Hardness is a measure of how resistant solid matter is to various kinds of permanent shape change when a compressive force is applied. Some materials (e.g. metals) are harder than others (e.g. plastics). Macroscopic hardness is generally characterized by strong intermolecular bonds, but the behavior of solid materials under force is complex; therefore, there are different measurements of hardness: scratch hardness, indentation hardness, and rebound hardness.
Hardness is dependent on ductility, elastic stiffness, plasticity, strain, strength, toughness, viscoelasticity, and viscosity.
Common examples of hard matter are ceramics, concrete, certain metals, and superhard materials, which can be contrasted with soft matter.
Scratch hardness is the measure of how resistant a sample is to fracture or permanent plastic deformation due to friction from a sharp object. The principle is that an object made of a harder material will scratch an object made of a softer material. When testing coatings, scratch hardness refers to the force necessary to cut through the film to the substrate. The most common test is Mohs scale, which is used in mineralogy. One tool to make this measurement is the sclerometer.
Another tool used to make these tests is the pocket hardness tester. This tool consists of a scale arm with graduated markings attached to a four-wheeled carriage. A scratch tool with a sharp rim is mounted at a predetermined angle to the testing surface. In order to use it a weight of known mass is added to the scale arm at one of the graduated markings, the tool is then drawn across the test surface. The use of the weight and markings allows a known pressure to be applied without the need for complicated machinery.
Indentation hardness measures the resistance of a sample to material deformation due to a constant compression load from a sharp object; they are primarily used in engineering and metallurgy fields. The tests work on the basic premise of measuring the critical dimensions of an indentation left by a specifically dimensioned and loaded indenter.
Common indentation hardness scales are Rockwell, Vickers, Shore, and Brinell.
Rebound hardness, also known as dynamic hardness, measures the height of the “bounce” of a diamond-tipped hammer dropped from a fixed height onto a material. This type of hardness is related to elasticity. The device used to take this measurement is known as a scleroscope.
Two scales that measures rebound hardness are the Leeb rebound hardness test and Bennett hardness scale.