Hot Working – Temperature Measurement and Control

in Aircraft Materials Processes and Hardware

Temperature in the heat-treating furnace is measured by a thermoelectric instrument known as a pyrometer. This instrument measures the electrical effect of a thermocouple and, hence, the temperature of the metal being treated. A complete pyrometer consists of three parts—a thermocouple, extension leads, and meter.

Furnaces intended primarily for tempering may be heated by gas or electricity and are frequently equipped with a fan for circulating the hot air.


Salt baths are available for operating at either tempering or hardening temperatures. Depending on the composition of the salt bath, heating can be conducted at temperatures as low as 325 °F to as high as 2,450 °F. Lead baths can be used in the temperature range of 650 °F to 1,700 °F. The rate of heating in lead or salt baths is much faster in furnaces.

Heat-treating furnaces differ in size, shape, capacity, construction, operation, and control. They may be circular or rectangular and may rest on pedestals or directly on the floor. There are also pit-type furnaces, which are below the surface of the floor. When metal is to be heated in a bath of molten salt or lead, the furnace must contain a pot or crucible for the molten bath.

The size and capacity of a heat-treating furnace depends on the intended use. A furnace must be capable of heating rapidly and uniformly, regardless of the desired maximum temperature or the mass of the charge. An oven-type furnace should have a working space (hearth) about twice as long and three times as wide as any part that will be heated in the furnace.

Accurate temperature measurement is essential to good heat treating. The usual method is by means of thermocouples: the most common base metal couples are copper-constantan (up to about 700 °F), iron-constantan (up to about 1,400 °F), and chromel-alumel (up to about 2,200 °F). The most common noble metal couples (which can be used up to about 2,800 °F) are platinum coupled with either the alloy 87 percent platinum (13 percent rhodium) or the alloy 90 percent platinum (10 percent rhodium). The temperatures quoted are for continuous operation.

The life of thermocouples is affected by the maximum temperature (which may frequently exceed those given above) and by the furnace atmosphere. Iron-constantan is more suited for use in reducing and chromel-alumel in oxidizing atmospheres. Thermocouples are usually encased in metallic or ceramic tubes closed at the hot end to protect them from the furnace gases. A necessary attachment is an instrument, such as a millivoltmeter or potentiometer, for measuring the electromotive force generated by the thermocouple. In the interest of accurate control, place the hot junction of the thermocouple as close to the work as possible. The use of an automatic controller is valuable in controlling the temperature at the desired value.

Pyrometers may have meters either of the indicating type or recording type. Indicating pyrometers give direct reading of the furnace temperature. The recording type produces a permanent record of the temperature range throughout the heating operation by means of an inked stylus attached to an arm which traces a line on a sheet of calibrated paper or temperature chart.

Pyrometer installations on all modern furnaces provide automatic regulation of the temperature at any desired setting. Instruments of this type are called controlling potentiometer pyrometers. They include a current regulator and an operating mechanism, such as a relay.