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Water Quenching Tool Steel

 Quenching in Water

Many carbon tool steels are hardened by immersing them in a bath of fresh water, but water is not an ideal quenching medium. Contact between the water and work and the cooling of the hot steel are impaired by the formation of gas bubbles or an insulating vapor film especially in holes, cavities, or pockets.

The result is uneven cooling and sometimes excessive strains which may cause the tool to crack; in fact, there is greater danger of cracking in a fresh-water bath than in one containing salt water or brine. In order to secure more even cooling and reduce danger of cracking, either rock salt (8 or 9 per cent) or caustic soda (3 to 5 per cent) may be added to the bath to eliminate or prevent the formation of a vapor film or gas pockets, thus promoting rapid early cooling.

Brine is commonly used and 3⁄4 pound of rock salt per gallon of water is equivalent to about 8 per cent of salt. Brine is not inherently a more severe or drastic quenching medium than plain water, although it may seem to be because the brine makes better contact with the heated steel and, consequently, cooling is more effective. In still-bath quenching, a slow up-and down movement of the tool is preferable to a violent swishing around.

Quenching Bath Temperature

The temperature of water-base quenching baths should preferably be kept around 70 degrees F, but 70 to 90 or 100 degrees F is a safe range. The temperature of the hardening bath has a great deal to do with the hardness obtained.
The higher the temperature of the quenching water, the more nearly does its effect approach that of oil; and if boiling water is used for quenching, it will have an effect even more gentle than that of oil in fact, it would leave the steel nearly soft.

Parts of irregular shape are sometimes quenched in a water bath that has been warmed somewhat to prevent sudden cooling and cracking. When water is used, it should be “soft” because unsatisfactory results will be obtained with “hard” water.


Any contamination of water-base quenching liquids by soap tends to decrease their rate of cooling. A water bath having 1 or 2 inches of oil on the top is sometimes employed to advantage for quenching tools made of high-carbon steel as the oil through which the work first passes reduces the sudden quenching action of the water.

Size of Quenching Tank

The bath should be amply large to dissipate the heat rapidly and the temperature should be kept about constant so that successive pieces will be cooled at the same rate.


Irregularly shaped parts should be immersed so that the heaviest or thickest section enters the bath first, in the case of quenching a knife this would mean the blade is insert with the spine down.

After immersion, the part to be hardened should be agitated in the bath; the agitation reduces the tendency of the formation of a vapor coating on certain surfaces, and a more uniform rate of cooling is obtained. The work should never be dropped to the bottom of the bath until quite cool.

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