Abstract Experiments on dry face turning of functionally graded heat treatable steel are conducted. The workpieces have a hardened zone of approx. 60 HRC and a non-hardened zone of approx. 30 HRC. PCBN tools are used with different feeds, cutting speeds and depths of cut. Measurements of residual stresses in the surface layer reveal compressive stresses in the hardened zone and tensile stresses in the non-hardened zone. These experimental observations are compared with the results of representative simulations of the cutting process. A large-deformation thermo-elasto-viscoplastic material model is used and the geometry of the cutting tool is precisely reflected by the finite element discretisation. To predict the overall response, an adaptive remeshing scheme and full thermo-mechanical coupling is accounted for. Moreover, measured residual stresses are incorporated as initial conditions within the simulation.