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Cryogenics — as if freezing people to wake them up later wasn’t weird enough, now you can freeze your tools. If you saw this post on Milwaukee’s “Ice Edge” recip saw blades, you might have thought a cryogenic heat-treatment process was an oddity. But cryogenic deep-freezing of metals is becoming common, and not just because it can cut production costs. Something good happens to metal at -300 Fahrenheit — testing shows better wear, greater flexibility, and increased durability.

The NW Cryogenics site shows an example of a manufacturer who’d been using T15, titanium-nitride-coated, premium drill bits and getting about 15 high-tolerance holes before having to replace the bit. Then the manufacturer switched to an off-the-shelf, M3 drill bit, that by itself wouldn’t produce a single hole of the necessary tolerance — but after the cryogenic treatment, it could drill 200 or more holes within the necessary requirements, saving the manufacturer $100,000 a year.

These testimonials tell how the treatment dramatically improved the performance of a GT gearbox, mower blades, a helicopter engine, and even guitar strings. A quick search could turn up many more applications for the “deep freeze” — for Toolmongers, this is a “cool” trend in tooling.

NW Cryogenics will treat tools piecemeal, at $2 for a small 1/4″ drill bit, up to $16 for a 12″ long, one-inch bit — or you can pay by the pound. Paying for the treatment by the piece may sound steep, but buying your own freezer could really set you back a pretty penny.

NW Cryogenics [Corporate Site]
Cryogenic Freezers [Russels Technical Products]


4 Responses to Frozen Tools Are Cool

  1. Me. says:

    Lee Valley stated, in their aftermarket plane-blades copy, iirc, that they hadn’t seen any difference between cryo-treated tools & the same tools non-cryo-treated. They were going to sit it out & wait.

    Considering it from straight theory, however, it looks unlikely
    ( particularly the incredible claims in the “testimonials” ).

    Normal heat-treating consists of bringing a substance UP to a temperature where the crystal-phase changes, waiting until that change seeps inwards enough, then quenching
    ( annealing being a no-quench, slow-heat-cool, smoothing of the crystal-structure,
    rather-than the more normal soft-on-the-inside so it doesn’t break, hard-on-the-outside, so it doesn’t get dull ).

    The quenching brings the temperature down to where the crystal-structure *doesn’t change anymore*, and that’s usually hundreds ( or thousands ) of degrees Centigrade, above room-temperature.

    IOW, room-temperature is where no more changes are happening, because it’s too cold: the steel just sits there ( unless it’s one of the gets-tougher-by-working-it steels ).

    To bring the temperature down *lower* than room-temperature,
    in expectation of a crystal-structure-change,
    that will remain significant when it’s come-back-up-to-room-temp,
    is .. possible,
    but perhaps hooey?

    I want to see some article in http://www.physorg.com/ on the results produced by the technique,
    but searching there on “cryogenic” produces nothing whatsoever on cryo-treating steel.

    Maybe it does change the crystal-structure in a way that makes the steel significantly-better,
    but the ONLY information around, about the technology, is from believers & marketing-departments,
    not from science-journals,
    from what I can see. . .

    Doesn’t *prove* anything,
    but it certainly doesn’t convince me:
    SHOW me objective proof,
    by someone who doesn’t have vested interest in profit from it or marketshare. . .

    ( and no, patents don’t prove anything )

  2. J.R. Bluett says:

    Interesting. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but had sold cold treated tools before and knew it was an interesting trend. Now that you mention the heat producing change, cold not producing change argument I’m suddenly curious. Maybe it’s time for a tool test, by an independent ToolMonger source of course! Plus, I think you got my attention with the physics. I may know a direction I can take to get a weigh-in from an expert, or two.

  3. bobby stupid says:

    I would like to see a phase diagram before I believe this works.
    I am somehow doubtful that freezing steel has an effect on its material properties. Martensite and Austenite and all that…

  4. Jacob says:

    “I want to see some article in http://www.physorg.com/ on the results produced by the technique,
    but searching there on “cryogenic” produces nothing whatsoever on cryo-treating steel.”

    There are better ways of finding information about cryogenic treatments. I enjoy physorg immensely, but it is more of an intermediary between the public (pop culture) and the scientists (very interested in very little things). You should search the metallurgical journals themselves for information on these processes. I do think it is very likely that the marketing of this process has described effects beyond what has been objectively seen.

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