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Mohs Hardness Scale: A Comprehensive Guide to Scratch Resistance

Mohs Hardness Scale explained with examples

The Mohs hardness scale is a widely recognized method for determining the relative hardness of minerals. This system was first developed in 1812 by German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs and has since become an essential tool in the fields of geology, mineralogy, and materials science.

The scale consists of ten minerals ranked in ascending order of hardness, starting from the softest, talc, and ending with the hardest, diamond. Each mineral on the Mohs scale can scratch those ranking below it and can be scratched by those above it.

As a qualitative measure, the Mohs hardness scale serves as a practical tool for identifying and comparing the hardness of various minerals. Although it is not a linear scale, meaning that the differences in hardness between minerals are not equal, it provides a consistent basis for classification. In many cases, professionals and enthusiasts alike can use the Mohs scale to reliably distinguish between similar-looking minerals based on their relative hardness.

Scratch resistance is not the only property of minerals that can be defined by the Mohs hardness scale. For instance, researchers have also found correlations between hardness, fracture toughness, and modulus of various minerals<[Mohs scale minerals]. By understanding these relationships, scientists can gain valuable insights into the behavior and properties of materials in various applications, such as engineering, construction, and manufacturing.

Understanding the Mohs Hardness Scale

Mohs Hardness Scale Infographic

The Mohs Hardness Scale is a qualitative scale that characterizes the scratch resistance of various minerals. It was created in 1812 by German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs. Minerals are assigned a ranking from 1 (softest) to 10 (hardest) based on their ability to scratch other minerals. The Mohs scale is an invaluable tool in geology as well as material sciences and continues to be used and studied today.

The Mohs scale is based on a simple principle: a higher-ranked mineral can scratch a lower-ranked mineral, but not vice versa. For example, a mineral with a Mohs hardness of 5 can scratch minerals with hardness rankings of 1 to 4, but it cannot scratch minerals with a hardness ranking of 6 or higher.

One key feature of the Mohs hardness scale is that it is not linear. This means that there isn't a consistent increase in scratch resistance as the Mohs hardness value increases. For instance, the hardness difference between minerals ranked 1 and 2 is much smaller than the difference between minerals ranked 9 and 10.

To better understand the Mohs scale, consider some common minerals and their hardness values:

Mineral Mohs Hardness Description
Talc 1 The softest mineral, easily scratched by a fingernail.
Gypsum 2 Can be scratched by a fingernail, used in the production of plaster of Paris.
Calcite 3 Can be scratched by a copper penny, common in limestone and marble.
Fluorite 4 Scratched easily, used for making lenses and windows.
Apatite 5 Can be scratched by a knife, found in tooth enamel and bones.
Orthoclase Feldspar 6 Can scratch glass, commonly found in granite and moonstone.
Quartz 7 Hard enough to scratch glass, includes varieties like amethyst and citrine.
Topaz 8 Hard enough to scratch quartz, known for its gemstone variety.
Corundum 9 Hard enough to scratch topaz, includes sapphires and rubies.
Diamond 10 The hardest mineral, capable of scratching all other minerals.

While the Mohs hardness scale is a valuable tool for characterizing minerals and materials, it has its limitations. The scale does not account for the variability in hardness within a single mineral crystal, as well as the presence of impurities or inclusions. Moreover, it is crucial to remember that the scale provides relative hardness values rather than absolute measures.

Understanding the Mohs hardness scale provides valuable insights into the material properties and durability of minerals. It enables geologists, gemologists, and material scientists to predict and compare mineral behavior, ultimately leading to better knowledge of our planet's geology and the materials used in various industries.

Development and Principle of the Scale

A guy hardness testing in a lab

The Mohs hardness scale was developed by German geologist Frederich Mohs in 1812 to measure the relative hardness of various minerals. The scale consists of ten reference minerals, each assigned an ordinal number, indicating their comparative resistance to scratching.

