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What is the Mohs Scale?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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The Mohs scale is a system of testing the hardness of a mineral, designed by Friedrich Mohs in 1812. Mohs was a mineralogist from Germany who wanted a simple way of testing the “scratching” ability of each mineral. What the mineral could scratch, or what could scratch the mineral, determines its position on the scale.

Mohs designed the scale to work with relatively ordinary devices. For example, one tested the hardness of a mineral with things like a fingernail, a penny, glass, or a knife. Even having access to only a few of these things in the field could help determine where the position of the mineral in relation to others.

On the traditional Mohs scale, the hardest mineral is the diamond. It cannot be scratched by another mineral and can scratch every other mineral. Its hardness is measured as the number 10. Some minerals fell in between the numbers of 1-10, however, and scientists proposed a revised scale that rates hardness up to 15. This allows some minerals that fell into grey areas to be reclassified.

The scale does not measure absolute hardness, and each number does not quite correspond to double the strength of the next number up. For example, talc has a hardness of 1 on both the Mohs and the absolute hardness scale. The next mineral up, gypsum, is twice as hard and absolutely hard.

Large differences occur as the scale progresses. For example a diamond, rated 10 on the older Mohs scale, has an absolute hardness of 1500. Thus it is 1500 times as hard as talc. Quartz, listed as number 7, has a 100 rating of absolute hardness. This shows that the numbers on the scale don’t translate to twice as hard, or three times as hard.

The Mohs scale instead offers a hardness measurement that is relative to other objects. It’s still a fairly easy system to learn, and one can soon practice mineral measurements with little difficulty. However, gaining access to certain minerals such as diamonds may be difficult for the junior mineralogist.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a All The Science contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon1002122 — On Sep 10, 2019

What is graphene on the Mohs scale?

By anon246995 — On Feb 12, 2012

The hardness of minerals can also vary depending on the direction that the mineral is tested. Hardness Testing Pencils are available online.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a All The Science contributor, Tricia...
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