmental aspects.
Oil and polymer solutions are
usually utilised for low alloyed steel Martensite
and for tool steel with low carbon
contents. Martempering or step-quenching.


At high temperature, steel is very Vacuum technology is the most used perature of approx. 850C (1560F),
likely to suffer oxidation and varia- technology nowadays for hardening the effect of radiation heating
tions in the carbon content (carburi- of high alloyed steel. mechanisms will overshadow that of
zation or decarburization). Protected Vacuum heat treatment is a clean the convection ones in the heat
atmospheres and vacuum technology process, so the parts do not need to transfer process. Therefore the
are the answer to these problems. be cleaned afterwards. It also offers a Nitrogen pressure is lowered, in
Decarburization results in low sur- reliable process control with high order to optimize the effects of
face hardness and a risk of cracking. automation, low maintenance and radiation and convection heating
Carburization, on the other hand, environmental friendliness. All these mechanisms are negligible under
can result in two different problems: factors make vacuum technology these new physical conditions. The
the first and easiest to identify is especially attractive for high-quality new value of the nitrogen pressure
the formation of a harder surface parts. is around 7 mbar. The reason for
layer, which can have negative having this remaining pressure is to
effects avoid sublimation of the alloying
the second possible problem is
retained austenite at the surface
Top gas flap Heating elements
Retained austenite can in many cases
be confused with ferrite when ob- Heat exchanger
serving it through the optical micro- vessel
scope. These two phases also have
similar hardness, and therefore, what
at first sight can be identified as a
decarburization can in some cases be

Bottom gas flap

Cooling fan

Hot zone Convection fan

Cooling phase, top cooling. Illustration from Schmetz GmbH Vacuum Furnaces, Germany.

The different steps in the functioning elements, i.e. to avoid the loss of
of a vacuum furnace can schematically alloying elements to the vacuum.
be listed as follows: This low pressure condition will be
When the furnace is closed after maintained invariant during the last
charging operation, air is pumped part of the heating process, as well
Batch type furnace with controlled out from the heating chamber in as during the holding time at the
atmosphere. Photo: Bodycote Stockholm, order to avoid oxidation. chosen hardening temperature.
An inert gas (most commonly The cooling down will be carried
Nitrogen) is injected into the heat- out by a massive injection of inert
ing chamber until a pressure of gas (most commonly nitrogen)
the completely opposite problem.
around 11.5 bar is reached. into the heating chamber in alter-
For these reasons it is very impor-
tant that the atmosphere in which The heating system is started.
the heat treatment takes place does The presence of the inert gas will
not affect the carbon content of the make possible the heat transfer
part. process through convection mecha-
Wrapping in a hermetically closed nisms. This is the most efficient way
stainless-steel foil also provides some to heat up the furnace to a tem-
protection when heating in a muffle perature of approx. 850C(1560F).
furnace. The steel foil should be re-
moved before quenching.
Hot zone with graphite insulation. Photo:
Schmetz GmbH Vacuum Furnaces, Germany.


Vertical cooling

From top to bottom From bottom to top

Horizontal cooling

From right to left From left to right

Cooling phase. Nitrogen gas stream passes through the heating chamber in different
directions. Illustration from Schmetz GmbH Vacuum Furnaces, Germany.

nating directions and reaching the

overpressure that was previously
chosen when programming the
furnace. The maximum over-
pressure is a nominal characteristic
of each furnace and it gives an idea
of its cooling capacity.

Charging operation. Photo: Bhler Uddeholm Czech Republic.

Vacuum furnace. Photo: Schmetz GmbH

Vacuum Furnaces, Germany.


