The Full Wiki

Tungsten carbide: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tungsten carbide
CAS number 12070-12-1 Yes check.svgY
Molecular formula WC
Molar mass 195.86 g·mol-1
Appearance grey-black lustrous solid
Density 15.8 g·cm-3, solid
Melting point

2870 °C, 5198 °F (3143 K)

Boiling point

6000°C, 10832 °F (6273 K)

Solubility in water Insoluble.
Crystal structure Hexagonal, hP2,
SpaceGroup = P-6m2, No. 187
EU classification not listed
Related compounds
Other anions Tungsten boride
Tungsten nitride
Other cations Molybdenum carbide
Titanium carbide
Silicon carbide
 Yes check.svgY (what is this?)  (verify)
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Infobox references

Tungsten carbide, WC is an inorganic chemical compound containing equal parts of tungsten and carbon atoms. Colloquially, tungsten carbide is often simply called carbide. In its most basic form, it is a fine gray powder, but it can be pressed and formed into shapes for use in industrial machinery, tools, abrasives, as well as jewelry. Tungsten carbide is approximately three times stiffer than steel, with a Young's modulus of approximately 550 GPa,[1] and is much denser than steel or titanium. It is comparable with corundum (α-Al2O3 or sapphire) in hardness and can only be polished and finished with abrasives of superior hardness such as silicon carbide, cubic boron nitride and diamond amongst others , in the form of powder, wheels and compounds.


Chemical properties

There are two well characterized compounds of tungsten and carbon, WC and tungsten semicarbide, W2C. Both compounds may be present in coatings and the proportions can depend on the coating method.[2]

WC can be prepared by reaction of tungsten metal and carbon at 1400–2000 °C.[3] Other methods include a patented fluid bed process that reacts either tungsten metal or blue WO3 with CO/CO2 mixture and H2 between 900 and 1200 °C.[4] Chemical vapor deposition methods that have been investigated include:[3]

WCl6 + H2 + CH4 → WC + 6 HCl
WF6 + H2 + CH3OH → WC + 6 HF + H2O
  • At high temperatures WC decomposes to tungsten and carbon and this can occur during high temperature thermal spray, e.g. high velocity oxygen fuel (HVOF) and high energy plasma (HEP) methods.[5]

WC has been investigated for its potential use as a catalyst and it has been found to resemble platinum in its catalysis of the production of water from hydrogen and oxygen at room temperature, the reduction of tungsten trioxide by hydrogen in the presence of water, and the isomerisation of 2,2-dimethylpropane to 2-methylbutane.[6] It has been proposed as a replacement for the iridium catalyst in hydrazine powered satellite thrusters.[7]

Physical properties

Tungsten carbide is high melting, 2,870 °C (5,200 °F), extremely hard 8.5–9.0 Mohs scale at 22 GPa Vickers hardness (Vickers Hardness number = 2242) with low electrical resistivity (1.7–2.2×10−7 Ohm·m), comparable with metals (e.g. vanadium 1.99×10−7 Ohm·m).[3][8]

WC is readily wetted by both molten nickel and cobalt.[9] Investigation of the phase diagram of the W-C-Co system shows that WC and Co form a pseudo binary eutectic. The phase diagram also shows that there are so-called η-carbides with composition (W,Co)6C that can be formed and the fact that these phases are brittle is the reason why control of the carbon content in WC-Co hard metals is important.[9]


WC structure, carbon atoms are gray

There are two forms of WC, a hexagonal form, α-WC,[10] and a cubic high temperature form, β-WC, which has the rock salt structure.[11] The hexagonal form can be visualized as made up of hexagonally close packed layers of metal atoms with layers lying directly over one another, with carbon atoms filling half the interstices giving both tungsten and carbon a regular trigonal prismatic, 6 coordination.[10] From the unit cell dimensions[12] the following bond lengths can be determined; the distance between the tungsten atoms in a hexagonally packed layer is 291 pm, the shortest distance between tungsten atoms in adjoining layers is 284 pm, and the tungsten carbon bond length is 220 pm. The tungsten-carbon bond length is therefore comparable to the single bond in W(CH3)6 (218 pm) in which there is strongly distorted trigonal prismatic coordination of tungsten.[13]

