When a low-carbon steel is heated above the A3 temperature line (Fig. 4.2), for example, to hot rolling and forging temperatures, the steel may grow coarse grains. For some applications, this structure may be desirable; for example, it permits relatively deep hardening, and if the steel is to be used in elevated-temperature service, it will have higher load-carrying capacity and higher creep strength than if the steel had fine grains.
Fine grains, however, enhance many steel properties: notch toughness, bendability, and ductility. In quenched and tempered steels, higher yield strengths are obtained. Furthermore, fine-grain, heat-treated steels have less distortion, less quench cracking, and smaller internal stresses.
During the production of a steel, grain growth may be inhibited by an appropriate dispersion of non-metallic inclusions or by carbides that dissolve slowly or remain undissolved during cooling. The usual method of making fine-grain steel employs aluminium deoxidation. In such steels, the inhibiting agent may be a sub microscopic dispersion of aluminium nitride or aluminium oxide. Fine grains also may be produced by hot working rolled or forged products, which otherwise would have a coarse-grain structure. The temperature at the final stage of hot working determines the final grain size. If the finishing temperature is relatively high and the grains after air-cooling are coarse, the size may be reduced by normalizing (Art. 4.42). Fine- or coarse-grain steels may be heat treated to be coarse- or fine-grain.