Tempering Precipitation of secondary carbides The basic rule of quenching is to

The material should be tempered will occur when tempering highly interrupt at 5070C (120160F).
immediately after quenching. alloyed steel at a high temperature. Therefore a certain amount of auste-
Quenching should be stopped at a This will be detrimental to its corro- nite remains untransformed when the
temperature of 5070C (120160F) sion resistance but will give to it material is ready to be tempered.
and tempering should be done at somewhat higher wear resistance. If When the material cools after tem-
once. If this is not possible, the the tool is to be electrical discharge pering, most of the austenite is trans-
material must be kept warm, e.g. in a machined (EDM) or coated, high- formed to newly formed martensite
special hot cabinet awaiting tem- temperature tempering is necessary. (untempered). A second tempering
pering. gives the material optimum tough-
HOW MANY TEMPERS ness at the chosen hardness level.
Please, notice that the stresses ARE REQUIRED?
contained in the as-quenched HOLDING TIMES
Two tempers are generally recom-
material can result in breakage IN CONNECTION WITH
mended for tool steel, except in the
of the crystalline structure and TEMPERING
cases of large cross-sections, parts
the formation of cracks if the
with complex geometries or very Here there is also a general rule,
tempering is not done immedi-
high demands on dimensional sta- applicable in most of the cases: once
ately after the quenching pro-
bility. In these cases, a third tempering the tool has been heated through,
cess. This breakage of the crys-
is usually needed. hold it for at least two hours at full
talline structure can take place
temperature each time.
in a violent way. Therefore the
importance of tempering as
soon as possible is not only to
safeguard the part from cracks, Austenite

but it is also a matter of per- Untempered martensite

sonal safety. Tempered martensite

Uddeholm has made a wide range of
experiments and measurements and austenite
collected the resulting data regard-
ing hardness, toughness, dimensional
changes and retained austenite in
graphs. These graphs are available for
the different steel grades and are of
great help in order to choose the Evolution of the phase
correct tempering temperature. After After After first After second After third content along the
heating quenching tempering tempering tempering*
The first priority when choosing different steps of the
*HSS steel and big high-pressure die casting dies heat treatment.
the tempering temperature should be
the mechanical properties, as some
small dimensional adjustments can be
made in a last fine machining step.
The mechanical and physical proper-
ties obtained after tempering will
depend greatly on the chosen tem-
pering temperature. High-tempera-
ture tempering will result in a lower
content of retained austenite than
low-temperature tempering. The
material will therefore have higher
compressive strength and improved
dimensional stability (in service and A lower die for
at surface coating). aluminium rim just
When tempering at high tempera- before heat treatment
ture, other differences in properties on charging grid.
are also noticeable, like higher heat Photo: ASSAB elik
conductivity. (Turkey)


In order to reduce distortion while thermal stresses. But as earlier men-

Dimensional and heating during the hardening process, tioned, a faster quenching will result
shape stability a stress relieving operation should be in better mechanical properties.
carried out prior to the hardening It is important that the quenching
Distortion during operation. It is recommended to medium is applied as uniformly as
hardening and tempering of stress relieve the material after rough possible. This is especially valid when
tool steel machining. Any distortion can then be forced air or protective gas atmos-
adjusted during semi-finish machining phere (as in vacuum furnaces) is used.
When a piece of tool steel is hard-
prior to hardening operation. Otherwise temperature differences
ened and tempered, some warpage
in the tool can lead to significant
or distortion normally occurs. This is
well known and it is normal practice THERMAL STRESSES
to leave some machining allowance
Thermal stresses arise every time
on the tool prior to hardening, mak- TRANSFORMATION STRESSES
there is a temperature gradient in the
ing it possible to adjust the tool to
material, i.e. when the temperature is Transformation stresses arise when
the correct dimensions after harden-
not even all over the part. the microstructure of the steel is
ing and tempering by grinding, for
Thermal stresses grow with in- transformed. This is because the
example .
creasing heating rate. Uneven heating three phases in question ferrite,
can result in local variations in vol- austenite and martensitehave
How does distortion different densities, i.e. volumes.
ume due to uneven dilatation rates
take place? and this will also contribute to the Out of all the microstructural
The cause is stresses in the material. arising of stresses and distortion. changes that take place during heat
These stresses can be divided into: In order to tackle this problem, it treatment, the biggest contribution
machining stresses is common practice to heat up the to transformation stresses is caused
thermal stresses material in steps, in order to equalise by the transformation of austenite
transformation stresses the temperature between the surface into martensite. This causes a volume
and the centre. increase.
Excessively rapid and uneven
MACHINING STRESSES quenching can also cause local mar-
Linear expansion mm/100 mm
Machining stresses are generated tensite formation and thereby vol-
during machining operations such as ume increases locally in a piece and
turning, milling and grinding or any 0.8 gives rise to stresses in this section.
type of cold working. These stresses can lead to distortion
If stresses have built up in a part, and, in some cases, hardening cracks.
they will be released during heating. 0.4
Heating reduces strength, releasing Volume
stresses through local distortion. This
can lead to overall distortion.
100 200 300 400 500 600 C
210 390 570 750 930 1110 F
Yield strength Rp0.2
MPa Effect of temperature on the linear expan-
sion of Uddeholm ORVAR Supreme, soft Trans- to austenite
400 annealed. formation
350 to martensite Ms AC1 AC3
250 Temperature
200 An attempt should always be made to
150 heat slowly enough so that the tem- Volume changes due to structural
100 perature remains virtually equal transformation.
throughout the piece.
100 200 300 400 500 600 C What has been said regarding
210 390 570 750 930 1110 F
heating, applies also to cooling.
Very powerful stresses arise during
Effect of temperature on the yield quenching. As a general rule, the
strength of Uddeholm Orvar Supreme, slower quenching can be done, the
soft annealed. less distortion will occur due to


