tempering, process involving slow and moderate heating to increase the hardness and toughness of metals that have undergone previous heat treatment. Metals are usually hardened (see hardening) by being heated to high temperatures and quenched rapidly. This treatment causes brittleness, which is reduced by tempering. Steel is notably responsive to tempering, and makers of tools, weapons, armor, and other articles of steel have long had great skill in the process. Tempering is not necessary for such products as razors and files, in which hardness is sought but brittleness is not a serious disadvantage. Other products, e.g., swords and saws, require tempering for toughness. In the handicraft process of tempering, the condition of the steel during heating is judged by its color, caused by an oxide film. A desired hardness can be achieved by plunging the steel into a bath when it has cooled to the right shade of yellow or brown or blue. To secure a bath of the right temperature, various liquids are used, e.g., pure water, saltwater, oil, and molten metal. The process of softening steel that is harder than desired is called annealing. In modern mass production the processes of tempering are guided by scientific tests in place of the artisan's skill. Comparable to tempering is the process of hastening the cooling of a surface of a casting to increase the hardness of the part so "chilled."
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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