The principle behind the Mohs hardness test is that a mineral can scratch another mineral with equal or lower hardness while being scratched by a mineral with a higher hardness value.

The Mohs scale is an ordinal scale, meaning its values are arranged in a specific order rather than based on an absolute hardness. The scale ranges from 1 (softest) to 10 (hardest).

The reference minerals are, in ascending order of hardness: Talc (1), Gypsum (2), Calcite (3), Fluorite (4), Apatite (5), Orthoclase (6), Quartz (7), Topaz (8), Corundum (9), and Diamond (10).

Each mineral can be used to discern the relative hardness of an unknown mineral by comparing scratch resistance.

One of the defining features of the Mohs hardness scale is its simplicity. The test can be conducted easily by observing whether one mineral leaves a scratch on another.

This characteristic makes it a valuable tool for geologists, mineralogists, and gemologists in determining the identity and properties of unknown minerals. However, the Mohs scale does have some limitations—specifically, its lack of sensitivity to variations within a specific hardness level and its non-linear progression between reference minerals.

Despite these limitations, the Mohs hardness scale remains a widely used tool in the field of mineralogy, offering a straightforward and practical method for assessing mineral hardness.

To measure the absolute hardness of minerals—a quality distinct from the ordinal ranking provided by the Mohs scale—other methods have been developed, incorporating more advanced techniques and technology. Nonetheless, the Mohs hardness scale retains its place as an important and accessible means of comparing the hardness of different minerals.

Common Minerals on the Mohs Scale

The Mohs hardness scale is a qualitative scale used to rank the hardness of minerals, based on their ability to scratch other minerals. Starting with the softest mineral, talc, which has a hardness of 1, the scale progresses up to diamond, the hardest known naturally occurring substance with a hardness rating of 10.

  • Talc, the softest mineral on the Mohs scale, is commonly used in baby powder and cosmetics. Gypsum, with a hardness of 2, is often used as a building material in the form of plaster of Paris. Calcite, with a hardness of 3, is a common component in limestone and marble; it is used as a neutralizer for acidic soils. Apatite, a hardness of 5, is a key component in phosphate fertilizers and is found in some gemstone deposits.
  • Orthoclase, with a hardness of 6, is a type of feldspar commonly found in igneous and metamorphic rocks. It is used in the manufacturing of glass and ceramics. Quartz, a well-known mineral with a hardness of 7, is often used in making electronics and watches due to its piezoelectric properties. It is also used as a gemstone in various forms such as amethyst and citrine.
  • Topaz, with a hardness of 8, is a popular gemstone, often found in transparent and eye-catching colors such as blue, yellow, and champagne. Corundum, having a hardness of 9, is a significant mineral as it forms rubies and sapphires, which are highly valued as gemstones. Finally, diamond, with a hardness of 10, is the hardest known mineral and is often used in cutting tools, as well as being featured in elegant jewelry designs.

The Mohs scale is particularly useful to geologists and gemologists when identifying mineral specimens. A common method of testing a mineral's hardness involves using a sharp point or edge, such as a steel nail or glass plate, and attempting to scratch the mineral. The results can then be compared to the Mohs scale to determine the mineral's hardness.

In summary, the Mohs hardness scale is an essential tool for identifying and classifying minerals based on their hardness. From talc to diamond, each mineral on the scale has its unique properties and uses, making the Mohs scale a vital reference in the fields of geology and gemology.

Measurement and Testing Methods

Method Description
Fingernail Scratching a mineral with a fingernail to determine if it leaves a mark, indicating a hardness below 2.5.
Copper Penny Attempting to scratch a mineral with a copper penny to test hardness, typically used for minerals with a hardness below 3.5.
Steel Nail Using a steel nail to scratch a mineral, suitable for minerals with a hardness up to 5.5.
Glass Plate Testing if a mineral can scratch glass, which has a hardness of about 5.5, indicating a hardness above that level.
Streak Test Rubbing a mineral against an unglazed porcelain plate to observe the color of the streak left behind, helpful for identifying soft minerals.

