Mohs Hardness

Image credit: Scott Brande

The Bottom Line on Hardness - Here on Top!

Scratching a mineral sample against a glass plate is a quick-and-dirty test for relative hardness. If the mineral scratches the plate, it is harder; if it doesn't, it is softer. Of course the hardness test could be ambiguous under some minerals that show a hardness about the same as a glass plate. A number of common, non-metallic minerals exhibit a relative hardness less than a glass plate - H < 5.5, such as calcite and gypsum. Some metallic minerals are also softer than a glass plate, such as graphite and native copper.

Bottom Line: Hardness is an important property when used in combination with other properties, such as streak and cleavage.

Errors/Suggestions: Contact Scott Brande (see footer) or post on Discussion Forum.

What's Mohs Hardness?

A short video on Mr. Mohs and his hardness test.

Background - The hardness of a mineral is its resistance to scratching or indenting. A simplified and crude test for hardness is to test whether or not a sharp corner or edge of a sample scratches (or indents) a glass plate. A numerical reference scale for hardness was devised by Mohs. A glass plate has a hardness of about 5 1/2 on the Mohs hardness scale.

Watch the video on the Mohs Hardness scale.

Video Demonstration for Relative Hardness

How do you DO a hardness test?

Watch the video demonstration below.

Tool Hardness

Minerals aren't the only solids that may be characterized by a relative value on the hardness scale. Other solids could be subjected to a scratch test, such as on a glass plate, for their hardness response.

Some common materials are located on the hardness scale (below). Note their assigned values. Recognize that a manufactured item may vary in its physical properties. As a consequence the value shown should be interpreted with a plus/minus to represent some variability dependent on the precise composition of the manufactured item.

The common objects are referred to as 'tools' by geologists. A field geologist normally carries a pocket knife for a quick hardness test of rocks and minerals.

Note the hardness values of these 'tools'.

  • fingernail

  • copper coin

  • steel blade of a pocket knife

  • steel nail

  • masonry drill bit

Instructions: The Hardness Test

Caution - The accurate determination of relative hardness by testing the mineral against a glass plate requires a sample with a relatively sharp edge or corner, a firm grip, a significant downward force, and a steady hand. For example, if one does not exert enough downward force (a "wimpy" scratch), one might conclude that the sample is softer than a glass plate, when in fact it is not. Perhaps a weekly visit to the local gym for some upper body strength training would be in order to help with this test!

Materials for test

  • mineral sample

  • glass plate

Procedure for the test

  • Hold the sample in one hand to expose a sharp corner or edge.

  • Steady the glass plate on the table with your other hand.

  • Press the mineral sharp corner or edge onto the glass with some force.

  • Drag the sample across the plate a short distance (don't "saw" the sample back-and-forth like cutting a piece of wood).

  • Examine the glass surface for evidence of an indentation. Drag a fingernail or other hard object at right angles across the scratch line. If the sample really did scratch the glass, one will feel an indentation into the glass.

Possible test results and interpretation

  • If an indented groove (scratch) is present, then the mineral exhibits a Mohs hardness greater than (>) 5.5.

  • If an indented groove (scratch) is absent, then the mineral exhibits a Mohs hardness less than (<) 5.5.

Ready for a practice quiz? Begin below.