How can distortion SUB-ZERO TREATMENT each tempering. Always finish with a
be reduced? Retained austenite in a tool can tempering as last operation, in order
transform into martensite during to avoid the existence of untempered
Distortion can be minimized by:
service. This will lead to local distor- martensite in the part.
keeping the design simple and
symmetrical tion and embrittlement of the tool
eliminating machining stresses due to the presence of untempered
by stress relieving after rough martensite. Therefore the require-
ment of maximum dimensional stabil-
Surface treatment
heating up slowly to hardening ity in service has an implied demand Nitriding
temperature for very low or no retained austenite Nitriding is performed by exposing
using a suitable grade of steel content. This can be achieved by the parts to some media rich in
quenching the piece as slowly as using sub-zero treatment after nitrogen under certain physical con-
possible, but quick enough to quenching or by high temperature ditions that will result in the diffusion
obtain a correct microstructure tempering. of nitrogen atoms into the steel and
in the steel The sub-zero treatment leads to the formation of nitrides. The part
by usage of martempering or step a reduction of retained austenite surface will then be harder and have
quenching content by exposing the tool or part a higher wear resistance in its outer
tempering at a suitable temperature to very low temperatures. The most layer.
commonly used are about -80C In the case of corrosion resistant
The following values for machining (-110F) and -196C (-320F). This, in steel with high-chromium content, it
allowances can be used as guidelines. turn, will result in a hardness in- is very important to take into con-
crease of up to 12 HRC, in com- sideration the fact that nitriding has a
Machining allowance parison to non sub-zero treated detrimental effect on the corrosion
Uddeholm on length and diameter tools, if low temperature tempering
Steel grade as % of dimension resistance of the material. In other
is used. For high temperature tem- cases nitriding can have a positive
ARNE 0,25 % pered tools there will be little or no effect on the corrosion resistance.
CALDIE 0,25 %
hardness increase. Appropriate steel to be nitrided
CHIPPER/VIKING 0,20 % Tools that are high temperature are usually medium-carbon steel
RIGOR 0,20 % tempered, even without a sub-zero with nitride-forming elements such
SLEIPNER 0,25 % treatment, will normally have a low as chromium, aluminium, molyb-
SVERKER 3 0,20 % retained austenite content and in denum and vanadium.
SVERKER 21 0,20 %
most cases, a sufficient dimensional The core should act as a stable
VANADIS 6 0,15 %
stability. However, for high demands substrate regarding mechanical prop-
VANADIS 10 0,15 % on dimensional stability in service it erties and microstructure. This
VANADIS 23 0,15 % is also recommended to use a sub- means that for hardened material it
VANCRON 40 0,20 % zero treatment in combination with is necessary to temper above the
CORRAX 0,050,15 %* high temperature tempering. nitriding temperature in order to
ELMAX 0,15 %
For the highest requirements on avoid softening of the core during
STAVAX ESR 0,15 % dimensional stability, sub-zero treat- the nitriding process.
UNIMAX 0,30 % ment in liquid nitrogen is recom- It should be noted that a nitrided
ALVAR 0.20 % mended after quenching and after surface cannot be machined with
ALVAR 14 0.20 %
DIEVAR 0,30 %
HOTVAR 0,30 % No treatment
ORVAR 2 MICRODIZED 0,20 % Sub-zero treatment
ORVAR SUPREME 0,20 % Hardness HRC Retained austenite %
QRO 90 SUPREME 0,30 %
75 24
70 Hardness 21
BURE 0.20 %
65 18
* Depending on ageing temperature 60 15 Uddeholm Sleipner.
55 12 Hardness and retained
50 9 austenite as function of
45 Retained austenite 6 tempering temperature
40 3 with and without sub-zero
35 treatment.
150 250 350 450 550 650C
300 480 660 840 1020 1200F
Tempering temperature C


