(Ti0.33Al0.67)(1-x)SixN (0 <= x <= 0.29) thin solid films were deposited onto cemented carbide substrates by arc evaporation and analyzed using analytical electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, nanoindentation, and density functional theory. As-deposited films with x <= 0.02 consisted mainly of a metastable c-(Ti,Al)N solid solution for which Si serves as a veritable grain refiner. Additional Si promoted growth of a hexagonal wurtzite (Al,Ti,Si)N solid solution, which dominated at 0.02
= 0.17, the films were X-ray amorphous. Despite these widely different microstructures, all as-deposited films had nanoindentation hardness in the narrow range of 22-25 GPa. Isothermal annealing of the x=0.01 alloy film at a temperature of 900 degrees C, corresponding to that in turning operation, resulted in spinodal decomposition into c-AlN and TiN and precipitation of h-AlN. For x=0.09 films, annealing between 600 degrees C and 1000 degrees C yielded c-TiN precipitation from the h-(Al,Ti,Si)N phase. Furthermore, the x=0.01 and x=0.09 films exhibited substantial age hardening at 900 degrees C, to 34 GPa and 29 GPa due to spinodal decomposition and c-TiN precipitation, respectively. Films with a majority of c-(Ti,AI)N phase worked best in steel turning tests, while films with x>0.02 developed cracks during such operation. We propose that the cracks are due to tensile strain which is caused by a decrease in molar volume during the phase transformation from hexagonal wurtzite (Al,Ti,Si)N into cubic TiN phase, which results in degradation in machining performance. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.