You are on page 1of 5



When selecting a metal for a specific project, one of the most important considerations – especially when it comes to structural
applications – is tensile strength and impact strength. Knowing what these mechanical properties are and how to evaluate them
is essential to selecting the correct metal for your project.

What Is Tensile Strength?

Tensile strength is a value that indicates a metal’s ability to resist deformation and failure when loads are applied that pull it
apart (known as tensile loads). Tensile strength is typically quantified through units of pounds per square inch (PSI) or pascals

There are 3 different types of tensile strengths:

 Tensile yield strength

 Ultimate tensile strength
 Fracture tensile strength

The yield strength is the strength a metal has before it begins to plastically deform. The ultimate tensile strength is the
maximum tensile strength a metal has, and it typically is found after plastic deformation has begun to occur. The fracture tensile
strength is the strength of the metal at the point of final failure.

Testing Tensile Strength

A tensile testing machine is required to properly test the tensile strength of a material. This machine consists of two sets of jaws,
a control unit, and cylinders that create the force of a tensile load.

To conduct the test, a metal specimen is loaded into the jaws. In most instances, the metal is machined so that it is thicker where
it is clamped by the jaws than in the center. This helps ensure that fracture will not occur at the jaws and will not be a result of
the stress concentration from the jaws. The cylinders are activated using the control unit and one or both sets of jaws begin to
move away from one another which applies a tensile stress on the metal. Once the material reaches its point of failure, data is
retrieved from the control unit on how much force was used. The force data is then used in conjunction with the area of the
cross section of the metal to calculate the force over area unit such as PSI or Pa. The results of the tensile test can be displayed
on a stress-strain curve.

Tensile strength is such a frequently documented mechanical property because so many metals are required to undergo a tensile
load during their service life. Some practical examples where tensile strength is an important consideration include chains for
lifting or towing, fasteners when tightened down, or structural metals in a skyscraper as the wind applies force to the building.

What Is Impact Strength?

Impact strength is the ability of a metal to absorb collision energy while resisting cracking or fracturing. Impact strength is also
known as toughness and is usually expressed in foot-pounds (ft-lbf) or Joules per meter (J/m).

Testing Impact Strength

There are several ways to test impact strength. One of the most widely used tests is the Charpy V-notch test. To perform a
Charpy V-notch test, a metal specimen is machined to a size defined by a standard and has a notch precision machined into the
center. This acts as a geometric stress concentrator so that the material will fracture in the desired location during the testing. It
is imperative that this notch be machined with extreme precision as it is very important for retrieving accurate test results.

The metal sample is then loaded in to a Charpy V-notch tester. The Charpy V-notch tester consists of a vice for the specimen
and a pendulum with a known weight in a horizontal position. During the test, the pendulum is released, and the energy
absorbed by the metal when the pendulum impacts and deforms it is recorded. The amount of energy absorbed is then used with
the dimensional values of the metal to calculate the impact strength of the metal. This test is often done at several different
temperatures since the temperature can have a great effect on the impact strength of metal. An alternative test to determine
toughness is the Izod impact strength test.

Impact strength is such an important mechanical property to know because metals are subjected to collisions and impacts – even
if it is unplanned – in so many applications. Everyday examples of impact stresses being applied to metals include a hammer
head colliding with an object, stamping dies and chisels.


In a previous article about metal strengths, we looked at measuring tensile and impact strength. But there are two other very
important mechanical properties that must be considered when selecting a metal for your next project. These properties are
ductility and hardness.

What Is Ductility?
Ductility is the ability of a metal to deform without fracturing. Metals that can be formed or pressed into another shape without
any fracturing are considered to be ductile. Metals that fracture are classified as brittle (essentially the opposite of ductile).

Ductility plays a major role in formability. Metals that are excessively brittle may not be able to be formed successfully. For
example, if a piece of metal is stretched into a thin wire, it is imperative that is has some ductility. If the metal is too brittle, it
will fracture as soon as the metal begins to stretch. Ductility is also a major safety consideration for structural projects. Ductility
allows structures to bend and deform to some extent without rupturing when placed under heavy loads.

How to Measure Ductility

Percent elongation and percentage reduction are two ways to measure ductility:
 Percentage elongation measures the length that a metal deforms as a percentage of its original length, after it is
pulled to failure during a tensile test.
 Percent reduction measures the narrowest part of the cross-section of a metal specimen following a tensile test-
induced rupture.

Ductility can be dependent on temperature, so the temperatures the metal will be subjected to in an application should be taken
into account. Most metals have a ductile-brittle transition temperature chart which can assist.

Which Metals Are Ductile?

