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Heat Treat 101: Guide to Heat Treating

Guide for explaining heat treat processes, use-cases, and supplies

Let’s talk heat treat! Whether you’re crafting knives, blades, jewelry, tools, industrial components, or any other metal object, you’ll want those objects to have specific qualities – whether that’s shape, hardness, toughness, flexibility, or even electrical conductivity.

That’s where temperature comes into play.

Heat Treat Definition

Heat treat is the process of exposing metal or alloys to specific temperatures to change its molecular structure, which in turn alters its physical (and sometimes chemical) properties. Through controlled heating and cooling, heat treat can alter a metal’s hardness, ductility, malleability, temperature resistance, corrosion resistance, and material strength.

What Is Heat Treat Used For?

As you can imagine, heat treat has a wide range of applications – both artistic and industrial.

Artistic Use

Artists use heat treat to create knives, blades, jewelry, or ornamentation – basically any art or craft that involves metal. Heat treat artists use a series of specific firing schedules, along with cooling techniques, to shape metal and imbue it with the desired qualities, textures, and mechanical properties they want for their finished piece. These qualities may be decorative, functional, or both.

Single setpoint kiln controllers can be the perfect solution for bladesmiths, such as Delight Valley Blades.
Knife makers like Brock from Delight Valley Blades use heat treat to craft high quality blades that are both artistic and functional.

 

Industrial Use

In industrial processes, heat treat is an integral part of most manufacturing processes involving metal. Industries that rely on heat treat include medical, automotive, and electronic manufacturing.

Manufacturing processes that commonly involve heat treat include:

  • Machining: Creating the desired shape, size, or finish.
  • Joining: Connecting multiple objects into a unified structure.
  • Casting: Pouring liquid metal into a mold and allowing it to harden into a single object.
  • Shaping: Shaping raw metal into a specific shape or structure.
  • Molding: Pouring or pressing liquid or semi-liquid metal inside a mold.
  • Assembly: Connecting, fitting, and joining various components into a finished object.
  • Finishing: Making final adjustments to the finished object to make sure it fits the final design requirements.

Types of Heat Treat Processes

Different heat treat processes are used to alter the specific qualities of the metal or alloy. Often, different processes are used subsequently on a single piece. Below are common heat treating processes, as well as the effects they have on the metal:

  • Normalizing: The metal is heated to an extremely high temperature for a defined time period and then air-cooled. Normalizing relieves internal stress and ensures uniformity, resulting in harder, stronger metals.
  • Annealing: The metal is heated beyond the upper critical temperature and then slowly cooled to soften it and increase its workability. Annealing increases ductility and toughness, while relieving stress, making the metal more resistant to fractures.
  • Hardening: The metal alloy is heated until it forms an even solution and then allowed to cool to increase its hardness.
  • Case Hardening: Only the outside of the metal is hardened, creating a durable outer layer while ensuring the metal retains flexibility and doesn’t become brittle.
  • Quench Hardening: After heating, the metal is cooled rapidly by dipping it into an oil, polymer, or water, resulting in very hard, very brittle metal.
  • Tempering: After hardening, the metal is heated to a lower temperature to reduce excessive hardness and relieve internal stress. Tempering makes metals less brittle.

Stages of Heat Treat

Each heat treat process typically occurs in 3 main stages:

  • Heating: Heating the metal or alloy to a specific temperature, ensuring that it heats evenly.
  • Soaking (or Holding): Keeping the metal at temp for a specific period of time.
  • Cooling: Bringing the metal or alloy back to room temperature.

Depending on the application and the desired properties of the metal, these stages may be repeated multiple times and may have specific requirements regarding Ramp Rate (how quickly the metal is brought to temp) or Cooling Rate (how quickly the metal is cooled to room temperature).

Heat Treat Schedules

Each type of metal has specific setpoints and hold times for each heat treat process. However, unlike other kiln fired mediums, ramp rates for heat treat mostly become a factor during cooldown – and largely occur outside of the kiln! As such, most heat treat firing schedules are single setpoint – and only include a single step.

Below is an example of a normalizing schedule for 1095 steel, which relieves internal stress and ensures uniformity, resulting in harder, stronger metals:

A schedule for normalizing 1095 steel in a heat treat oven

  1. AFAP°F/Hr to 1600°F – hold for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove knife or blade from the oven and allow to air-cool.