The Mohs Hardness Scale is a qualitative scale used for determining a mineral's hardness by scratching it against another material with a known hardness. It helps in identifying minerals and their ranks, with the scale ranging from 1 (talc) to 10 (diamond), depending on the material's resistance to being scratched.

One common method for measuring the hardness of a material using the Mohs scale is the "scratch test." In this test, a scratch is made by a reference material of known hardness against the test sample, and if the scratch is visible, the reference material possesses higher hardness. To ensure accuracy, it is essential to perform the test on a clean and smooth surface with adequate pressure. Scratch kits are available, containing samples of Mohs scale minerals, enabling easy comparison and identification.

Besides the Mohs scale, other hardness testing methods provide more quantitative and precise measurements. Knoop Hardness, Vickers Hardness, Brinell Hardness, and Rockwell Hardness are among the widely used techniques in various industries.

  • Knoop Hardness Test: This test uses a microscopic diamond-based indenter to apply pressure on the material's surface, resulting in an indentation with a specific depth. The Knoop hardness value is determined by dividing the applied load by the indentation area. This method is suitable for thin, brittle materials that require high precision.

  • Vickers Hardness Test: Similar to the Knoop test, the Vickers hardness test also employs a diamond indenter, but with a pyramid-shaped tip. The hardness value is calculated by measuring the size of the indentation left after the application of a known load. The Vickers scale can test various materials, from small, thin samples to large, heavy ones, and is considered highly accurate.

  • Brinell Hardness Test: The Brinell test involves pressing a hardened steel or carbide ball into the material under examination. The diameter of the indentation left by the ball then determines the Brinell Hardness. This method's primary advantage is its ability to measure larger materials and is widely used in the metals industry.

  • Rockwell Hardness Test: The Rockwell test measures hardness based on the depth of penetration under a specified load. Using either a diamond cone or a hard steel ball, the Rockwell hardness value is calculated by comparing the initial penetration depth to the final depth, following the application of a major load. This technique is relatively quick and less destructive, making it a popular choice in industrial applications.

In conclusion, the Mohs Hardness Scale is a straightforward and widely recognized method for estimating mineral hardness.

Still, several other techniques, such as Knoop, Vickers, Brinell, and Rockwell, offer quantitative measurements and precision for a broader range of materials. Choosing the appropriate testing method depends on the sample's characteristics, the desired level of accuracy, and the specific industry requirements.

Mohs Scale and Everyday Objects

Mohs Hardness Scale common objects infographic

The Mohs scale of hardness is a measure used by mineralogists to classify the hardness of minerals. This scale, created by German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs in 1812, ranges from 1 (talc, the softest) to 10 (diamond, the hardest). By comparing the scratch resistance of various materials, one can determine where common objects fall on the Mohs scale.

Everyday objects can be helpful in understanding the Mohs scale, as they allow for easy comparison to mineral hardness. For example, a fingernail has a hardness of approximately 2.5, allowing it to scratch minerals with a Mohs hardness of 2 or lower, like gypsum. On the other hand, a fingernail cannot scratch harder minerals, such as calcite, which has a Mohs hardness of 3.

Copper coins, like a penny, fall around 3.5 on the hardness scale. This means a copper coin can scratch minerals with a Mohs hardness of 3, like calcite, but not minerals with a greater hardness, such as quartz, which has a hardness of 7. Similarly, glass plates have a Mohs hardness of approximately 5.5, allowing them to scratch minerals and materials with lower hardness, such as apatite, but not harder substances like quartz.

In the field, rocks and minerals can come in contact with various metals, which occupy different positions on the Mohs scale. For instance, metals like gold (Mohs hardness 2.5-3) and copper (Mohs hardness 3) are softer, while steel and iron (Mohs hardness 4-4.5) have intermediate hardness, and tungsten carbide (Mohs hardness ≥9) is one of the hardest materials. These metals can be used to scratch rocks to determine their hardness approximately and aid in identifying them.