There are many ductile metals, including:

 Aluminum
 Brass
 Copper
 Low carbon steel
 Gold
 Silver
 Tin
 Lead

Metals that are considered brittle include cast iron, chromium, and tungsten. Examples of applications that require high ductility
include metal cables, stampings, and structural beams.

What Is Hardness?
Hardness is a measure of the ability of a metal to resist indentation. When a metal must withstand forces without depression or
denting, a metal with a high hardness should be sought.

Hardness can also give the end user an idea of the abrasion resistance of a metal. The greater the hardness a metal possesses, the
better it is able to resist abrasion. This is very important for applications where the metal being used is subjected to forces and
objects that may cause wear.

How To Measure Hardness

For indentations, there are several proprietary testing methods available to use to measure hardness. The most popular methods

 Vickers
 Brinell
 Rockwell

In each test of hardness, a very hard object such as an industrial grade diamond is depressed into a material using a known
force. The size of the depression made into the test material is then measured. This measurement can then be converted into a
value such as HRB (Rockwell) or HV (Vickers).

The Mohs Hardness Test is used to measure a materials resistance to scratching. In this test, a variety of materials are that have
been assigned hardness numbers are used to try and scratch the metal test specimen. The lowest numbered material to make a
scratch on the specimen is assigned to that specimen, giving it a relative hardness.

What Are The Hardest Metals?

Metals that have relatively high hardness include:
 Tungsten
 High Carbon Steel
 Cast Iron

Special processing such as heat treating or work hardening can also be used further increase the hardness of a given metal.
Hardness is often inversely related to ductility, so the ductile metals mentioned above typically have relatively low hardness.
Applications that require high hardness include shafts, pins, and gears.


While metal is generally hard and tough, it is still able to be cut by several different processes. Understanding
what the processes are and which option is best suited for specific metal types and projects is important when
determining how to cut metal (of course, you can always visit Metal Supermarkets and have your order cut to
size). Here are some common ways to cut metal.

Thermal Cutting Processes

There are several different thermal cutting processes that can be used to cut metal. These processes use an
energy source to heat specific portions of the metal and cause it to become liquid. At that point, the molten
metal is blown away from the rest of the solid metal, creating a cut. Thermal cutting is preferred over other
processes in certain applications because of the speed in which the metal can be cut.

 Flame cutting is one example of a thermal cutting process. For example, oxy-fuel flame cutting uses
the combination of oxygen and a fuel such as acetylene or propylene to create a flame that melts the
metal. The flow of the oxy-fuel gas mixture is also used to blow the molten metal and create the cut.
 Plasma cutting is similar to flame cutting, but instead of an oxy-fuel gas mixture, it uses an electrical
arc as the source of heat.
 Laser cutting is also a thermal cutting process, with laser energy being used to melt the metal. A
monochromatic and coherent light beam is created within a laser resonator and focused through a lens
onto the metal material. This causes the target sections of the metal to become heated and melt, resulting
in a cut.

Mechanical Cutting Processes

Mechanical cutting processes use physical rather than thermal means to sever metal material. There are several
ways that mechanical cutting can be carried out. The speed and cut quality vary greatly depending on the
mechanical cutting process used.

 Production saw cutting is performed using a band saw in the horizontal or vertical position. Production
saw cutting is a relatively slow but very robust cutting process, as it can be used cut many different types
and shapes of metal. Typically, a coolant is used in order to remove the heat that is caused by friction
from the saw blade cutting the metal.
 Shearing is a mechanical cutting process that severs metal by using a sharp edge that is pressed down
with a large amount of force. The blade deforms the sheet until it eventually creates a cut. Shearing can
produce high-quality cuts, although it can leave the metal with a deformed edge. Shearing is typically
used for cutting sheet metal.
 Miter cutting is another mechanical cutting process frequently used. Miter saws cut with a circular
metal saw blade, often made out of carbides. The blade is spun and lowered into the metal material,
making the cut. A unique feature of a miter saw is its ability to cut metal material at a wide range of
precise angles.
 Hole punching is a cutting method similar to shearing. When punching, a metal tool (which can have a
variety of shapes) with sharpened edges is depressed onto a metal material until it is severed. Punching
is mostly used to cut certain shapes into a metal.
 Notching is frequently done by using the punching process. A common application of notching is
removing material from a metal sheet or plate so that it can be shaped three dimensionally.
 Drilling is similar to hole punching. It typically is not used to sever a material, but to cut a shape into a
material. Drilling pushes a drill bit into the metal to remove material. Most drill bits cut cylindrical holes
into a material, however, a countersink bit can be used to make a conical cut into a metal.
 Water jet cutting is another type of mechanical cutting process in which water is forced through a
nozzle at extremely high pressure. Water alone can be used to sever soft materials, however, the water is
almost always combined with an abrasive material that helps to erode the metal being cut.