Carburizing is a process used to case harden steel with a carbon content between 0.1 and 0.3 wt.% C. In this process steel is introduced to a carbon rich environment and elevated temperatures for a certain amount of time, and then quenched so that the carbon is locked in the structure; one of the simpler procedures is repeatedly to heat a part with an acetylene torch set with a fuel-rich flame and quench it in a carbon-rich fluid such as oil.
Carburization is a diffusion-controlled process, so the longer the steel is held in the carbon-rich environment the greater the carbon penetration will be and the higher the carbon content. The carburized section will have a carbon content high enough that it can be hardened again through flame or induction hardening.
It is possible to carburize only a portion of a part, either by protecting the rest by a process such as copper plating, or by applying a carburizing medium to only a section of the part.
The carbon can come from a solid, liquid or gaseous source; if it comes from a solid source the process is called pack carburizing. Packing low carbon steel parts with a carbonaceous material and heating for some time diffuses carbon into the outer layers. A heating period of a few hours might form a high-carbon layer about one millimeter thick.
Liquid carburizing involves placing parts in a bath of a molten carbon-containing material, often a metal cyanide; gas carburizing involves placing the parts in a furnace maintained with a methane-rich interior.