It's essential to note that the Mohs scale is not the only available method for measuring hardness. Other hardness tests, such as the Rockwell hardness test, are commonly used to evaluate the hardness properties of various materials, including metals and plastics. However, the Mohs scale remains convenient when dealing with minerals and their related materials.

In conclusion, everyday objects like a fingernail, copper coin, and glass plate can serve as helpful references when understanding the Mohs scale of hardness. They can be used to scratch test minerals and estimate their relative hardness in the field, contributing to accurate identification and classification of rocks and minerals.

Mohs Scale in Gemology

Various gems inside rings

Mohs Hardness Scale is a practical method for measuring the hardness and scratch resistance of minerals and gemstones. In gemology, Mohs Scale is valuable in identifying and comparing the properties of various gems, such as gold, silver, iron, pyrite, sapphire, emerald, amethyst, ruby, zirconia, spinel, turquoise, aquamarine, beryl, garnet, citrine, diamonds, lapis lazuli, goethite, grandidierite, hambergite, and euclase. Material science also benefits from understanding these properties in creating more resilient materials and products.

The Mohs Scale comprises ten standard minerals, each representing a specific hardness level. The scale ranges from talc (1) to diamond (10), the hardest known natural substance. Gems fall along this scale based on their capacity to scratch or be scratched by other materials.

For example, gold and silver have a relatively low Mohs hardness rating, making them susceptible to scratches; yet, their malleability makes them popular for creating intricate jewelry designs. Iron has a higher hardness than the precious metals, but still falls mid-scale, making it less resistant to scratching than other minerals.

Some gemstones, such as ruby and sapphire, rank just below diamond on Mohs Scale due to their hardness. These gems are ideal for everyday engagement rings and other jewelry that might receive more wear and tear. In comparison, softer stones like turquoise and lapis lazuli are more prone to scratching and may require extra care.

Moissanite earrings and other jewelry made with moissanite stones are becoming popular alternatives to diamonds due to their nearly identical appearance and hardness. Moissanite has a similar hardness rating to diamonds, making it an excellent choice for durable jewelry pieces.

It's essential to remember that while Mohs Scale is a useful tool in understanding gem hardness, it does not account for other properties such as fracture toughness or cleavage, which can also impact the overall durability of a gemstone. Nonetheless, Mohs Scale remains a valuable resource for comparing and identifying gem material properties, leading to more informed decisions in gemology and material science.

Mohs Scale and Mineralogy

Minerals getting ready for Mohs Hardness Test

The Mohs scale, created by German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs in 1812, is a widely used method for evaluating the hardness of minerals. It is an essential tool for geologists, mineral collectors, and other professionals in the field of mineralogy. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, with talc being the softest mineral at 1 and diamond being the hardest at 10. This scale helps to identify and characterize minerals and rocks based on their ability to withstand scratching.

Mineral hardness is an important property that aids geologists in determining the composition of a mineral specimen. The Mohs scale uses a set of reference minerals, including feldspar, which ranks at a 6 on the scale. Feldspar is a common mineral found in various rocks, making it an excellent reference point for mineral identification. Additionally, the National Park Service has adopted the Mohs scale as part of their guidelines for evaluating and protecting geological resources.

The Mohs scale is not without its limitations, however. For example, it is unable to accurately gauge the hardness of minerals with similar rankings, such as strontianite and graphite, which both rank at 1.5 on the scale. Furthermore, since the scale is ordinal, it does not provide a linear or regular increase in hardness values.

Nonetheless, the Mohs scale remains an indispensable tool in the field of mineralogy. It offers a reliable and straightforward method for comparing mineral hardness, which is especially useful for geologists when studying rocks in the field. Due to its simplicity and efficacy, the Mohs scale continues to be a valuable resource for professionals and enthusiasts alike.

