By thermal treatment, steel may be made harder or softer, stresses induced or relieved, mechanical properties increased or decreased, crystalline structure changed, machinability enhanced, etc. The terms used to describe such heat treatments and their effects are listed below.


Normalizing consists of uniform heating to a temperature slightly above the point at which grain structure is affected (known as the critical temperature), followed by cooling in still air to room temperature. This produces a uniform structure and hardness throughout.


When not preceded by a descriptive adjective, annealing consists of heating to and holding at a suitable temperature, then allowing to cool slowly. Annealing removes stresses, reduces hardness, increases ductility and produces a structure favourable for formability.

  • Full Anneal - This term is synonymous with annealing and is used to differentiate anneal from bright anneal, stress relief anneal, etc.
  • Spherodize Anneal - This treatment is similar to full annealing except the steel is held at an elevated temperature for a prolonged period of time, followed by slow cooling in order to produce a microstructure where carbides exist in a globular or spheroidal form.
  • Soft Anneal - When maximum softness and ductility are required without change in grain structure, steel should be ordered soft annealed. This process consists of heating to a temperature slightly below the critical temperature and cooling in still air.
  • Stress Relief Anneal - Stress relieving is intended to reduce the residual stresses imparted to the steel in the drawing operation. It generally consists of heating the steel to a suitable point below the critical temperature followed by slow cooling.
  • Bright Anneal - This process consists of annealing in a closely controlled furnace atmosphere which will permit the surface to remain relatively bright.


Quenching consists of heating steel above the critical range, then hardening by immersion in an agitated bath of oil, water, brine or caustic. Quenching increases tensile strength, yield point and hardness. It reduces ductility and impact resistance. By subsequent tempering some ductility and impact resistance may be restored, but at some sacrifice of tensile strength, yield point and hardness.


Tempering is the reheating of steel, after quenching, to the specified temperature below the critical range, then air cooling. It is done in furnaces, oil or salt baths, at temperatures varying from 300 to 1200F. Low tempering temperatures give maximum hardness and wear resistance. Maximum toughness is achieved at the higher temperatures.

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