Testing the Hardness and Durability of Metals (Classic Reprint)


Even when men first began to harden steel, they probably sought some method of ascertaining in particular cases whether their object had been accomplished. Perhaps the testing tool was nothing more than a fragment of flint or another piece of steel known to be hard. Certain jewels - as the diamond - are well suited to a process which depends upon scratching. In fact, this process is in common use everywhere even at the present day. The test by filing is not to be despised as it is easily applied, and if the file is a good one, the results are sufficiently accurate and reliable for a considerable class of work. But the file is an instrument inadequate to the requirements of modern metallurgists and manufacturers. This is true for two reasons: First, the alloy steels seem to possess the property of being able to resist a file, apart from hardness. Thus, a piece of manganese self-hardening tool steel may be, in reality, softer than a specimen of a pure carbon steel, and yet resist the attacks of the file equally well. In explanation of this phenomenon, it has been suggested that the hard manganese resists the file while the iron substratum remains soft. The combination as a whole would not be so hard, although able to withstand the file. This, however, seems really to involve the proposition that such steel is not a perfect chemical combination, but that particles of manganese are held imbedded in iron or an iron alloy. Perhaps this may be so, but if it is true, then the action of such steel on the file is very similar to that of an emery wheel. The emery itself is very hard, but is held in a matrix that is soft. However, whether we accept this explanation or not, it is doubtful whether we have good reason to contend that a specimen of alloy steel is as hard as a piece of pure carbon steel, merely because it resists the file equally well.

The second objection to the file is that it affords no reliable means of making accurate comparisons between different degrees of hardness. It is sometimes of importance in cases where one element of a machine slides against another to ascertain which of the two is the harder. The difference may be very slight, yet it will readily be granted that this difference might become of importance if lubrication failed, for the harder piece would then cut or wear the softer. If such a contingency is possible, then it is important that the more expensive part shall be the harder. A little reflection will convince one that this principle of associating a harder valuable part with a softer less valuable part, has application everywhere in machine construction; but in order to apply this principle widely, it is necessary to be able to determine differences in hardness where these differences are quite small in amount.

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