As you can see, this heat treat schedule is extremely simplistic. You can find additional schedules for quench hardening and tempering 1095 steel in our article Understanding Kiln Firing Schedules for Glass Ceramics, Pottery, and Heat Treat.

Heat Treat Controllers

A heat treating controller is a device that uses your inputs to automatically manage the temperature of your heat treat oven. Heat treat controllers can be fully featured multi-setpoint controllers. But since heat treating schedules are typically single setpoint, a single setpoint controller like TAP&Go by SDS Industries may be a more economical solution.

The TAP&Go is SDS Industries' new, soon-to-be-released single setpoint controller designed specifically for heat treat.
The TAP&Go is SDS Industries’ new, soon-to-be-released single setpoint controller designed specifically for heat treat.

Regardless of whether you choose to go with a multi-setpoint or single setpoint controller, TAP Controllers by SDS Industries offer heat treat artists a ton of benefits, such as:

  • Work more efficiently and increase peace of mind with remote kiln control, kiln temperature monitoring, and real-time push notifications through TAP Kiln Control Mobile.
  • Improve consistency and save time by being able to save and access all of your different firing schedules for different processes and materials – without having to find the schedule you want in your firing notebook.
  • Enjoy intuitive menus and responsive touchscreen controls that make entering the correct schedule faster, easier, and more accurate than other heat treat controllers on the market.
  • Ensure maximum consistency with PID control algorithms and advanced diagnostics and preventative maintenance alerts.

Heat Treat Ovens

In addition to making sure you have the right heat treat controller, you’ll also need a heat treat oven, furnace, or knife kiln that’s capable of firing your medium of choice. When shopping for heat treat ovens, a couple factors to consider include:

  • Chamber Size: You’ll need a heat treat oven that has adequate chamber size to accommodate your medium. For instance, to heat treat blades, you’ll need a long, narrow chamber. But if you’re heat treating silver clay to make jewelry or trinkets, you may only need a small chamber.
  • Power Rating: Heat treat ovens with a higher power rating are typically capable of reaching hotter temperatures, which may be required for some metals or alloys. However, these ovens are more expensive (both for purchase and for operation) and may require installing a dedicated circuit or the installation of a special wall outlet.
  • Maximum Temperature: You’ll need an oven that’s capable of reaching the temperatures required for the metals and alloys you use.
  • Overall Dimensions & Configuration: Your kiln will have to be able to fit into your workspace or studio.
  • Durability, Reliability, & Support: A heat treat oven is a big investment. Manufacturers like Evenheat, Hot Shot Oven & Kiln, and Jen-Ken Kilns are American-made brands that have longstanding reputations for innovation, reliability, and customer service – plus, all of these manufacturers include TAP as a preinstalled option!
The Hot Shot 18K Pro Heat Treat Oven is designed for knife making, with an elongated chamber, patented cool-to-touch technology, and an integrated TAP Controller.
The Hot Shot 18K Pro is designed for knife making, with an elongated chamber, patented cool-to-touch technology, and an integrated TAP Controller.

Heat Treat Supplies

Finally, once you have your heat treat oven and controller, you’ll need supplies! For heat treat artists, the type of metals and allows you need largely depends on application. For example, silver clay is soft and pliable, making it a popular material for making jewelry and small trinkets. For bladesmithing, a wide range of metals and alloys may be used. For example, 1095 steel is easy to machine, easy to sharpen, and can hold a very sharp blade, making it a popular alloy in the knifemaking community. But it’s not stainless, and will be subject to corrosion, which means it won’t be ideal for kitchen cutlery. One of the most reputable suppliers for steel alloys for artists in the heat treat industry is New Jersey Steel Barron – if you’re looking for steel for your next knife making or bladesmithing project, they’re a great place to start!

Explore TAP Heat Treat Controllers by SDS Industries

The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide users the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use heat treat oven controllers on the market today. With responsive touchscreen controls, an intuitive graphical UI, and integration with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app, TAP Kiln Controllers can pair with any relay-controlled kiln or oven.

We invite you to explore our selection of programmable kiln controllers, standalones, and conversion kits on our online store. You can also purchase TAP Digital Controllers or TAP Controlled Kilns and Heat Treat Ovens through one of the following distributors:

Shop the most advanced heat treating oven controllers by SDS Industries

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Setpoint Controls: What is a Setpoint?

