Mechanical properties of nanocomposites usually surpass the mechanical properties of their micro-structured and single-crystalline counterparts. This is mainly due to an extremely high density of internal interfaces in nanocomposites like grain, crystallite and phase boundaries. When compared to diamond, carbides and borides, nitrides are of interest because of their high temperature oxidation resistance and compatibility with iron containing alloys. This tutorial review classifies the contributions of various internal interfaces to the hardness of the nanocomposites, and appreciates the outstanding role of partially coherent phase boundaries in the hardness enhancement. With selected examples of transition metal nitrides containing aluminium and silicon as well as of boron nitrides, it is explained how the nanocomposites with partially coherent phase boundaries and thus with enhanced hardness can be synthesised. As the possible ways of the formation of coherent phase boundaries, the local epitaxial growth of phases with limited mutual solubility, the production of supersaturated solid solutions followed by the segregation of elements during the spinodal decomposition and the incomplete phase transformation are discussed. The most important techniques, used for synthesis of nitride nanocomposites, like CVD, PVD, precursor-based methods, mechanical alloying and high-pressure–high-temperature synthesis are briefly reviewed. Besides, a short overview on hardness definitions and hardness measurements is included.
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