Toughened glass is a type of safety glass processed by controlled thermal or chemical treatments to increase its strength compared with normal glass. Tempering puts the outer surfaces into compression and the interior into tension. Such stresses cause the glass, when broken, to crumble into small granular chunks instead of splintering into jagged shards as plate glass (a.k.a. annealed glass) does. The granular chunks are less likely to cause injury.
As a result of its safety and strength, tempered glass is used in a variety of demanding applications, including passenger vehicle windows, shower doors, architectural glass doors and tables, refrigerator trays, mobile phone screen protectors, bulletproof glass components, diving masks, and various types of plates and cookware.
Tempered glass is about four times stronger than annealed (“regular”) glass.The greater contraction of the inner layer during manufacturing induces compressive stresses in the surface of the glass balanced by tensile stresses in the body of the glass. Fully tempered 6-mm thick glass must have either a minimum surface compression of 69 MPa (10 000 psi) or an edge compression of not less than 67 MPa (9 700 psi). For it to be considered safety glass, the surface compressive stress should exceed 100 megapascals (15,000 psi). As a result of the increased surface stress, if the glass is ever broken it only breaks into small circular pieces as opposed to sharp jagged shards. This characteristic makes tempered glass safe for high-pressure and explosion proof applications.
It is this compressive surface stress that gives the tempered glass increased strength. This is because annealed glass, which has almost no internal stress, usually forms microscopic surface cracks, and in the absence of surface compression, any applied tension to the glass causes tension at the surface, which can drive crack propagation. Once a crack starts propagating, tension is further concentrated at the tip of the crack, causing it to propagate at the speed of sound in the material. Consequently, annealed glass is fragile and breaks into irregular and sharp pieces. On the other hand, the compressive stresses on a tempered glass contain the flaw and prevent its propagation or expansion.
Any cutting or grinding must be done prior to tempering. Cutting, grinding, and sharp impacts after tempering will cause the glass to fracture.
The strain pattern resulting from tempering can be observed by viewing through an optical polarizer, such as a pair of polarizing sunglasses.