This section is from the "Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes" encyclopedia, by Norman W. Henley and others.
See also Hardening Steel and Tempering Steel.
This work requires the use of substances which yield their carbon readily and quickly to the tools on contact at a high temperature. Experience has shown that the best results are obtained by the use of yellow blood-lye salt (yellow prussiate of potash), which, when brought in contact with the tool at a cherry-red heat, becomes fluid, and in this condition has a strong cementing effect. The annealing process is as follows: The tool is heated to a cherry red and the blood-lye salt sprinkled over the surface which is to be annealed. A fine sieve should be used, to secure an even distribution of the substance. The tool is then put back into the fire, heated to the proper temperature for tempering, and tempered. If it is desired to give a higher or more thorough tempering to iron or soft steel, the annealing process is repeated 2 or 3 times. The surface of the tool must, of course, be entirely free from scale. Small tools to which it is desired to impart a considerable degree of hardness by annealing with blood-lye salt are tempered as follows: Blood-lye salt is melted in an iron vessel over a moderate fire, and the tool, heated to a brown-red heat, placed in the melted salt, where it is allowed to remain for about 15 minutes. It is then heated to the hardening temperature and hardened. A similar but milder effect is produced in small, thin tools by making them repeatedly red hot, immersing them slowly in oil or grease, reheating them, and finally tempering them in water. To increase the effect, soot or powdered charcoal is added to the oil or grease (train oil) till a thick paste is formed, into which the red-hot tool is plunged. By this means the tool is covered with a thick, not very combustible, coating, which produces a powerful cementation at the next heating. By mixing flour, yellow blood-lye salt, saltpeter, horn shavings, or ground hoofs, grease, and wax, a paste is formed which serves the same purpose. A choice may be made of any of the preparations sold as a "hardening paste"; they are all more or less of the same composition. This is a sample: Melt 500 grains of wax, 500 grains tallow, 100 grains rosin, add a mixture of leather-coal, horn shavings, and ground hoofs in equal parts till a paste is formed, then add 10 grains saltpeter and 50 to 100 grains powdered yellow blood-lye salt, and stir well. The tools are put into this paste while red hot, allowed to cool in it, then reheated and tempered.
More steel is injured, and sometimes spoiled, by over-annealing than in any other way. Steel heated too hot in annealing will shrink badly when being hardened; besides, it takes the life out of it. It should never be heated above a low cherry red, and it should be a lower heat than it is when being hardened. It should be heated slowly and given a uniform heat all over and through the piece.
This is difficult to do in long bars and in an ordinary furnace. The best way to heat a piece of steel, either for annealing or hardening, is in red-hot, pure lead. By this method it is done uniformly, and one can see the color all the time. Some heating for annealing is done in this way: Simply cover up the piece in sawdust, and let it cool there, and good results will be obtained.
Good screw threads cannot be cut in steel that is too soft. Soft annealing produces a much greater shrinkage and spoils the lead of the thread.
This mixture protects the appearance of polished or matted steel objects on heating to redness: Mix 1 part of white soap, 6 parts of chemically pure boracic acid, and 4 parts of phosphate of soda, after pulverizing, and make with water into a paste. For use, apply this to the article before the annealing.