(1) The increase in hardness and strength of a ductile metal as it is plastically deformed below its recrystallization temperature.
(2) Increased hardness and strength as a result of plastic deformation.
Strain hardening or also know as cold working and work hardening, is the strengthening of a metal by plastic deformation. This strengthening occurs because of dislocation movements within the crystal structure of the material. Any material with a reasonably high melting point such as metals and alloys can be strengthened in this fashion. Alloys not amenable to heat treatment, including low-carbon steel, are often work-hardened. Some materials cannot be work-hardened at normal ambient temperatures, such as indium, however others can only be strengthened via work hardening, such as pure copper and aluminum.
Strain hardening may be desirable or undesirable depending on the context. An example of undesirable work hardening is during machining when early passes of a cutter inadvertently work-harden the workpiece surface, causing damage to the cutter during the later passes. An example of desirable work hardening is that which occurs in metalworking processes that intentionally induce plastic deformation to exact a shape change. These processes are known as cold working or cold forming processes. They are characterized by shaping the workpiece at a temperature below its recrystallization temperature, usually at the ambient temperature. Cold forming techniques are usually classified into four major groups: squeezing, bending, drawing, and shearing. Examples of applications include the heading of bolts and cap screws and the finishing of cold rolled steel.