Old Smithy sheds are viewed as our heat treatment grandfathers. They didn’t install massive furnaces, but there was always that flickering red flame. The hot coals burned bright in primitive townships. Then, at day’s end, there would be that rattling hiss as a forged part was quenched in water. And water is still a quenching mainstay, as employed in contemporary heat treatment. Only, it’s been joined by other quenching solutions.

The Available Quenching Mediums

Rapidly immersed in oil or water, that old rattling hiss is still heard. The high-temperature energy is quickly sucked away from the hot metal workpiece, so its new crystalline form is maintained, even though the workpiece is now at room temperature. But there are other mediums used in quenching, not just water, not only oil. There are caustic soda quenchants and brine pools. On another heat leeching line, single-phase liquids are replaced by a quenchant gas. Oils, molten salt baths, even air cooling, the possibilities are many. The question is, now that the quenchant candidates have been singled out, what benefits do they have to offer?

Rapid Cooling Consequences

There are times when fast quenching is undesirable. Water is out of the picture after realizing this fact. The workpiece should cool quickly, and those mechanical properties should be locked inside the part, but the operation should accomplish these twin feats without causing any deformation. Basically, a workpiece that cools too quickly could warp and fracture. Let’s pull the part away from the water pool, then. Let’s put it in oil, which is a deformation-diminishing quench medium. Alternatively, a molten salt bath will uniformly regulate the alloy’s cooling curve so that there’s no chance of structural distortion.

Considering the Supplementary Benefits

Right off the bat, air quenched parts allow different rates of hardenability. For gas and salt bath quenchants, the cool gaseous mixes function like any other energy discharging mechanism. But, and this is an important point, the chemical bases add secondary features to the mix. Cyanide baths, for example, cool and quench hot workpieces while simultaneously adding a chemical processing feature to the process. Cyanide baths quench and case-harden alloy parts. Incidentally, since molten salt baths fully immerse treated parts, they’re able to reduce undesirable side effects, including process oxidization.

At the end of the day, heat treatment curves are complex. Controlling the upward curve, furnace heat creates a thermal profile. Once the process hold time is complete, the part begins its downward thermal curve, which is controlled by oil or water or salts, or by air or one of a dozen other heat regulating quenchants. Thanks to those thermally regulated quenches, the workpiece doesn’t distort, doesn’t warp, and it doesn’t fracture.