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Metallographic Characterization of the Microstructure of Tool Steels


Examination of selectively etched tool steel microstructures by light microscopy provides more information than standard etchants, such as nital, picral or Vilella’s reagent. Further, the images are more suitable for quantitative measurements, especially by image analysis. Specimens must be properly prepared, damage free, if selective etchants are to be applied successfully. A number of etchants have been claimed to selectively etch certain carbides in tool steels. The response of these etchants has been evaluated using a variety of well-characterized tool steel compositions. While many are selective, they are often selective to more than one type of carbide. Furthermore, their use in image analysis must be evaluated carefully as measurements showed that the amount and size of the carbides are often greater after selective etching as many of these reagents outline and color or attack the carbides. Selective etching of the matrix, leaving the carbides unaffected works well, but no one etchant will cover the broad spectrum of tool steel compositions. No etchant has been found that will color retained austenite in tool steels and image analysis of retained austenite in tool steels are always much lower than by x-ray diffraction unless retained austenite is the dominant phase present in grossly over-austenitized steels.


The articles and presentations that can be down-loaded from this web site are based upon work done by GFV while employed at Bethlehem Steel (1967-1983), Carpenter Technology (1983-1996), Buehler Ltd. (1996-2009) and Struers (2009-Present) and from the authors consulting work for companies such as, Latrobe Steel, Scot Forge, etc., and from his litigation work. GFV's bylined articles appearing in various issues of the ASM Handbook series have been listed here courtesy of ASM International, Materials Park, Ohio.