cutting tools and can only be ground for this purpose. The temperature Surface coating
with difficulty. A nitrided surface will range for this process is 550C to Surface coating of tool steel has
cause problems in weld repairing as 580C (1020F to 1075F) and the become a common practise. The
well. time of exposure is between 30 min- general aim for these kinds of pro-
There are several technologies utes and 5 hours. cesses is to generate an outer layer
available in the field of nitriding; the After the exposure the part should with a very high hardness and low
main ones are gas nitriding, high pres- be cooled down rapidly. friction that results in good wear
sure nitriding (carried out in vacuum resistance, minimising the risk for
furnaces) and plasma nitriding.
Two common problems of con-
Case hardening adhesion and sticking. To be able to
use these properties in an optimal
ventional nitriding technologies are Case hardening is a process in which
way a tool steel of high quality should
possible over-tempering of the sub- a finished part is exposed to a
be chosen.
strate material and thickening of the carburizing atmosphere and high
The most commonly used coating
nitrided layer in the sharp corners. temperature simultaneously. The
methods are:
Pulsed plasma nitriding technology temperature range is 850C950C
(1560F1740F). This exposure physical vapour deposition
diminishes the possibility of over-
generates a layer with higher carbon coating (PVD coating)
tempering by applying the plasma
intermittently on the part. This pro- content, normally 0.11.5 mm thick. chemical vapour deposition
vides a better control over the local After the layer has been formed, the coating (CVD coating)
temperatures during the process. part is to be quenched in order for Chemical vapour deposition coating
Active screen plasma nitriding is also a the layer to transform into marten- can also be carried out with a
development of plasma nitriding tech- site with higher carbon content, and plasma assisted technology
nology. This technology promises a it will therefore have a higher hard- (PACVD)
uniform thickness of the nitride layer ness. Tempering of the part should
independently of its geometry. follow.

Nitrocarburizing Thermal diffusion

Nitrocarburizing is a process in Thermal diffusion is a process in
which the parts are to be enriched in which vanadium diffuses into the
nitrogen and also in carbon, the en- material and reacts with existing
richment is carried out by exposure carbon, to form a vanadium carbide
to atmosphere rich in these two layer. The steel must have a minimum
elements. A mixture of ammonia gas of 0.3% carbon. This surface treat-
and carbon monoxide or dioxide is ment provides a very high level of CVD TiC/TiN. Photo Eifeler Werkzeuge,
an example of a suitable atmosphere abrasive wear resistance. Germany.

Chromium and nickel metallic
platings are commonly used for a
variety of tooling applications, like
plastic injection moulds. Platings
may be deposited over most steel
grades and they will prevent seizing
and galling, reduce friction, increase
surface hardness and prevent or
reduce corrosion of the substrates

Plasma nitriding. Photo Bhler Uddeholm Czech Republic.


Testing is converted into a hardness number

(HRC) which is read directly from a
of mechanical scale on the tester dial or read-out.
When the steel is hardened and tem-
pered, its strength is affected, so let VICKERS (HV) F
us take a closer look at how these Vickers is the most
properties are measured. universal of the three
testing methods. In 136
Hardness testing Vickers hardness d1 d2
testing a pyramid-
Hardness testing is the most popular
shaped diamond with
way to check the results of hardening.
a square base and a
Hardness is usually the property that
peak angle of 136 is
is specified when a tool is hardened.
pressed under a load
It is easy to test hardness. The Principle of Vickers hardness testing.
F against the material whose hard-
material is not destroyed and the
ness is to be determined. After
apparatus is relatively inexpensive.
unloading, the diagonals d1 and d2 of
The most common methods are
the impression are measured and the BRINELL (HBW)
Rockwell C (HRC), Vickers (HV) and
hardness number (HV) is read off a This method is suitable for soft an-
Brinell (HBW).
table. nealed condition and prehardened
The old expression file-hard
When the test results are re- steel with relatively low hardness.
should not be entirely forgotten.
ported, Vickers hardness is indicated In Brinell hardness testing, a tungsten
In order to check whether hardness
with the letters HV and a suffix (W) ball is pressed against the mate-
is satisfactory, for example above
indicating the mass that exerted the rial whose hardness is to be deter-
60 HRC, a file of good quality can
load and (when required) the loading mined. After unloading, two measure-
provide a good indication.
period, as illustrated by the following ments of the diameter of the impres-
example: sion are taken at 90 to each other
ROCKWELL (HRC) HV 30/20 = Vickers hardness deter- (d1 and d2) and the HBW value is
This method is suitable for hardened mined with a load of 30 kgf exerted read off a table, from the average of
material and never for material in for 20 seconds. d1 and d2.
soft annealed condition. In Rockwell When the test results are re-
hardness testing, a conical diamond is ported, Brinell hardness is indicated
first pressed with a force F0, and then with the letters HBW and a suffix
with a force F0+F1 against a specimen indicating ball diameter, the mass
of the material which hardness is to with which the load was exerted and
be determined. After unloading to F0, (when required) the loading period,
the increase (e) of the depth of the as illustrated by the following exam-
impression caused by F1 is deter- ple: HBW 5/750/15 = Brinell hard-
mined. The depth of penetration (e) ness determined with 5 mm tungsten
(W) ball and under load of 750 kgf
exerted for 15 seconds.
F0 F0+F1=F F0

