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Heat-Treating Definitions - This glossary of heat-treating terms has been adopted by the American Foundrymen's Association, the American Society for Metals, the American Society for Testing and Materials, and the Society of Automotive Engineers. Since it is not intended to be a specification but is strictly a set of definitions, temperatures have purposely been omitted.

Aging: Describes a time-temperature-dependent change in the properties of certain alloys. Except for strain aging and age softening, it is the result of precipitation from a solid solution of one or more compounds whose solubility decreases with decreasing temperature. For each alloy susceptible to aging, there is a unique range of time-temperature combinations to which it will respond.

Annealing: A term denoting a treatment, consisting of heating to and holding at a suitable temperature followed by cooling at a suitable rate, used primarily to soften but also to simultaneously produce desired changes in other properties or in microstructure.

The purpose of such changes may be, but is not confined to, improvement of machinability; facilitation of cold working; improvement of mechanical or electrical properties; or increase in stability of dimensions. The time-temperature cycles used vary widely both in maximum temperature attained and in cooling rate employed, depending on the composition of the material, its condition, and the results desired.

When applicable, the following more specific process names should be used: Black Annealing, Blue Annealing, Box Annealing, Bright Annealing, Cycle Annealing, Flame Annealing, Full Annealing, Graphitizing, Intermediate Annealing, Isothermal Annealing, Process Annealing, Quench Annealing, and Spheroidizing . When the term is used without qualification, full annealing is implied. When applied only for the relief of stress, the process is properly called stress relieving.

Black Annealing: Box annealing or pot annealing, used mainly for sheet, strip, or wire.

Blue Annealing: Heating hot-rolled sheet in an open furnace to a temperature within the transformation range and then cooling in air, to soften the metal. The formation of a bluish oxide on the surface is incidental.

Box Annealing: Annealing in a sealed container under conditions that minimize oxidation. In box annealing, the charge is usually heated slowly to a temperature below the transformation range, but sometimes above or within it, and is then cooled slowly; this process is also called "close annealing" or "pot annealing."

Bright Annealing: Annealing in a protective medium to prevent discoloration of the bright surface.

Cycle Annealing: An annealing process employing a predetermined and closely controlled time-temperature cycle to produce specific properties or microstructure.

Flame Annealing: Annealing in which the heat is applied directly by a flame.

Full Annealing: Austenitizing and then cooling at a rate such that the hardness of the product approaches a minimum.

Graphitizing: Annealing in such a way that some or all of the carbon is precipitated as graphite.

Intermediate Annealing: Annealing at one or more stages during manufacture and before final thermal treatment.

Isothermal Annealing: Austenitizing and then cooling to and holding at a temperature at which austenite transforms to a relatively soft ferrite-carbide aggregate.

Process Annealing: An imprecise term used to denote various treatments that improve workability. For the term to be meaningful, the condition of the material and the time-temperature cycle used must be stated.

Quench Annealing: Annealing an austenitic alloy by Solution Heat Treatment.

Spheroidizing: Heating and cooling in a cycle designed to produce a spheroidal or globular form of carbide.

Austempering: Quenching from a temperature above the transformation range, in a medium having a rate of heat abstraction high enough to prevent the formation of high-temperature transformation products, and then holding the alloy, until transformation is complete, at a temperature below that of pearlite formation and above that of martensite formation.

Austenitizing: Forming austenite by heating into the transformation range (partial austenitizing ) or above the transformation range (complete austenitizing ). When used without qualification, the term implies complete austenitizing .

Baking: Heating to a low temperature in order to remove entrained gases.

Bluing: A treatment of the surface of iron-base alloys, usually in the form of sheet or strip, on which, by the action of air or steam at a suitable temperature, a thin blue oxide film is formed on the initially scale-free surface, as a means of improving appearance and resistance to corrosion. This term is also used to denote a heat treatment of springs after fabrication, to reduce the internal stress created by coiling and forming.

Carbon Potential: A measure of the ability of an environment containing active carbon to alter or maintain, under prescribed conditions, the carbon content of the steel exposed to it. In any particular environment, the carbon level attained will depend on such factors as temperature, time, and steel composition.

Carbon Restoration: Replacing the carbon lost in the surface layer from previous processing by carburizing this layer to substantially the original carbon level.

Carbonitriding: A case-hardening process in which a suitable ferrous material is heated above the lower transformation temperature in a gaseous atmosphere of such composition as to cause simultaneous absorption of carbon and nitrogen by the surface and, by diffusion, create a concentration gradient. The process is completed by cooling at a rate that produces the desired properties in the workpiece .

Carburizing: A process in which carbon is introduced into a solid iron-base alloy by heating above the transformation temperature range while in contact with a carbonaceous material that may be a solid, liquid, or gas. Carburizing is frequently followed by quenching to produce a hardened case.


