Work hardening, also known as strain hardening or cold working, is the strengthening of a metal by plastic deformation. This strengthening occurs because of dislocation movements and dislocation generation within the crystal structure of the material.Many non-brittle metals with a reasonably high melting point as well as several polymers can be strengthened in this fashion.Alloys not amenable to heat treatment, including low-carbon steel, are often work-hardened. Some materials cannot be work-hardened at low temperatures, such as indium,however others can only be strengthened via work hardening, such as pure copper and aluminum.
Work hardening may be desirable or undesirable depending on the context. An example of undesirable work hardening is duringmachining when early passes of a cutter inadvertently work-harden the workpiece surface, causing damage to the cutter during the later passes. Certain alloys are more prone to this than others; superalloys such as Inconel require machining strategies that take it into account. An example of desirable work hardening is that which occurs in metalworking processesthat intentionally induce plastic deformation to exact a shape change. These processes are known as cold working or cold forming processes. They are characterized by shaping the workpiece at a temperature below its recrystallizationtemperature, usually at ambient temperature.Cold forming techniques are usually classified into four major groups:squeezing, bending, drawing, and shearing. Applications include the heading of bolts and cap screws and the finishing ofcold rolled steel. In cold forming, metal is formed at high speed and high pressure using tool steel or carbide dies. The cold working of the metal increasing the hardness, yield strength, and tensile strength.