Frequent reporting of microhardness data for thermal spray coatings testifies to the widespread use of this technique for coatings characterization. However, inadequate reporting of microhardness procedures makes comparisons between published coatings hardness statistics difficult and it appears that both microhardness in general and its significance to characterizing thermal spray coatings in particular, are poorly understood. This paper demonstrates that though microindentation technique is a useful laboratory procedure that can be used for coatings optimization, research and quality control purposes, poor understanding often leads to worthless data and thus to erroneous conclusions. A high quality WC-12%Co coating supplied by Sulzer Metco was hardness tested on both the polished cross-section and plane surface of the coating. Contributions to the variance in results obtained and sources of significant errors are discussed and conclusions are drawn regarding the methodology and suitability of hardness testing for characterizing thermal spray coatings. The limits in repeatability and reproducibility of Vickers microhardness data for hard metal thermal spray coatings are discussed. The necessity for rigorous statistical procedures of data analysis is demonstrated. It is suggested that the technique is inherently unsuitable for characterizing hard thermal spray coatings due to poor intrinsic reproducibility.

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