A hair-splitting way to get dull
Razors eventually become dull after shaving even though the blade is about 50 times harder than the hair. Whereas edge rounding and brittle cracking of a blade’s hard coating were thought to be responsible, a detailed microstructural investigation by Roscioli et al. shows a different mechanism. A combination of out-of-plane bending, microstructural heterogeneity, and asperities—microscopic chips along the smooth edge—sometimes caused fracture to occur if the conditions lined up. This fracture originated at the hair-edge asperity interface and created chipping that dulled a blade faster than other processes.
Science, this issue p. 689
Steels for sharp edges or tools typically have martensitic microstructures, high carbide contents, and various coatings to exhibit high hardness and wear resistance. Yet they become practically unusable upon cutting much softer materials such as human hair, cheese, or potatoes. Despite this being an everyday observation, the underlying physical micromechanisms are poorly understood because of the structural complexity of the interacting materials and the complex boundary conditions of their co-deformation. To unravel this complexity, we carried out interrupted tests and in situ electron microscopy cutting experiments with two micromechanical testing setups. We investigated the findings analytically and numerically, revealing that the spatial variation of lath martensite structure plays the key role leading to a mixed-mode II-III cracking phenomenon before appreciable wear.