Editing setpoint temperatures of the TAP II Kiln Controllers

If you’re new to heat treatment or it’s your first time using a kiln controller, you may find yourself asking: What is a setpoint? Or, if you’re a little more familiar with the topic, you may be looking to find more information about different types of setpoint controls. Don’t worry! After reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of setpoint temperatures and setpoint controls.

Setpoint Definition: What is a Setpoint?

Before exploring different setpoint control options, it’s important to understand what a setpoint is first. Broadly speaking, in a control system, the setpoint is the measurable value you want the system to achieve.

For kilns or heat treat ovens, the setpoint is the desired temperature you want the kiln or oven to reach. In a firing schedule, there may be multiple setpoints for multiple steps. Or, for many heat treat processes involving metal, there may only be a single setpoint. Either way, making sure your kiln or oven reaches its setpoint temperature is crucial for achieving the desired effect!

Setpoint controls on the TAP II Kiln Controller
The TAP II Kiln Controller lets you easily edit setpoints for each step of your kiln firing schedule using intuitive touchscreen controls – the controller then automatically ensures the kiln automatically reaches the correct setpoint temperature(s).

 

Setpoint Controls: Making Sure Your Kiln Reaches the Right Setpoint Temperatures

For a kiln or heat treat oven, setpoint controls are executed through the kiln controller. If you’re still using a manual controller or a kiln sitter, you’ll have to manually adjust the temperature of the kiln to change the setpoint for each step. If you’re using an advanced programmable digital kiln controller, such as TAP or TAP II by SDS Industries, then you input different setpoints for each step when creating your schedule, and the controller executes each step automatically.

Additionally, setpoint controls can be multi-setpoint or single setpoint. Multi-setpoint controllers let you input multiple setpoint temperatures and hold times for multiple segments of a kiln firing temperature. Single setpoint controllers, such as SDS Industries’ soon-to-be-released TAP&Go lets you input a single setpoint temperature.

The TAP&Go Single Setpoint Controller is designed specifically for heat treat artists and simple one-step firing schedules.
The TAP&Go Single Setpoint Controller, designed specifically for heat treat artists and simple one-step firing schedules, lets you easily input a single setpoint temperature, and the controller takes care of the rest!

Learn more about different setpoint control methods at Kiln Controls: Exploring Different Kiln Control Methods.

The TAP Ecosystem: Simplifying Setpoint Controls

When we released the original TAP Controller in 2015, our goal was to create a kiln controller that could precisely execute setpoint controls – while making it super easy for artists to input, edit, and manage setpoints.

At the time, we revolutionized the kiln control industry by introducing precise touchscreen controls and intuitive, easy-to-use menus. A year later, we released TAP Kiln Control Mobile, which lets you fully control every aspect of your kiln firings – including editing your setpoint temperature – right from your smartphone!

TAP Kiln Control Mobile lets you remotely control setpoint temperatures from your smartphone or tablet.
TAP Kiln Control Mobile lets you conveniently manage your setpoint controls from your smartphone or tablet.

All of the setpoint controllers in the TAP Kiln Control Ecosystem are designed based on the principles of simplicity and precision – and all of the controllers include integration with TAP Kiln Control Mobile. The video below walks you through schedule management – including how to enter setpoints – for the TAP II Kiln Controller:

 

Explore Setpoint Controllers by SDS Industries

The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide artists the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use setpoint controls on the market today. With responsive touchscreen controls, an intuitive graphical UI, and integration with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app, TAP Setpoint Controllers can pair with any relay-controlled kiln or oven.

We invite you to explore our selection of programmable kiln controllers, standalones, and conversion kits on our online store. You can also purchase TAP Digital Controllers or TAP Controlled Kilns and Heat Treat Ovens through one of the following distributors:

Shop programmable temperature controllers.

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When to Use a Single Setpoint Controller

Single setpoint controllers are used for metal heat treat and executing simple kiln firing schedules.

When shopping for a kiln controller, it’s important to get a controller with the functionality you need. While advanced programmable digital kiln controllers have robust features to easily execute even the most complex firing schedules, some kiln operators don’t need to execute complex schedules with specific ramp rates for multiple steps. For these operators, a single setpoint controller might be a more affordable option.

Types of Artists a Single Setpoint Controller Won’t Work For

Before discussing the types of artists who should consider purchasing a single setpoint controller, it’s important to discuss the types of artists a single setpoint controller won’t work for. After all, buying a kiln controller that doesn’t include the functionality you need is a total waste of money!

