Difference Between Hardness and Strength of Material

In the realm of materials science and engineering, the terms hardness and strength are frequently used, often interchangeably, to describe the mechanical properties of materials. However, these two properties represent distinct aspects of a material’s behavior under applied loads and deformation. To comprehend the disparity between hardness and strength, it’s essential to delve into the definitions, measurement techniques, underlying mechanisms, and practical implications of each property.


Hardness is a measure of a material’s resistance to localized deformation, particularly indentation or scratching. It characterizes the material’s ability to withstand surface penetration or abrasion by external forces. Hardness is an intrinsic property influenced by the material’s atomic structure, bonding types, grain boundaries, and microstructure. Several hardness measurement techniques exist, including:

Mohs Scale: The Mohs scale, developed by Friedrich Mohs in 1812, ranks minerals based on their scratch resistance relative to one another. It’s a qualitative scale ranging from 1 (softest, talc) to 10 (hardest, diamond).

Brinell Hardness Test: The Brinell hardness test involves indenting a material surface with a spherical indenter and measuring the diameter of the indentation. The hardness value is determined based on the applied load and the surface area of the indentation.

Rockwell Hardness Test: The Rockwell hardness test measures the depth of penetration of an indenter under specific loads. It provides a quantitative measure of hardness using different scales, such as Rockwell A, B, and C, depending on the indenter type and load.

Vickers Hardness Test: The Vickers hardness test employs a pyramidal diamond indenter to create an indentation, and the hardness value is calculated based on the indentation’s dimensions.


Strength, on the other hand, pertains to the ability of a material to withstand deformation and resist applied forces without failure or rupture. It encompasses various types of mechanical loading, including tension, compression, shear, and torsion. Strength is a crucial property in engineering design, as it determines a material’s capacity to support loads and maintain structural integrity under different operating conditions. Common measures of strength include:

Tensile Strength: Tensile strength is the maximum stress a material can withstand under tensile loading before it fractures or experiences permanent deformation. It is determined by subjecting a specimen to uniaxial tension until failure occurs, and measuring the corresponding load and cross-sectional area.

Compressive Strength: Compressive strength is the maximum stress a material can withstand under compressive loading before it fails or experiences permanent deformation. It is typically determined using compression testing machines, where a specimen is subjected to axial compression until failure.

Shear Strength: Shear strength is the maximum stress a material can withstand under shear loading before it undergoes shear failure. It is crucial in applications involving cutting, punching, or sliding forces.

Yield Strength: Yield strength is the stress at which a material exhibits a specified amount of permanent deformation (usually 0.2% or 0.5%) under tensile loading. It represents the onset of plastic deformation and is a critical parameter in material selection and design.

Key Differences:

Nature of Deformation: Hardness primarily concerns surface resistance to indentation or scratching, focusing on localized deformation, while strength reflects the material’s ability to resist deformation and failure under applied loads, encompassing bulk properties.

Measurement Techniques: Hardness is often measured through indentation or scratch tests using specific scales and techniques, while strength is quantified through tensile, compressive, shear, or torsion tests that subject materials to various loading conditions.

Material Response: Hardness is influenced by factors such as crystal structure, grain size, and material composition, affecting surface properties. Strength, however, depends on factors like atomic bonding, dislocation movement, and defect distribution, influencing the material’s bulk mechanical behavior.

Practical Applications: Hardness is relevant in applications where surface durability, wear resistance, and scratch protection are critical, such as tooling, cutting implements, and protective coatings. Strength is vital in structural components, machinery, and load-bearing structures where resistance to deformation and failure is paramount.

Practical Implications:

Understanding the distinction between hardness and strength is crucial for material selection, process optimization, and product design across various industries:

Material Selection: Engineers consider both hardness and strength requirements when selecting materials for specific applications. For example, a tool steel must possess high hardness to resist wear and deformation during cutting operations, while also exhibiting sufficient strength to withstand mechanical loads without fracturing.

Surface Treatments: Surface hardening techniques, such as carburizing, nitriding, and induction hardening, enhance the hardness of components to improve wear resistance and extend service life. These treatments modify the material’s surface properties without significantly altering its bulk strength.

Quality Control: Hardness and strength testing are integral components of quality control processes in manufacturing. By assessing material properties through standardized tests and specifications, manufacturers ensure product consistency, reliability, and performance.

Failure Analysis: In failure analysis investigations, distinguishing between hardness-related surface damage and strength-related bulk failure helps identify root causes, design deficiencies, and material defects contributing to component or structural failures.

Final Conclusion on Difference Between Hardness and Strength of Material

In conclusion, while hardness and strength are both fundamental mechanical properties of materials, they represent distinct aspects of a material’s behavior under different conditions.

Hardness pertains to surface resistance to indentation and scratching, whereas strength encompasses the material’s ability to withstand deformation and failure under applied loads.

By comprehending the disparities between hardness and strength and their practical implications, engineers and materials scientists can make informed decisions regarding material selection, process optimization, and product design to meet performance requirements and ensure reliability across diverse applications.


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