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Historical Background of the Mohs Scale

The concept of hardness in minerals can be traced back to ancient Greek scholar Theophrastus, who wrote a treatise called "On Stones" around 300 BCE. In this work, Theophrastus described the different properties of minerals, including their ability to scratch one another. However, it wasn't until the 19th century that a standardized scale for hardness was developed.

Friedrich Mohs, a German geologist, introduced the Mohs scale of hardness in 1812. He devised this scale by arranging ten minerals in order of their ability to scratch each other, from the softest (talc) to the hardest (diamond). Mohs's work served as a significant milestone in the understanding of mineral properties and facilitated the identification of different minerals.

The Mohs scale is not linear in nature; the difference in hardness between 9 and 10, for example, is much more significant than that between 1 and 2. Furthermore, although the scale's primary purpose was to provide a basis for scratch hardness, it had its limitations. Recent research has attempted to explore the properties governing scratch hardness Toward demystifying the Mohs hardness scale.

Over the years, the Mohs scale has remained useful in various fields, such as geology, gemology, and materials science. Despite its limitations and the development of alternative hardness scales like the Vickers and Knoop scales, theMohs scale continues to be a popular tool for assessing mineral hardness due to its accessibility and ease of use.

Criticism and Shortcomings of the Mohs Scale

The Mohs hardness scale, while widely used in the field of materials science, is not without its limitations and criticisms. One key shortcoming of the scale is that it is ordinal, which means it only represents the relative hardness of materials, rather than providing an absolute measurement. This can lead to inaccuracies or difficulties when comparing the hardness of different materials using the Mohs scale.

Another limitation of the Mohs hardness test is related to its method of determining hardness. The scale relies on comparing the abrasion of two materials, often using common objects like a pocketknife or a steel file as reference points. This method is inherently subjective and can be influenced by factors such as the size, shape, and condition of the objects being tested. The presence of strong bonding between individual mineral grains can also affect the scratch resistance, leading to misleading results regarding overall hardness.

In comparison to other hardness testing methods, such as Vickers, Brinell, Rockwell, and Knoop hardness tests, the Mohs scale lacks precision and reproducibility. The aforementioned tests use standardized, quantitative approaches that provide more accurate and consistent measurements of hardness. For example, the Vickers hardness test measures the size of the indentation made by a diamond pyramid under a specified load, offering greater precision and reproducibility than the Mohs method.

The Mohs scale may not be suitable for all types of materials, particularly those with a wide range of hardness values or those that undergo significant changes in hardness under different conditions. In these cases, alternative methods of measuring hardness, such as the Vickers, Brinell, Rockwell, or Knoop tests, may be more appropriate.

In conclusion, while the Mohs hardness scale serves as a convenient and easy-to-use tool for assessing the hardness of minerals, it is important for users to recognize its limitations and consider alternative methods for obtaining accurate, reliable, and precise measurements of hardness, especially in situations where detailed material properties are critical.

Other Hardness Scales

Besides the well-known Mohs hardness scale, there are several other hardness scales used to measure the resistance of materials to various forms of permanent deformation, such as scratching, indentation, and wear. These scales take into account different factors and can provide more accurate and standardized measurements than the Mohs scale.

  • One popular hardness scale is the Vickers hardness test, which is widely used for measuring the hardness of metals, ceramics, and composites. The Vickers test uses a diamond indenter in the shape of a pyramid to create an impression on the material's surface, which is then measured to calculate the hardness. The Vickers hardness (HV) also considers the material's elastic modulus, making it suitable for a wide range of applications and materials.
  • The Brinell hardness scale also uses indentation as a means of measuring hardness, but instead of a diamond indenter, it employs a hardened steel ball or tungsten carbide ball. Brinell hardness (HB) measurements are useful for softer materials that could deform under the Vickers test, such as cast iron and aluminum.
  • Another well-established hardness scale is the Rockwell hardness scale, which comes in two variations: Rockwell B (HRB) and Rockwell C (HRC). This scale measures the depth of a material's surface penetration caused by a diamond cone or a steel ball indenter. Rockwell hardness is commonly used for metals, plastics, and rubber.
  • The Knoop hardness test is similar to the Vickers test, but it uses a diamond indentor with an elongated pyramidal shape. This allows the Knoop hardness (HK) test to create smaller indentations, which is useful for testing thin films, brittle materials, and microstructures where a larger indentation could cause cracking or damage.
  • Lastly, the Meyer hardness test is another indentation-based hardness scale that uses a spherical indenter. Unlike the Vickers or Brinell tests, the Meyer test relies on the material's plastic deformation behavior, making it suitable for evaluating a wider variety of materials.