Most Glass Artists

For most glass artists, a single setpoint controller won’t be a viable kiln control option. Kiln firing schedules for glass require the kiln to heat up to multiple setpoints at highly controlled ramp rates. If you heat up glass too fast or cool it down too quickly it can cause breaking or jeopardize its structural integrity.

While glassblowers can use a single setpoint controller to control their pick-up ovens, most glass kilns require advanced process controllers.

Most Ceramic Artists

Likewise, most ceramic artists will probably need to invest in a multi-setpoint kiln controller. Like with glass, most firing schedules for ceramic require multiple steps with specific ramp rates to avoid blowouts and preserve the structural integrity of the ceramic piece. It is worth noting that throughout most of kiln history, pottery was fired without the use of a multi-setpoint controller (or any controller at all!). But for most modern ceramic artists, an advanced multi-setpoint controller will be a better option.

However, if a ceramic artist uses a dedicated kiln for candling clay, a single setpoint can be a good control option for that application.

Artists Who Want Maximum Convenience

Additionally, a single setpoint controller does require more manual intervention. It’s up to the user to manually turn the kiln off or enter a new setpoint for an additional step. The soon-to-be released TAP&Go Single Setpoint Controller allows user to abort firings from their smartphone via TAP Kiln Control Mobile.

However, many artists appreciate the convenience of having their controller automatically terminate firings once the necessary hold time has been reached. For kiln operators who want the convenience of having their controller automatically manage the entire firing schedule, a multi-setpoint controller will be a better option.

Types of Artists Who Should Consider a Single Setpoint Controller

Now that we’ve covered the types of artists a single setpoint controller won’t be a good fit for, let’s discuss those who should consider a single setpoint controller. After all, it doesn’t make sense to pay for functionality you don’t need!

Heat Treat Artists

For heat treat artists, such as those who make blades, jewelry, or work with metal clays, most firing schedules only require a single setpoint. In heat treat, ramp rates only apply to the cooldown process. These largely occur outside of a kiln through quenching, exposing the metal to room temperature, or insulating the metal in blankets or sand.

Single setpoint kiln controllers can be the perfect solution for bladesmiths, such as Delight Valley Blades.

For these types of artists, a single setpoint controller is the perfect solution! Additionally, a single setpoint controller can be used for the following applications:

  • Storing material at a single, controlled temperature.
  • Heating material to ensure it stays dry.
  • Controlling the temperature of a greenhouse or hydroponic tank.
  • Candling clay prior to firing.
  • Brewing beer (although a multi-step controller can add significant convenience!).

The TAP&Go Single Setpoint Controller by SDS Industries

If a single setpoint controller sounds like a good solution for your kiln control needs, we encourage you to check out the soon-to-be released TAP&Go Single Setpoint Controller! Designed specifically for heat treat artists, knifemakers, or users who don’t need to execute complex firings, TAP&Go takes the precision and ease-of-use of TAP and simplifies it into the most advanced single setpoint controller on the market.

TAP&Go is an advanced single setpoint kiln controller by SDS Industries.

With TAP&Go, heat treats artists have the ability to:

  • Easily enter the temperature you want the kiln or oven to heat to – from the 2.4” touchscreen or the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app – and let the controller do the work.
  • Enjoy complete remote monitoring and control through the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app with a premium subscription.
  • Use TAP&Go’s built-in WiFi and Bluetooth to automatically pair with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app.
  • Prevent eye strain with light and dark modes and large, full-text displays.

 

Explore Single Setpoint and Multi-Setpoint Controllers by SDS Industries

Whether you’re looking for a single setpoint or multi-setpoint controller, TAP has you covered! The TAP and TAP II Controllers by SDS Industries provide users the most advanced, precise, and easy-to-use multi-setpoint temperature controllers on the market today. With responsive touchscreen controls, an intuitive graphical UI, and integration with the TAP Kiln Control Mobile app, TAP Kiln Controllers can pair with any relay-controlled kiln or oven.

The soon-to-be-released TAP&Go includes many of the benefits of TAP but streamlines everything into a single setpoint controller so that heat treat artists only have to pay for the functionality they need!

We invite you to explore our selection of programmable kiln controllers, standalones, and conversion kits on our online store. You can also purchase TAP Digital Controllers or TAP Controlled Kilns and Heat Treat Ovens through one of the following distributors:

Shop the most advanced programmable digital kiln controllers for sale.