Molecular WC has been investigated and this gas phase species has a bond length of 171 pm for 184W12C.[14]



Machine tools

Carbide cutting surfaces are often used for machining through materials such as carbon or stainless steel, as well as in situations where other tools would wear away, such as high-quantity production runs. Carbide generally produces a better finish on the part, and allows faster machining. Carbide tools can also withstand higher temperatures than standard high speed steel tools. The material is usually called cemented carbide, hardmetal or tungsten-carbide cobalt: it is a metal matrix composite where tungsten carbide particles are the aggregate and metallic cobalt serves as the matrix.


Tungsten carbide is often used in armor-piercing ammunition, especially where depleted uranium is not available or is politically unacceptable. The first use of W2C projectiles occurred in German Luftwaffe tank-hunter squadrons, which used 37 mm autocannon equipped Junkers Ju 87G dive bomber aircraft to destroy Soviet T-34 tanks in World War II. Owing to the limited German reserves of tungsten, W2C material was reserved for making machine tools and small numbers of projectiles for the most elite combat pilots, like Hans-Ulrich Rudel. It is an effective penetrator due to its high hardness value combined with a very high density.

Tungsten carbide ammunition can be of the sabot type (a large arrow surrounded by a discarding push cylinder) or a subcaliber ammunition, where copper or other relatively soft material is used to encase the hard penetrating core, the two parts being separated only on impact. The latter is more common in small-caliber arms, while sabots are usually reserved for artillery use.

Tungsten carbide is also an effective neutron reflector and as such was used during early investigations into nuclear chain reactions, particularly for weapons. A criticality accident occurred at Los Alamos National Laboratory on 21 August 1945 when Harry K. Daghlian, Jr. accidentally dropped a tungsten carbide brick onto a plutonium sphere, causing the subcritical mass to go supercritical with the reflected neutrons.


Hard carbides, especially tungsten carbide, are used by athletes, generally on poles which impact hard surfaces. Trekking poles, used by many hikers for balance and to reduce pressure on leg joints, generally use carbide tips in order to gain traction when placed on hard surfaces (like rock); such carbide tips last much longer than other types of tips.

While ski pole tips are generally not made of carbide, since they do not need to be especially hard even to break through layers of ice, rollerski tips usually are. Roller skiing emulates cross country skiing and is used by many skiers to train during warm weather months.

Sharpened carbide tipped spikes (known as studs) can be inserted into the drive tracks of snowmobiles. These studs enhance traction on icy surfaces. Longer v-shaped segments fit into grooved rods called wear rods under each snowmobile ski. The relatively sharp carbide edges enhance steering on harder icy surfaces. The carbide tips and segments reduce wear encountered when the snowmobile must cross roads and other abrasive surfaces.

Some tire manufacturers, such as Nokian and Schwalbe, offer bicycle tires with tungsten carbide studs for better traction on ice. These are generally preferred over steel studs because of their wear resistance.


Tungsten carbide is sometimes used as the rotating ball in the tips of ballpoint pens to disperse ink during writing.[15]

Tungsten carbide can now be found in the inventory of some jewelers, most notably as the primary material in men's wedding rings. When used in this application the bands appear with a lustrous dark hue often buffed to a mirror finish. The color is more similar to that of hematite than to that of platinum. The finish is highly resistant to scratches and scuffs, holding its mirror-like shine for years. Although it is possible to inlay precious metals, woods, and other materials, these are less scratch-resistant than tungsten carbide.

