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What in general is hardenability? Well, hardenability is the tendency of the material to

form martensite. Hardenability is the ability of the Fe–C alloy to be hardened by forming
martensite. Hardenability is not ‘hardness’ but a qualitative measure of the rate at
which hardness decreases with distance from the surface because of decreased
martensite content. Two words commonly heard in the metal industry are hardness and
hardenability. Derived from the same root, but a very different meaning. Hardness is a
characteristic of the steel, while hardenability is describing an ability of the steel. In
order to understand hardness, we first need to go through the process of determining
this characteristic.

Hardness vs Hardenability

Of course, there are tests to determine the hardness of the steel. Two of the most
common ones are the Brinell and Rockwell tests. At Clifton, we utilize the Brinell, as this
is considered the best practice for accurately determining hardness. Hardenability of
material is tested by administering a high-pressure load (usually about 3,000 kgf) and a
steel ball with a diameter of 10 mm as an indenter. The test load (which has been
predetermined) is applied to the indenter, held for a specific period of time (also
predetermined), then removed. The impression that has been left by the indenter is
measured across at least two diameters, then averaged. At that point, a chart can be
utilized to convert the averaged diameter to a Brinell Hardness Number (BHN). The
larger the diameter, the softer the material is. We do this test on two opposite corners
of our plates for consistency and accuracy. 
While hardness is a material property, hardenability describes the ability for material to
be hardened by thermal treatment. To put this one simply, it talks about potential.
When a piece of steel goes through thermal treatment, it’s called quenching and
tempering. Tempering is heating the plate to a high temperature, and quenching is
rapidly cooling the hot plate through a medium such as water, oil, or something else.
When the steel is quenched, the outside of the plate is cooled rapidly. Depending on the
thickness of the plate, the inner depths of the material may not cool as quickly. If it
cools too slowly, the piece could have a softer core and a harder “shell”. Hardenability
refers to the ability of the steel to be hardened by that process. As with hardness, there
is a test to figure out the hardenability called the Jominy test. This test was developed to
provide a reference to determine the expected amount of decreased hardness from the
surface to the center of the bar. This is better known as the H-band and is available on
standard chemistries of alloy bars, which can be found online. To perform the test, a
round metal bar of standard size is heat treated, then one end of the bar is quenched
with room temperature water. The cooling rate will be highest at the quenched end and
decrease with distance. After it’s cooled, a flat surface is ground along the test piece and
a series of Rockwell hardness tests are taken in 1/16” increments. While measuring,
there will be a point that the quenched end of the material will begin to lose hardness
and continue to decrease as you measure further.    

Figure 1(Hardness Test) Figure 2(Hardenability Test)

Determination of Hardenability

There are two methods to determine hardenability; the first one is Jominey end quench
method and the other one is Grossman’s method. In Grossman’s method we use round
cylindrical bars of different diameters, these bars are then quenched in a suitable
quenching medium. Further we determine the critical diameter of (Dc) which is the
maximum diameter of the rod which produces 50% martensite on quenching.
Transverse sections of the different bars on which hardness measurements have been
made will show directly the effect of hardenability. In Fig 3, which plots this hardness
data for an SAE 3140 steel (1.1-1.4% Ni, 0.55-0.75% Cr, 0.40% C) oil-quenched from
815‹C, it is shown that the full martensitic hardness is only obtained in the smaller
sections, while for larger diameter bars the hardness drops off markedly towards the
center of the bar. The softer and harder regions of the section can also be clearly
resolved by etching.

In the Grossman test, the transverse sections are metallographically examined to

determine the particular bar, which has 50% martensite at its center. The diameter of
this bar is then designated the critical diameter Do. However, this dimension is of no
absolute value in expressing the hardenability as it will obviously vary if the quenching
medium is changed, e.g. from water to oil. It is therefore necessary to assess
quantitatively the effectiveness of the different quenching media. This is done by
determining coefficients for the severity of the quench usually referred to as H-
coefficients. The value for quenching in still water is set at 1, as a standard against which
to compare other modes of quenching.

Using the H-coefficients, it is possible to determine in place of Do an ideal critical

diameter Di which has 50% martensite at the center of the bar when the surface is
cooled at an infinitely rapid rate, i.e. when H = ‡. Obviously, in these circumstances D0
= Di, thus providing the upper reference line in a series of graphs for different values of
H. In practice, H varies between about 0.2 and 5.0, so that if a quenching experiment is
carried out at an H-value of, say, 0.4, and D0 is measured, then the graph can be used to
determine Di. This value will be a measure of the hardenability of given steel, which is
independent of the quenching medium used.
Figure 3

While the Grossman approach to hardenability is very reliable, other less elaborate tests
have been devised to provide hardenability data. Foremost amongst these is the Jominy test, in
which a standardized round bar (25.4 mm diameter, 102 mm long) is heated to the
austenitizing temperature, then placed on a rig in which one end of the rod is quenched by a
standard jet of water (Fig.4). This results in a progressive decrease in the rate of cooling along the bar
from the quenched end, the effects of which are determined by hardness measurements on flats ground
4 mm deep and parallel to the bar axis (Fig. 3). A typical hardness plot for a En 19B steel containing
1% Cr, 0.25% Mo and 0.4% C, where the upper curve represents the hardness obtained with the upper
limit of composition for the steel, while the lower curve is that for the composition at the lower limit.
The area between the lines is referred to as a hardenability or Jominy band.
Additional data, which is useful in conjunction with these results, is the hardness of quenched
steels as a function both of carbon content and of the proportion of martensite in the structure.
Therefore, the hardness for 50% martensite can be easily determined for a particular carbon
content and, by inspection of the Jominy test results, the depth at which 50 % martensite is
achieved can be determined.

Figure 4

The Jominy test is now widely used to determine hardenabilities in the range D i = 1-6; beyond
this range the test is of limited use.
The results can be readily converted to determine the largest diameter round bar which can be
fully hardened. Fig. 5 plots bar diameter against the Jominy positions at which the same cooling
rates as those in the centers of the bars are obtained for a series of different quenches. Taking
the ideal quench (H = ‡) the highest curve, it can be seen that 12.5 mm along the Jominy bar
gives a cooling rate equivalent to that at the center of a 75 mm diameter bar. This diameter
reduces to just over 50 mm for a quench in still water (H = 1). With, for example, a steel which
gives 50 % martensite at 19 mm from the quenched end after still oil quenching (H = 0.3), the
critical diameter D0 for a round rod will be 51 mm.
The diagram in Fig. 5 can also be used to determine the hardness at the center of a round bar of
a particular steel, provided a Jominy end quench test has been carried out.

Figure 5

Factors that also affect hardenability are transformation of austenite, grain size, composition of
carbon in steels and alloying elements present in the specimen being used.