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.