Heat Treatment of Aluminum Alloy Rivets, Magnesium Alloys and Titanium

Heat Treatment of Aluminum Alloy Rivets

Aluminum alloy rivets are furnished in the following compositions: alloys 1100, 5056, 2117, 2017, and 2024.

Alloy 1100 rivets are used in the “as fabricated” condition for riveting aluminum alloy sheets where a low-strength rivet is suitable. Alloy 5056 rivets are used in the “as fabricated” condition for riveting magnesium alloy sheets.

Alloy 2117 rivets have moderately high strength and are suitable for riveting aluminum alloy sheets. These rivets receive only one heat treatment, which is performed by the manufacturer, and are anodized after being heat treated. They require no further heat treatment before they are used. Alloy 2117 rivets retain their characteristics indefinitely after heat treatment and can be driven anytime. Rivets made of this alloy are the most widely used in aircraft construction.

Alloy 2017 and 2024 rivets are high-strength rivets suitable for use with aluminum alloy structures. They are purchased from the manufacturer in the heat-treated condition. Since the aging characteristics of these alloys at room temperatures are such that the rivets are unfit for driving, they must be reheat-treated just before they are to be used. Alloy 2017 rivets become too hard for driving in approximately 1 hour after quenching. Alloy 2024 rivets become hardened in 10 minutes after quenching. Both alloys may be reheat-treated as often as required; however, they must be anodized before the first reheat treatment to prevent intergranular oxidation of the material. If these rivets are stored in a refrigerator at a temperature lower than 32 °F immediately after quenching, they remain soft enough to be usable for several days.

Rivets requiring heat treatment are heated either in tubular containers in a salt bath or in small screen wire baskets in an air furnace. The heat treatment of alloy 2017 rivets consists of subjecting the rivets to a temperature between 930 °F to 950 °F for approximately 30 minutes and immediately quenching in cold water. These rivets reach maximum strength in about 9 days after being driven. Alloy 2024 rivets should be heated to a temperature of 910 °F to 930 °F and immediately quenched in cold water. These rivets develop greater shear strength than 2017 rivets and are used in locations where extra strength is required. Alloy 2024 rivets develop their maximum shear strength in 1 day after being driven.

The 2017 rivet should be driven within approximately 1 hour and the 2024 rivet within 10 to 20 minutes after heat treating or removal from refrigeration. If not used within these times, the rivets should be reheat treated before being refrigerated.

Heat Treatment of Magnesium Alloys

Magnesium alloy castings respond readily to heat treatment, and about 95 percent of the magnesium used in aircraft construction is in the cast form. The heat treatment of magnesium alloy castings is like the heat treatment of aluminum alloys in that there are two types of heat treatment: solution heat treatment and precipitation (aging) heat treatment. Magnesium, however, develops a negligible change in its properties when allowed to age naturally at room temperatures.

Solution Heat Treatment

Magnesium alloy castings are solution heat treated to improve tensile strength, ductility, and shock resistance. This heat-treatment condition is indicated by using the symbol –T4 following the alloy designation. Solution heat treatment plus artificial aging is designated –T6. Artificial aging is necessary to develop the full properties of the metal.

Solution heat-treatment temperatures for magnesium alloy castings range from 730 °F to 780 °F, the exact range depending upon the type of alloy. The temperature range for each type of alloy is listed in Specification MIL-H-6857. The upper limit of each range listed in the specification is the maximum temperature to which the alloy may be heated without danger of melting the metal.

The soaking time ranges from 10 to 18 hours, the exact time depending upon the type of alloy as well as the thickness of the part. Soaking periods longer than 18 hours may be necessary for castings over 2 inches in thickness. NEVER heat magnesium alloys in a salt bath as this may result in an explosion.

A serious potential fire hazard exists in the heat treatment of magnesium alloys. If through oversight or malfunctioning of equipment the maximum temperatures are exceeded, the casting may ignite and burn freely. For this reason, the furnace used should be equipped with a safety cutoff that turns off the power to the heating elements and blowers if the regular control equipment malfunctions or fails. Some magnesium alloys require a protective atmosphere of sulfur dioxide gas during solution heat treatment. This aids in preventing the start of a fire even if the temperature limits are slightly exceeded.

Air quenching is used after solution heat treatment of magnesium alloys since there appears to be no advantage in liquid cooling.

Precipitation Heat Treatment

After solution treatment, magnesium alloys may be given an aging treatment to increase hardness and yield strength. Generally, the aging treatments are used merely to relieve stress and stabilize the alloys to prevent dimensional changes later, especially during or after machining. Both yield strength and hardness are improved somewhat by this treatment at the expense of a slight amount of ductility. The corrosion resistance is also improved, making it closer to the “as cast” alloy.

Precipitation heat-treatment temperatures are considerably lower than solution heat-treatment temperatures and range from 325 °F to 500 °F. Soaking time ranges from 4 to 18 hours.

Heat Treatment of Titanium

Titanium is heat treated for the following purposes:
  • Relief of stresses set up during cold forming or machining.
  • Annealing after hot working or cold working, or to provide maximum ductility for subsequent cold working.
  • Thermal hardening to improve strength.

Stress Relieving

Stress relieving is generally used to remove stress concentrations resulting from forming of titanium sheet. It is performed at temperatures ranging from 650 °F to 1,000 °F. The time at temperature varies from a few minutes for a very thin sheet to an hour or more for heavier sections. A typical stress relieving treatment is 900 °F for 30 minutes, followed by an air cool. The discoloration or scale that forms on the surface of the metal during stress relieving is easily removed by pickling in acid solutions. The recommended solution contains 10 to 20 percent nitric acid and 1 to 3 percent hydrofluoric acid. The solution should be at room temperature or slightly above.

Full Annealing

The annealing of titanium and titanium alloys provides toughness, ductility at room temperature, dimensional and structural stability at elevated temperatures, and improved machinability.

The full anneal is usually called for as preparation for further working. It is performed at 1,200 to 1,650 °F. The time at temperature varies from 16 minutes to several hours, depending on the thickness of the material and the amount of cold work to be performed. The usual treatment for the commonly used alloys is 1,300 °F for 1 hour, followed by an air cool. A full anneal generally results in sufficient scale formation to require the use of caustic descaling, such as sodium hydride salt bath.

Thermal Hardening

Unalloyed titanium cannot be heat treated, but the alloys commonly used in aircraft construction can be strengthened by thermal treatment, usually at some sacrifice in ductility. For best results, a water quench from 1,450 °F, followed by reheating to 900 °F for 8 hours is recommended.


The chemical activity of titanium and its rapid absorption of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon at relatively low temperatures make casehardening advantageous for special applications. Nitriding, carburizing, or carbonitriding can be used to produce a wear-resistant case of 0.0001 to 0.0002 inch in depth.

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