In summary, while the Mohs hardness scale remains a valuable tool for relative comparisons and mineral identification, modern hardness scales like Vickers, Brinell, Rockwell, Knoop, and Meyer provide more detailed and accurate measurements. Professionals in material science and industries such as metallurgy, ceramics, and composites rely on these alternative hardness scales to better understand the properties and behavior of the materials they work with.


The Mohs hardness scale is a valuable tool for determining the hardness of minerals and has been in use since its introduction by Friedrich Mohs in 1812. It is a qualitative, ordinal scale that ranges from 1 (softest) to 10 (hardest), with common minerals such as talc and gypsum at the lower end, and diamond at the highest.

The scale provides a straightforward approach for comparing mineral hardness. It has been successfully applied in various fields, such as geology, materials science, and gemology. The Mohs hardness scale is based on the concept that a harder substance will scratch a softer one. Working with the scale involves testing a mineral sample against a set of reference minerals, providing a useful means for identifying unknown minerals.

While the Mohs hardness scale has been widely utilized and accepted for its simplicity and ease of use, it has limitations. One such limitation is that the scale is not linear, which means the difference in hardness between consecutive minerals is not constant. Furthermore, the scale is not suitable for accurately measuring the hardness of materials outside its predefined reference minerals.

In recent times, alternative methods to measure hardness like the Vickers microhardness have been developed. These methods offer higher accuracy and a wider scope of application. However, the Mohs hardness scale remains a versatile and accessible tool for mineralogists and enthusiasts alike.

Despite its limitations, the Mohs hardness scale endures as an essential resource for those in the field of geology. Its practical nature and simplicity make it a valuable approach for mineral identification and comparison. While there may be more precise methods available, the Mohs scale's contribution to our understanding of mineral hardness and its continued use in various fields cannot be understated.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who developed Mohs hardness scale?

Mohs hardness scale was developed by Friedrich Mohs, a German geologist and mineralogist, in 1812. He created the scale to help compare the relative hardness of different minerals.

What mineral is a 10 on the Mohs scale?

Diamond is the hardest known mineral and holds the highest rating of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. Due to its remarkable hardness, diamond is often used for cutting and abrasion purposes in various industrial applications.

How hard is 7 on the Mohs scale?

A hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale, as in the case of quartz, indicates a relatively high level of hardness among minerals. Quartz is known for its durableness and resistance to scratches, which makes it a popular choice for functional and decorative applications.

Is 2.5 Mohs hardness hard?

A mineral with a Mohs hardness of 2.5, such as gypsum, is considered to be relatively soft. This means that it can be easily scratched by other minerals that are harder than itself, and it is generally not suitable for applications requiring high levels of resistance to abrasion.

What is Mohs scale used for?

Mohs hardness scale is primarily used to identify and differentiate between minerals by comparing their relative hardness. The scale helps geologists, mineralogists, and other professionals determine the composition of different rocks, evaluate their potential uses, and better understand their geological properties.

How is Mohs hardness test performed?

The Mohs hardness test is conducted by attempting to scratch one material with another of a known hardness. A mineral or material will only be able to scratch those which are softer on the scale. For example, if a mineral with a known hardness of 4 on the Mohs scale can scratch the surface of another mineral, the latter is determined to have a hardness of 3 or lower. The test can also be performed using common objects with known hardness values, such as a penny or a glass plate.


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