What is Tungsten Carbide?

Tungsten carbide is a hard metal often used in machining, cutting tools and abrasives. Scrap tungsten carbide can be valuable when recycled with an expert partner who understands how to identify and fairly evaluate scrap metal. But what exactly is tungsten carbide? How can you identify it, and how can you get the most value from recycled tungsten carbide scrap in Texas? 

What is Tungsten Carbide?

Tungsten carbide is a gray powder formed of equal parts tungsten and carbon atoms. It is shaped by sintering into an exceptionally durable, hard metal, with a wide range of uses. Tungsten carbide is known by several names, partly due to its history, and partly due to its most common uses. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common terminology:

  • Tungsten. The word tungsten is derived from the Swedish word for “heavy stone,” and is the term used in Nordic countries, as well as in English and French. However, tungsten is most commonly found in the mineral wolframite, discovered and named in 1747. For this reason, tungsten is often also called wolfram, and has the chemical symbol W.
  • Carbide. Technically, a carbide is any metal that is combined with or contains carbon. However, because tungsten carbide is so frequently used in machining and industrial operations, many people simply refer to it as “carbide.” Carbide may also be used to refer to a wider range of cemented carbides, including tungsten, titanium or tantalum carbides.  

When it comes to determining the value of scrap metal, the amount of tungsten is an important factor. Not all carbides are created equal.   

Tungsten Carbide Properties

Tungsten carbide has the following properties:

  • How hard is tungsten carbide? Tungsten carbide has a Mohs’ hardness of 9-9.5, second only to diamonds.
  • How dense is tungsten carbide? Tungsten carbide has a density of  14,500kg/m3, double the density of steel.
  • How stiff is tungsten carbide? Tungsten carbide has a stiffness of 530-700GPa, approximately twice as stiff as steel.
  • What is the melting point of tungsten carbide? Tungsten carbide has a melting point of 2,747°C.

Tungsten carbide is also resistant to oxidation and most acids and has selective reactivity. 

What is Tungsten Carbide Used For?

Because of its exceptional strength and hardness, and its resistance to impacts, heat and oxidation, tungsten carbide is an incredibly useful metal. It is most commonly found in:

  • Cutting tools for machining
  • Mining and foundation drilling
  • Armor-piercing ammunition
  • Neutron reflectors in nuclear applications
  • Dental and surgical instruments

Smaller amounts of tungsten carbide may be used in a variety of high heat and/or high impact settings, like the tips on trekking poles, coating of disc brakes, even the rolling tips of ballpoint pens. Recent years have seen an increase in the popularity of tungsten carbide as bridal jewelry, due to its hardness and durability for a lifetime of daily wear.  

Scrap tungsten carbide is usually found in drill bits, saw blade tips, mining equipment and airplane parts. There may also be tungsten carbide in machining swarf. 

Is Scrap Tungsten Carbide Valuable? 

Scrap tungsten carbide is quite valuable, although market price does fluctuate. The specific value of scrap carbide depends on two factors:

  1. Type. Because there is such a wide range of carbides, the value depends on the type and amount of alloy. The more tungsten in the alloy, the more valuable the scrap carbide is. 
  2. Condition. Scrap metals get the highest value when they are sorted and in good condition, without excess paints and attachments that affect the weight. 

How to Identify Tungsten Carbide

Here are some quick ways to identify tungsten carbide:

  • Check the weight. Tungsten carbide is denser than steel, with a weight between lead and gold. Tungsten carbide metal is heavy for its size.
  • Use a magnet. Tungsten carbide is much less magnetic than steel. 
  • Check the spark. When placed on a grinding wheel, tungsten carbide sparks are compact and orange. Steel sparks are white in color, and have a dispersed spray pattern. 

How Can Gardner Metal Recycling Help Recycle Scrap Tungsten Carbide?

Gardner Metal Recycling has specialized in scrap metal recycling for industry and manufacturing for decades. Our experts can help your business recycle scrap metals efficiently, and recover the most value from your waste. Contact us today for a professional consultation to maximize your returns on scrap tungsten carbide.