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Cleavage Plane

Last updated: July 19, 2024

What Does Cleavage Plane Mean?

A cleavage plane is the fracture of a crystal or metal by crack propagation across a crystallographic plane or cleavage plane, or the tendency to cleave or split along definite crystallographic planes.

A brittle transgranular fracture of a crystalline material occurs due to cleavage between two adjacent crystallographic planes within the individual grains. The crack grows through the grains (transgranular cleavage), which ultimately leads to corrosion or material failure.

A cleavage plane is a physical property traditionally used in mineral identification. Crystal cleavage is of technical importance in the electronics industry.


Corrosionpedia Explains Cleavage Plane

Cleavage is a low-energy fracture that propagates along well-defined low-index crystallographic planes known as cleavage planes. This defect in metals is a brittle process that occurs on the plane of maximum normal stress. It occurs in body-centered cube (BCC) or hexagonal close-packed (HCP) metals, particularly in irons and steels, below the ductile-to-brittle transition temperature.

In metals that possess these microstructures, the movement of dislocations is affected by the thermal agitation of atoms. The cleavage process in BCC and HCP metals occurs by separation of normal to crystallographic planes of high atomic density. Microscopic examination of a fracture surface due to cleavage typically reveals distinctive river lines indicative of propagation by fracture along nearly parallel sets of cleavage planes.

Since engineered alloys are polycrystalline and contain grain and subgrain boundaries, inclusions, dislocations and other imperfections that affect a propagating cleavage fracture, truly featureless cleavage is seldom observed. These imperfections and changes in crystal lattice orientation, such as a possible mismatch of the low-index planes across grain or subgrain boundaries, produce distinct cleavage fracture surface features, such as:

  • Cleavage steps
  • River patterns
  • Feather markings
  • Herringbone patterns
  • Tongues

In brittle crystalline materials, a fracture can occur by cleavage as the result of tensile stress acting normal to crystallographic planes with low bonding. In amorphous solids, by contrast, the lack of a crystalline structure results in a conchoidal fracture, with cracks proceeding normal to the applied tension.




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