h0 h e

Surface of specimen
100 h0
Hardness scale

e h
0,2 mm

Principle of Rockwell hardness testing. Principle of Brinell hardness testing.


Tensile strength Impact testing Some words

Tensile strength is determined on a A certain quantity of energy is re-
test piece which is gripped in a ten- quired to produce a fracture in a
of advice to tool
sile testing machine and subjected to material. This quantity of energy can designers
a successively increasing tensile load be used as a measure of the tough-
until fracture occurs. The properties ness of the material, a higher absorp- Design
that are normally recorded are yield tion of energy indicating better
strength Rp0.2 and ultimate tensile toughness. The most common and
sharp corners
strength Rm, while elongation A5 and simplest method of determining
notch effects
reduction of area Z are measured on toughness is impact testing. A rigid
large differences in section
the test piece. In general, it can be pendulum is allowed to fall from a
said that hardness is dependent upon known height and to strike a test
yield strength and ultimate tensile specimen at the lowest point of its These are often causes of hardening
strength, while elongation and reduc- swing. The angle through which the cracks, especially if the material is
tion of area are an indication of pendulum travels after breaking the cooled down too far or allowed to
toughness. High values for yield and specimen is measured, and the stand untempered.
ultimate tensile strength generally amount of energy that was absorbed
mean low values for elongation and in breaking the specimen can be
Unsuitable Preferred
reduction of area. calculated. design alternative
Several variants of impact testing
are in use. The various methods

differ in the shape of the specimens. Fillet
These are usually provided with a V-
or U-shaped notch, the test methods
being then known as Charpy V and
Charpy U respectively.
For the most part, tool steel has a

rather low toughness by reason of its
high strength. Materials of low tough-
ness are notch sensitive, for which
reason smooth, unnotched speci-
mens are often used in the impact
testing of tool steel. The results of
the tests are commonly stated in
joules, or alternatively in kgm
(strictly speaking kgfm), although
Heat treatment
J/cm2 or kgm/cm2 is sometimes used Choose suitable hardnesses for the
instead, specially in Charpy U testing. application concerned. Be particularly
careful to avoid temperature ranges
Tensile test. that can reduce toughness after
Tensile tests are used mostly on Keep the risk of distortion in mind
structural steel, seldom on tool steel. and follow recommendations con-
It is difficult to perform tensile tests cerning machining allowances.
at hardnesses above 55 HRC. Tensile It is a good idea to specify stress
tests may be of interest for tougher relieving on the drawings.
types of tool steel, especially when
they are used as high strength struc-
tural materials. These include e.g.
Uddeholm Impax Supreme and
Uddeholm Orvar Supreme.

Impact testing machine.


Vacuum furnace.


Approx. hardness after hardening and tempering

HRC at tempering temperature C, 2 x 2 h
Uddeholm temperature
grade C 200 250 500 525 550 600

