Brinell Hardness Testing

Brinell Hardness Testing
Hardness is a characteristic of a material, not a fundamental physical property. It is defined as the resistance to indentation, and it is determined by measuring the permanent depth of the indentation.

More simply put, when using a fixed force (load) and a given indenter, the smaller the indentation, the harder the material. Indentation hardness value is obtained by measuring the depth or the area of the indentation using one of over 12 different test methods.
Learrn more about hardness testing basics here.

The Brinell hardness test method as used to determine Brinell hardness, is defined in ASTM E10. Most commonly it is used to test materials that have a structure that is too coarse or that have a surface that is too rough to be tested using another test method, e.g., castings and forgings. Brinell testing often use a very high test load (3000 kgf) and a 10mm diameter indenter so that the resulting indentation averages out most surface and sub-surface inconsistencies.

The Brinell method applies a predetermined test load (F) to a carbide ball of fixed diameter (D) which is held for a predetermined time period and then removed. The resulting impression is measured with a specially designed Brinell microscope or optical system across at least two diameters – usually at right angles to each other and these results are averaged (d). Although the calculation below can be used to generate the Brinell number, most often a chart is then used to convert the averaged diameter measurement to a Brinell hardness number.

Common test forces range from 500kgf often used for non-ferrous materials to 3000kgf usually used for steels and cast iron. There are other Brinell scales with load as low as 1kgf and 1mm diameter indenters but these are infrequently used. 



Test Method Illustration 

D = Ball diameter 
d = impression diameter 
F = load 
HB = Brinell result 


Typically the greatest source of error in Brinell testing is the measurement of the indentation. Due to disparities in operators making the measurements, the results will vary even under perfect conditions. Less than perfect conditions can cause the variation to increase greatly. Frequently the test surface is prepared with a grinder to remove surface conditions.

The jagged edge makes interpretation of the indentation difficult. Furthermore, when operators know the specifications limits for rejects, they may often be influenced to see the measurements in a way that increases the percentage of “good” tests and less re-testing. 


Two types of technological remedies for countering Brinell measurement error problems have been developed over the years. Automatic optical Brinell scopes, such as the B.O.S.S. system, use computers and image analysis to read the indentations in a consistent manner. This standardization helps eliminate operator subjectivity so operators are less-prone to automatically view in-tolerance results when the sample’s result may be out-of-tolerance. 

Brinell units, which measure according to ASTM E103, measure the samples using Brinell hardness parameters together with a Rockwell hardness method. This method provides the most repeatable results (and greater speed) since the vagaries of optical interpretations are removed through the use of an automatic mechanical depth measurement.

Using this method, however, results may not be strictly consistent with Brinell results due to the different test methods – an offset to the results may be required for some materials. It is easy to establish the correct values in those cases where this may be a problem. 


For more information, see our guide Selecting a Newage Brinell Hardness Tester or contact us.