Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What is Tungsten Carbide?

What is Tungsten Carbide?

So you hear about Carbide Dies and Tooling made out of tungsten carbide, but what exactly is tungsten carbide?

Tungsten carbide

Tungsten carbide (chemical formula: WC) is a chemical compound containing equal parts

of tungsten and carbon atoms. Tungsten carbide starts as a fine gray powder, in its most

basic form. It can be pressed and formed into shapes for use in industrial machinery, cutting

tools, abrasives, armor-piercing rounds, other tools and instruments, and jewelry.

Tungsten carbide is approximately two times harder than steel and has a much higher

density than steel or titanium. Its hardness is comparable with corundum, sapphire and ruby

and can only be polished and finished with abrasives of superior hardness such as cubic

boron nitride and diamond, in the form of powder, wheels, and compounds.


Cutting tools for machining

Sintered tungsten carbide cutting tools are much more resistant to abrasion, as well

as, can handle higher temperatures better than high speed steel tools. Carbide

cutting tools are often used for machining through materials such as carbon

steel or stainless steel, as well as in situations where other materials would wear

away, such as in high-quantity production runs. Carbide tools’ sharp cutting edge

lasts longer than other tools, produce a better finish on parts, and their temperature

resistance allows faster machining.


Tungsten carbide is often used in armor-piercing ammunition. WC projectiles were

first used by German Luftwaffe tank-hunter squadrons in World War II. It is an

effective penetrator due to its combination of great hardness and very high density.

Tungsten carbide ammunition can be one of two types: the sabot type (a large arrow

surrounded by a discarding push cylinder) or a subcaliber ammunition. Subcaliber

ammunition is where copper or other relatively soft material is used to encase the

hard penetrating core, the two parts being separated only on impact. Subcaliber

ammunition is more common in small-caliber arms, while sabots are usually

reserved for tank guns.


Tungsten carbide is also an effective neutron reflector and as such was used during

early investigations into nuclear chain reactions, particularly for weapons.


Tungsten carbide is used by athletes for poles that strike hard surfaces. Trekking

poles, used by hikers for balance and to reduce pressure on leg joints, commonly

use carbide tips to gain traction when placed on hard surfaces, such as rock.

Carbide tips last much longer than other types of tip.

Sharpened carbide tipped spikes can be inserted into the drive tracks

of snowmobiles. These spikes greatly improve traction on icy surfaces. Longer v-

shaped segments fit into grooved rods called wear rods under each snowmobile ski.

The sharp carbide edges help to enhance steering on harder icy surfaces. The

carbide tips and segments reduce wear from crossing roads and other abrasive


Some tire companies offer bicycle tires with tungsten carbide studs for better traction

on ice. These are often preferred to steel studs because of their superior resistance

to wear.

Surgical instruments

Tungsten carbide is also used for making surgical instruments for use in open

surgery (scissors, forceps, hemostats, blade-handles, etc.) and laparoscopic

surgery (graspers, scissors/cutter, needle holder, cautery, etc.). They are much

more costly than their stainless-steel counterparts, but perform better.


Tungsten carbide has become a popular option for bridal jewelry due to its extreme

hardness and high resistance to scratching. The extreme hardness also means that

it can occasionally be shattered under certain circumstances. Tungsten carbide is

roughly 10 times harder than 18k gold.


Tungsten carbide is widely used to make the rotating ball in the tips of ballpoint

pens that disperse ink during writing.

Tungsten carbide is a common material used in the manufacture of gauge blocks,

used as a system for producing precision lengths in dimensional meteorology.

So that's it... now you know the rest of the story... and knowing is half the battle.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tool and Die - A beautiful video...

Some times our trade can be beautiful and satisfying. After all, in tool and die we make things, and creation is beautiful... usually. (birth is often considered an exception;)

So, enjoy a little tool and die... action!!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to become a Die Maker

When it comes to metalworking trades tool and die makers are at the top. They are extremely versatile with their hands for creating parts, as well as with machines to produce high precision parts. Their abilities go beyond that of the average machinist. They are capable of designing and fabricating tools with no supervision. With these skills available, tool and die makers are a tremendous asset in any manufacturing facility.

Steps to become a Die Maker Step 1
1. Master basic math. Understand addition, subtraction, and division. Knowing some shop trigonometry is good for calculating bolt circles and finding the length of triangles. Basic algebra can also be handy for applying handbook formulas

Become a Die Maker Step 2
2. Learn computer drafting. Vocational and technical schools' machining programs are a good place to learn these types of skills. Learn to create and interpret mechanical drawings.

Become a Die Maker Step 3
3. Enter an apprenticeship program at a tool and die shop while in high school, if possible. Apprentices do simple tasks such as drilling, de-burring, and sweeping in the beginning. Tasks will become more challenging as time goes on. Apprentices learn the lathe, mill and surface grinder. Apprenticeships typically last 2 to 4 years.

Become a Tool and Die Maker Step 4
4. Study machine tool technology at a good vocational trade school. Programs vary from school to school so make sure you are studying at one that has various machines to learn from, such as a wire EDM (electrostatic discharge machining) tool. Also, make sure they have good CNC (computer numerically controlled) programming courses, as this will make things easier later in your career. Try to get hands-on experience in a shop as well, rather than studying strictly in a classroom. The heart of your education will be in the types of projects you will be making in the course. A typical machine tool technology program will last two years.

Become a Die Maker Step 5
5. Get a copy of the Machinery Handbook and refer to it often. This is an excellent reference for answering any machining problem.