ALVAR 14 8501) 54 53 45 42 38
ALVAR 900 54 53 45 43 41
ARNE 8301) 62 60 45 43 41 38
BURE 1020 52 52 53* 52 46
CALDIE 1020 61*** 59 50
CALMAX 960 59 58 53 53 50 43
CARMO 960 59 58 53 53 50 43
CHIPPER 1010 59 57 59* 58 56 48
CORRAX 8502)
DIEVAR 1025 53 52 52* 52 47
ELMAX3) 1080 59 58 60** 59** 58**
FERMO Delivered in prehardened condition
FORMAX Delivered in prehardened condition
HOLDAX Delivered in prehardened condition
HOTVAR 1050 56 57 53
SUPREME Delivered in prehardened condition
MIRRAX ESR 1020 50 52** 42** 36
MIRRAX 40 Delivered in prehardened condition
NIMAX4) Delivered in prehardened condition
SUPREME 1020 52 52 54* 52 46
SUPERIOR 1020 52 52 54* 52 46
MICRODIZED 1020 52 52 54* 52 46
POLMAX 1030 53 52 54** 53** 37
QRO 90
SUPREME 1020 49 49 51* 51* 505)
RAMAX HH Delivered in prehardened condition
ROYALLOY Delivered in prehardened condition
RIGOR 950 61 59 56* 55* 53 46
SLEIPNER 1030 60 59 62*** 60 48
SR 1855 850 63 62 50 48 46 42
STAVAX ESR 1030 53 52 54*** 43*** 37
SVERKER 3 960 60 59 56 53
SVERKER 21 1020 63 59 60 57 54 48
UHB 11 As-delivered condition (~200HB)
UNIMAX 1020 55 49
EXTRA3) 1020 59 61*** 60 52
VANADIS 63) 1050 63 62 62*** 59 52
VANADIS 103) 1060 63 62 62*** 60 52
3 x 560C
VANCRON 403) 9501100 5765
SUPERIOR 1000 52 51 51* 50 45
VIDAR 1 1000 54 53 55* 52 46
VIDAR 1 ESR 1000 54 53 55* 52 46
High speed steel 3 x 560C
VANADIS 233) 10501180 6066
VANADIS 303) 10001180 6067
VANADIS 603) 10001180 6469

* This tempering temp. should be avoided due to the risk of temper brittleness.
** For Uddeholm Stavax ESR, Uddeholm Mirrax SER, Uddeholm Polmax and Uddeholm Elmax corrosion resistance is reduced.
*** The lowest tempering temperature when high temperature tempering is 525C.
Quench in oil
Solution treatment. Ageing: ~50 HRC after 525C/2 h, ~46 HRC after 575C/2h, ~40 HRC after 600C/4h.
Powder Metallurgy tool steel
The delivery hardness of Uddeholm Nimax can not be increased. Tempering shall be avoided as toughness will be reduced.
At 650C 2 x 2h: 42 HRC


Hardness conversion table

Approx. comparison between hardness and ultimate tensile strength.

Rockwell Approx. UTS

Brinell* Vickers
30 kg
HRC HRB N/mm2 kp/mm2

78 133 140 446 46

85 152 160 510 52
91 171 180 570 58
95 190 200 637 65
98 209 220 696 71
228 240 756 77
247 260 824 84
265 280 883 90
30 284 300 951 97
33 303 320 1020 104
35 322 340 1080 110
37 341 360 1150 117
39 360 380 1210 123
41 379 400 1280 130
42 397 420 1340 137
44 415 440 1410 144
46 433 460 1470 150
47 452 480 1530 156
48 471 500 1610 164
50 488 520 1690 172
51 507 540 1770 180
52 525 560 1850 188
53 545 580 1940 198
54 564 600
55 584 620

56 601 640
57 620 660
59 638 680
59 700
60 720
61 740
62 760
63 780
64 800
64 820
65 840
66 860
66 880

* 10 mm ball, 3 000 kg load.

Network of excellence
Uddeholm is present on every continent. This ensures you
high-quality Swedish tool steel and local support wherever you
are. Assab is our exclusive sales channel, representing Uddeholm
in the Asia Pacific area. Together we secure our position as the
worlds leading supplier of tooling materials.
UDDEHOLM is the worlds leading supplier of tooling materials. This
is a position we have reached by improving our customers everyday
business. Long tradition combined with research and product develop-
ment equips Uddeholm to solve any tooling problem that may arise.
It is a challenging process, but the goal is clear to be your number one
partner and tool steel provider.

Our presence on every continent guarantees you the same high quality
wherever you are. ASSAB is our exclusive sales channel, representing
Uddeholm in the Asia Pacific area. Together we secure our position
as the worlds leading supplier of tooling materials. We act worldwide,
so there is always an Uddeholm or ASSAB representative close at
hand to give local advice and support. For us it is all a matter of trust
in long-term partnerships as well as in developing new products.
Trust is something you earn, every day.

For more information, please visit,

or your local website.