  1. The surface layer of an iron-base alloy that has been suitably altered in composition and can be made substantially harder than the interior or core by a process of case hardening.
  2. The term case is also used to designate the hardened surface layer of a piece of steel that is large enough to have a distinctly softer core or center.

Cementation: The process of introducing elements into the outer layer of metal objects by means of high-temperature diffusion.

Cold Treatment: Exposing to suitable subzero temperatures for the purpose of obtaining desired conditions or properties, such as dimensional or microstructural stability. When the treatment involves the transformation of retained austenite, it is usually followed by a tempering treatment.

Conditioning Heat Treatment: A preliminary heat treatment used to prepare a material for a desired reaction to a subsequent heat treatment. For the term to be meaningful, the treatment used must be specified.

Controlled Cooling: A term used to describe a process by which a steel object is cooled from an elevated temperature, usually from the final hot-forming operation in a predetermined manner of cooling to avoid hardening, cracking, or internal damage.


  1. The interior portion of an iron-base alloy that after case hardening is substantially softer than the surface layer or case
  2. The term core is also used to designate the relatively soft central portion of certain hardened tool steels

Critical Range or Critical Temperature Range: Synonymous with Transformation Range ,which is preferred.

Cyaniding: A process of case hardening an iron-base alloy by the simultaneous absorption of carbon and nitrogen by heating in a cyanide salt. Cyaniding is usually followed by quenching to produce a hard case.

Decarburization: The loss of carbon from the surface of an iron-base alloy as the result of heating in a medium that reacts with the carbon.

Drawing: Drawing, or drawing the temper, is synonymous with Tempering, which is preferable.

Eutectic Alloy: The alloy composition that freezes at constant temperature similar to a pure metal. The lowest melting (or freezing) combination of two or more metals. The alloy structure (homogeneous) of two or more solid phases formed from the liquid eutectically .

Hardenability: In a ferrous alloy, the property that determines the depth and distribution of hardness induced by quenching.

Hardening: Any process of increasing hardness of metal by suitable treatment, usually involving heating and cooling. Also: See Aging

Hardening, Case: A process of surface hardening involving a change in the composition of the outer layer of an iron-base alloy followed by appropriate thermal treatment. Typical case-hardening processes are Carburizing, Cyaniding, Carbonitriding , and Nitriding .

Hardening, Flame: A process of heating the surface layer of an iron-base alloy above the transformation temperature range by means of a high-temperature flame, followed by quenching.

Hardening, Precipitation: A process of hardening an alloy in which a constituent precipitates from a supersaturated solid solution. See also Aging.

Hardening, Secondary: An increase in hardness following the normal softening that occurs during the tempering of certain alloy steels.

Heating, Differential: A heating process by which the temperature is made to vary throughout the object being heated so that on cooling, different portions may have such different physical properties as may be desired.

Heating, Induction: A process of local heating by electrical induction.

Heat Treatment: A combination of heating and cooling operations applied to a metal or alloy in the solid state to obtain desired conditions or properties. Heating for the sole purpose of hot working is excluded from the meaning of this definition.

Heat Treatment, Solution: A treatment in which an alloy is heated to a suitable temperature and held at this temperature for a sufficient length of time to allow a desired constituent to enter into solid solution, followed by rapid cooling to hold the constituent in solution. The material is then in a supersaturated, unstable state, and may subsequently exhibit Age Hardening.

Homogenizing: A high-temperature heat-treatment process intended to eliminate or to decrease chemical segregation by diffusion.

Isothermal Transformation: A change in phase at constant temperature.

Malleablizing: A process of annealing white cast iron in which the combined carbon is wholly or in part transformed to graphitic or free carbon and, in some cases, part of the carbon is removed completely. See Temper Carbon.

Maraging: A precipitation hardening treatment applied to a special group of iron-base alloys to precipitate one or more intermetallic compounds in a matrix of essentially carbon-free martensite .

Martempering: A hardening procedure in which an austenitized ferrous workpiece is quenched into an appropriate medium whose temperature is maintained substantially at the Ms of the workpiece , held in the medium until its temperature is uniform throughout but not long enough to permit bainite to form, and then cooled in air. The treatment is followed by tempering.

Nitriding: A process of case hardening in which an iron-base alloy of special composition is heated in an atmosphere of ammonia or in contact with nitrogenous material. Surface hardening is produced by the absorption of nitrogen without quenching.

Normalizing: A process in which an iron-base alloy is heated to a temperature above the transformation range and subsequently cooled in still air at room temperature.

Overheated: A metal is said to have been overheated if, after exposure to an unduly high temperature, it develops an undesirably coarse grain structure but is not permanently damaged. The structure damaged by overheating can be corrected by suitable heat treatment or by mechanical work or by a combination of the two. In this respect it differs from a Burnt structure.