Become a Tool and Die Maker Step 6
6. Buy a set of good high quality precision tools like 1-2-3 inch micrometers, and a square set, along with a 7- or 11-drawer machinists toolbox. An electronic caliper is a plus also. Try to stay away from generic tools because these seem to be less durable. Instead, invest in high quality tools like Starrett and Mitutoyo, top names in the trade. If money is tight, obtain tools gradually, as you need them, over time, until you have your own set. Get the ones you need most first.

Become a Die Maker Step 7
7. Once you land a job, focus on gaining experience. Learn from veteran tool and die makers. They can and often will share many tips they have learned over the years.

Become a Die Maker Step 8
8. Talk with other tool and die makers on the Internet in various discussion forums especially concerning CNC programming. Learning from those who have done it for years is the best way to help your career.

Become a Die Maker Step 9
9. Read metalworking trade publications in your spare time. Leave trade magazines in your bathroom.

Become a Die Maker Step 10
10. If you want to further your career in the tool and die trade, you may want to move into supervision or teaching. A Bachelor's degree in almost any field along with tool and die experience can be very beneficial in obtaining a supervisor's job in manufacturing and/or teaching.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Where are Carbide Die Companies Located?

Tool and die is the heart of manufacturing, specialized workers make the parts that make the parts. These dies need to be made special, one at a time by skilled die makers. Unfortunately, the number of companies that do this has been contracting since the late 90's. However, current trends show that this may be reversing. Particularly among highly specialized die makers, such as carbide die companies. So where are these companies located?

According to the US bureau of Labor Statistics (2001 to 2010)
Top States in Tool, Die, and Mold Employment  States ranked by 2010 employment.

State                  2001              2010              Percent Change 
Michigan          30,208           18,871                     -27%
Ohio                17,056           11,075                     -28
Illinois              12,822             6,815                     -31
Pennsylvania    11,811             6,476                     -30
Wisconsin          7,309             5,359                     -13
Indiana               8,571            5,228                     -31
California           7,253             4,885                     -23
Missouri             4,371            3,133                     -11
New York          5,171            2,783                    -30
Minnesota           3,933            2,749                    -13

Clearly, tool and die companies are mostly located in the Midwest of the United States. American tool and die companies face there toughest competition from Japan, although the Japanese manufacturers face longer lead times. This extended lead time causes problems due to lean manufacturing principles. Currently the Chinese tool and die industry seems to only be producing lower quality tooling. This is particularly true in the carbide die industry, where the Chinese dies tend to fall apart under the rigors of mass production. This causes damage to other tooling and I have heard more than one person comment that they are "garbage".

Tool and die is a vital resource for any manufacturing economy, and one that America would do well to maintain.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tool & Die Life

As we all know, tool and die can be frustrating at times. Late parts, people freaking out about machines being down. These are called Yelling Plants. People spend there time screaming about how tens of thousands of dollars are being lost because a certain die isn't here. So relax for a second and enjoy...

 "Tis not our job to ask why, tis our job to tool and die"

Also, check out the tool and die quotes

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Carbide Die Industry

"It is not your job to ask why, it is your job to tool and die."

After working in the carbide die industry for some time you start to wonder.... I have seen people eat a sandwich with hands not much cleaner than the ones in this picture. Are there any negative effects I should be worried about? It turns out that after working for ten or more years in tool and die (according to a study done in France) you do have an elevated chance of cancer. This is only a slight increase though, no where near as bad as cancer. The people that were most effected were those who worked with tungsten carbide before it is sintered.  So basically the people who make the preforms, not necessarily those that grind the carbide dies and tooling into its final form.

I'm not a carbide scientist so don't take me to court about this but I'm just providing some food for thought. There is a good reason to have good ventilation and cleaning in a carbide die and tooling facility. I'm not sure a mask is need (I have heard of old timers that wore masks) but maybe having a dust collector isn't a bad idea.

Also, don't drink the coolant!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why use Carbide Dies?

Why use Carbide Dies? For all you machinists out there...
Carbide Dies
What are Carbide dies and what are they used for?  A carbide die can be used to make all sorts of things, from nails and screws to wires and pipes. They can form parts for cars, desks and just  about anything else. Carbide dies are used in all kinds of shops, from small garage shops to major manufacturing giants. Carbide dies are used in a manufacturing process called cold forming or impact forming. Alternatively it can be used to extrude material, shaping the outside diameter, think of spaghetti being made.
Cold forming or impact forming is when something called slug, which is a sized piece of metal,  is forced  into a die. The carbide die is harder and stronger than the metal, which allows them to  form solid steel. The tungsten carbide part of the die is what makes them very tough, they are strong enough to survive the repeated impact of having sold metal pounded into it. In cold forming the metal becomes liquid from force alone! The part formed for this process is stronger then  a machine tooled part because the part reforms the grain of the metal opposed to cutting into the metal with a machine. Tungsten carbide is one of the hardest materials known to man, only slightly softer than diamond. Diamond wheels are used to grind carbide dies into there desired shapes. Carbide is used due to its hardness, having excellent wear properties.
Carbide dies are used for more than just forming steel. It is also used to form aluminum, copper, and just about any other kind of metal or metal alloy. Pretty much if you want to make a lot of the same thing fast cold forming with carbide dies is the way to go.
Carbide Die Tip: Do you have Steel or Carbide Dies?
The fastest and easiest way to determine that you have a carbide die is to inspect the ID of the die. A carbide die will have the carbide insert that has been pressed into it. Carbide is a little darker then the metallic sleeve.  If you have a needle file, drag it a cross  the insert, if it's carbide the file won't bight because the carbide is harder then the file.