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Metallographic Heat Treated Steel Etchants

The most common etchants for heat treated steels or martensitic microstructures contain picric acid dissolved in alcohol and acids. A good resouce for additional etchants can be found with the etchant database provided by PACE Technologies, http://database.metallographic.com/pace-etchant.php

Sample Preparation: Both heat treated and un-heat treated steels must be properly prepared to reveal the true metallographic microstructure. A number of recommended procedures can be found at the following links:

http://www.metallographic.com/Metallographic-Preparation-Procedures/Steel-Hardened-Description.html

http://www.metallographic.com/Brochures/Met-Manual-2b.pdf

CAUTION: Safety is very important when etching. Be sure to wear the appropriate protective clothing and observe all WARNINGS on chemical manufacturers SDS (Safety Data Sheets). Also review COMMENTS Section for each etchant.

Recommended Etchants

Etchant

Conc.

Conditions

Comments

Picral
Ethanol
Picric acid

100 ml
2-4 grams

Seconds to minutes

For heat treated steels

Do not let etchant dry-explosive

Ethanol
Nitric acid
Hydrochloric acid
Picric acid

80 ml
10 ml
10 ml
1 gram

Seconds to minutes

Grain boundaries

Nital
Ethanol
Nitric acid

100 ml
1-10 ml

Seconds to minutes

Do not exceed 10% nitric acid -explosive


Metallographic micrograph of high carbon steel
1095 High Carbon Steel (furnace cooled), etched, Mag. 100X

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