Hot working refers to processes where metals are plastically deformed above their recrystallization temperature. Being above the recrystallization temperature allows the material to recrystallize during deformation. This is important because recrystallization keeps the materials from strain hardening, which ultimately keeps the yield strength and hardness low and ductility high. This contrasts with cold working.
The lower limit of the hot working temperature is determined by its recrystallization temperature. As a guideline, the lower limit of the hot working temperature of a material is 60% its melting temperature (on an absolute temperature scale). The upper limit for hot working is determined by various factors, such as: excessive oxidation, grain growth, or an undesirable phase transformation. In practice materials are usually heated to the upper limit first to keep forming forces as low as possible and to maximize the amount of time available to hot work the workpiece.
The most important aspect of any hot working process is controlling the temperature of the workpiece. 90% of the energy imparted into the workpiece is converted into heat. Therefore, if the deformation process is quick enough the temperature of the workpiece should rise, however, this does not usually happen in practice. Most of the heat is lost through the surface of the workpiece into the cooler tooling. This causes temperature gradients in the workpiece, usually due to non-uniform cross-sections where the thinner sections are cooler than the thicker sections. Ultimately, this can lead to cracking in the cooler, less ductile surfaces. One way to minimize the problem is to heat the tooling. The hotter the tooling the less heat lost to it, but as the tooling temperature rises, the tool life decreases. Therefore the tooling temperature must be compromised; commonly, hot working tooling is heated to 500–850 °F (325–450 °C).