Patenting: A process of heat treatment applied to medium- or high-carbon steel in wire making prior to the wire drawing or between drafts. It consists in heating to a temperature above the transformation range, followed by cooling to a temperature below that range in air or in a bath of molten lead or salt maintained at a temperature appropriate to the carbon content of the steel and the properties required of the finished product.

Preheating: Heating to an appropriate temperature immediately prior to austenitizing when hardening high- hardenability constructional steels, many of the tool steels, and heavy sections.

Quenching: Rapid cooling. When applicable, the following more specific terms should be used: Direct Quenching, Fog Quenching, Hot Quenching, Interrupted Quenching, Selective Quenching, Slack Quenching, Spray Quenching, and Time Quenching.

Direct Quenching: Quenching carburized parts directly from the carburizing operation.

Fog Quenching: Quenching in a mist.

Hot Quenching: An imprecise term used to cover a variety of quenching procedures in which a quenching medium is maintained at a prescribed temperature above 160 degrees F (71 degrees C).

Interrupted Quenching: A quenching procedure in which the workpiece is removed from the first quench at a temperature substantially higher than that of the quenchant and is then subjected to a second quenching system having a different cooling rate than the first.

Selective Quenching: Quenching only certain portions of a workpiece .

Slack Quenching: The incomplete hardening of steel due to quenching from the austenitizing temperature at a rate slower than the critical cooling rate for the particular steel, resulting in the formation of one or more transformation products in addition to martensite .

Spray Quenching: Quenching in a spray of liquid.

Time Quenching: Interrupted quenching in which the duration of holding in the quenching medium is controlled.

Soaking: Prolonged heating of a metal at a selected temperature.

Stabilizing Treatment: A treatment applied to stabilize the dimensions of a workpiece or the structure of a material such as...

  1. Before finishing to final dimensions, heating a workpiece to or somewhat beyond its operating temperature and then cooling to room temperature a sufficient number of times to ensure stability of dimensions in service
  2. Transforming retained austenite in those materials that retain substantial amounts when quench hardened (see cold treatment)
  3. Heating a solution-treated austenitic stainless steel that contains controlled amounts of titanium or niobium plus tantalum to a temperature below the solution heat-treating temperature to cause precipitation of finely divided, uniformly distributed carbides of those elements, thereby substantially reducing the amount of carbon available for the formation of chromium carbides in the grain boundaries on subsequent exposure to temperatures in the sensitizing range.

Stress Relieving: A process to reduce internal residual stresses in a metal object by heating the object to a suitable temperature and holding for a proper time at that temperature. This treatment may be applied to relieve stresses induced by casting, quenching, normalizing, machining, cold working, or welding.

Temper Carbon: The free or graphitic carbon that comes out of solution usually in the form of rounded nodules in the structure during Graphitizing or Malleablizing.

Tempering: Heating a quench-hardened or normalized ferrous alloy to a temperature below the transformation range to produce desired changes in properties.

Double Tempering: A treatment in which quench hardened steel is given two complete tempering cycles at substantially the same temperature for the purpose of ensuring completion of the tempering reaction and promoting stability of the resulting microstructure.

Snap Temper: A precautionary interim stress-relieving treatment applied to high hardenability steels immediately after quenching to prevent cracking because of delay in tempering them at the prescribed higher temperature.

Temper Brittleness: Brittleness that results when certain steels are held within, or are cooled slowly through, a certain range of temperatures below the transformation range. The brittleness is revealed by notched-bar impact tests at or below room temperature.

Transformation Ranges or Transformation Temperature Ranges: Those ranges of temperature within which austenite forms during heating and transforms during cooling. The two ranges are distinct, sometimes overlapping but never coinciding. The limiting temperatures of the ranges depend on the composition of the alloy and on the rate of change of temperature, particularly during cooling.

Transformation Temperature: The temperature at which a change in phase occurs. The term is sometimes used to denote the limiting temperature of a transformation range. The following symbols are used for iron and steels:

Accm =In hypereutectoid steel, the temperature at which the solution of cementite in austenite is completed during heating

Ac1 = The temperature at which austenite begins to form during heating

Ac3 = The temperature at which transformation of ferrite to austenite is completed during heating

Ac4 = The temperature at which austenite transforms to delta ferrite during heating

Ae1, Ae3, Aecm , Ae4 = The temperatures of phase changes at equilibrium

Arcm =In hypereutectoid steel, the temperature at which precipitation of cementite starts during cooling

Ar1 = The temperature at which transformation of austenite to ferrite or to ferrite plus cementite is completed during cooling

Ar3 = The temperature at which austenite begins to transform to ferrite during cooling

Ar4 = The temperature at which delta ferrite transforms to austenite during cooling

Ms = The temperature at which transformation of austenite to martensite starts during cooling

Mf = The temperature, during cooling, at which transformation of austenite to martensite is substantially completed


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