From super-grippy cycling tyres to precise surgical instruments, it’s hard to find a product that doesn’t use some form of tungsten carbide. But just how strong is this cemented metal composite?
In its natural state, tungsten is an incredibly dense metal that can’t be melted. In fact, pure tungsten powder can spontaneously ignite. But in its carbide form, the silvery-grey material is much less likely to catch fire.
Its incredibly toughness also makes it an ideal material for cutting and drilling tools. It can be shaped into drill bits, mining tips, and other mining and cutting implements. In fact, 65% of the world’s tungsten goes into making those types of tools. But it is tungsten carbide’s armour-piercing properties that first put the material on the radar of the military. German Luftwaffe tank-hunter squadrons used W2C (tungsten carbide) projectiles to destroy Soviet T-34 tanks during the second world war.
Carbide’s ability to be molded while still maintaining a high level of strength led to a boom in its use for milling products such as end mills and mill inserts. This industry needs materials that can resist heat, outperform standard steel accessories, and hold their shape over long periods of time. And tungsten carbide does all of that very well.
Its Young’s modulus is higher in compression than any other known welded and cast metal, it has exceptional impact resistance, and its hardness is up to four or six times stronger than stainless steel. It also has a high transverse rupture strength, meaning it is very stiff and can withstand a lot of stress.