A common misconception held concerning tungsten carbide rings is they cannot be removed in the course of emergency medical treatment, requiring the finger to be removed instead. Emergency rooms and many full-service jewelry repair shops are equipped with jewelers' saws that can cut through tungsten carbide rings [16] without injuring the hand or finger. An easier way to remove tungsten carbide rings is to use a tool such as vice grip style locking pliers, which can be used to shatter the ring. [17]

Many manufacturers of this emerging jewelry material state that the use of a cobalt binder may cause unwanted reactions between the cobalt and the natural oils on human skin. Skin oils cause the cobalt to leach from the material. This is said to cause possible irritation of the skin and permanent staining of the jewelry itself. Many manufacturers now advertise that their jewelry is "cobalt free". This is achieved by replacing the cobalt with nickel as a binder.[18]


The primary health risks associated with carbide relate to inhalation of dust, leading to fibrosis.[19]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Jacobs, L.; M. M. Hyland; M. De Bonte (1998). "Comparative study of WC-cermet coatings sprayed via the HVOF and the HVAF Process". Journal of Thermal Spray Technology 7 (2): 213–218. doi:10.1361/105996398770350954. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Pierson, Hugh O. (1992). Handbook of Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD): Principles, Technology, and Applications. William Andrew Inc.. ISBN 0815513003. 
  4. ^ Lackner, A.,Filzwieser A. "Gas carburizing of tungsten carbide (WC) powder" U.S. Patent 6,447,742 (2002)
  5. ^ Nerz, J.; B. Kushner; A. Rotolico (1992). "Microstructural evaluation of tungsten carbide-cobalt coatings". Journal of Thermal Spray Technology 1 (2): 147–152. doi:10.1007/BF02659015. 
  6. ^ Levy, R. B.; M. Boudart (1973). "Platinum-Like Behavior of Tungsten Carbide in Surface Catalysis". Science 181 (4099): 547–549. doi:10.1126/science.181.4099.547. 
  7. ^ Rodrigues, J.A.J.; G.M. Cruz; G. Bugli; M. Boudart; G. Djéga-Mariadassou; (1997). "Nitride and carbide of molybdenum and tungsten as substitutes of iridium for the catalysts used for space communication". Catalysis Letters 45: 1–2. doi:10.1023/A:1019059410876. 
  8. ^ Kittel, Charles (1995). Introduction to Solid State Physics (7 ed.). Wiley-India. ISBN 108126510455. 
  9. ^ a b Ettmayer, Peter; Walter Lengauer (1994). Carbides: transition metal solid state chemistry encyclopedia of inorganic chemistry. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471936200. 
  10. ^ a b Wells, A. F. (1984). Structural Inorganic Chemistry (5 ed.). Oxford Science Publications. ISBN 0198553706. 
  11. ^ Sara, R. V. (1965). "Phase Equilibria in the System Tungsten—Carbon". Journal of the American Ceramic Society 48 (5): 251–257. doi:10.1111/j.1151-2916.1965.tb14731.x. 
  12. ^ Rudy, E.; F. Benesovsky (1962). "Untersuchungen im System Tantal-Wolfram-Kohlenstoff". Monatshefte für chemie 93 (3): 1176–1195. doi:10.1007/BF01189609. 
  13. ^ Kleinhenz, Sven; Valérie Pfennig; Konrad Seppelt (1998). "Preparation and Structures of [W(CH3)6], [Re(CH3)6], [Nb(CH3)6]-, and [Ta(CH3)6]-". Chemistry—A European Journal 4 (9): 1687–91. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1521-3765(19980904)4:9<1687::AID-CHEM1687>3.0.CO;2-R. 
  14. ^ Sickafoose, S.M.; A.W. Smith; M. D. Morse (2002). "Optical spectroscopy of tungsten carbide (WC)". J. Chem. Phys. 116 (993): 993. doi:10.1063/1.1427068. 
  15. ^ "How does a ballpoint pen work?". Engineering. HowStuffWorks. 1998-2007. Retrieved 2007-11-16. 
  16. ^ "Electric Ring Cutter". Stuller, Inc.. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  17. ^ "How To Remove A Tungsten Rings". Fable Designs. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  18. ^ "Tungsten Carbide Manufacturing". Forever Metals. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  19. ^ Sprince NL, Chamberlin RI, Hales CA, Weber AL, Kazemi H. Respiratory disease in tungsten carbide production workers - Chest. 1984 Oct;86(4):549-57.

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address