Heat Treatment Optimization and Fabrication of a 440C Stainless Steel Knife


There is ample evidence in the literature that the austenitization temperature and a post-quench liquid nitrogen soak play a significant role in the hardness/strength of martensitic stainless steels typically used in the fabrication of knives. However, there is a lack of quantitative data documenting the role these parameters have on the microstructure of these steels. A systematic study quantifies the volume fraction and composition of the microstructural constituents and hardness of 440C as a function of austenitization temperature and liquid nitrogen soak. Chromium carbide composition is independent of austenitization temperature. However, composition of the martensite matrix, and volume fractions of tempered martensite and carbides change with austenitization temperature. The liquid nitrogen soak is effective only at high temperatures that result in retained austenite. The results are used to rationalize and select an optimum heat-treat process for a knife fabricated in anticipation of the 2017 TMS Bladesmithing competition.

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In addition to that generated by the authors, a significant portion of the data in this study was generated by students enrolled in the Physical Metallurgy class while completing the 440C Microstructural Characterization lab between the fall of 2013 and fall of 2015. Their efforts are appreciated. The work of Joe Royall and Kevin Williams in instructing cadets in machining and manufacturing techniques for knife fabrication is much appreciated.

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Correspondence to Ralph Bush.

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Bush, R., Gill, J. & Teakell, J. Heat Treatment Optimization and Fabrication of a 440C Stainless Steel Knife. JOM 68, 3167–3173 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11837-016-2117-5

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  • Carbide
  • Austenite
  • Martensite
  • Martensitic Stainless Steel
  • Austenitization Temperature