The term carbide is thrown around a lot in the tool industry as a way to promote a tool or product, but many people are not sure what it means. The idea that carbide is better than steel has become accepted, but understanding the material is crucial if you want to know how it is actually better than other materials.
Understanding Tungsten Carbide
Most of the time, people refer to carbide like it is a magical material, but by itself, carbide is nothing but an elemental compound. A carbide, by definition, is carbon combined with a less electronegative element. In the case of tools, the second element is often tungsten or titanium, but tungsten is the more common one used because it is harder than titanium. It is the combination of the carbon and the tungsten that make this material so useful.
Tungsten carbide is a gray powder when produced that is pressed into the shape needed. When done correctly, the material will last a long time. Cemented tungsten carbide combines the powder with cobalt to produce more strength.
Durability of Carbide Tungsten
Tungsten is a strong element, but when combined with carbon, the tungsten carbide that is the result far exceeds other metals in strength and durability. Carbide tungsten is nearly ten times stronger and is twice as dense as steel and is one of the densest metals known to exist. The melting point of tungsten is the highest of all metals at 3422 degrees Celsius or over 6000 degrees Fahrenheit, making it suitable for high-speed cutting, where there is a lot of heat.
The durability of the carbide allows the cutting edge of a tool to wear very slow, but is not too hard to sharpen with the right tools and equipment. While the carbide is stronger than steel, it is also more brittle, so making the entire tool from it is not done often.
Circular saw blades are a good example. The blade body is carbon steel, but the cutters are tungsten carbide, which is then brazed to the body of the blade. This method of construction keeps the cost low and the blade somewhat flexible, so it does not shatter if it binds in the material you are cutting.
Cost of Carbide Tools
While it is true that the cost of tools made with carbide can be higher, the durability of the tool can offset the cost and make it a better solution than tools that don't have the carbide and require replacing on a far more regular basis.
High-volume machine shops benefit from this because they can use the cutter longer, which cuts down some costs but increases the efficiency of the shop's production. Not every shop needs a large inventory of carbide tungsten cutters on the shelf, but if you have them, you stop less and produce more because you do not have to keep changing the cutter.
Consumer Grade Carbide Tools
When used in tools, there is not a lot of difference in the tungsten carbide itself. The most significant difference is whether the entire tool is tungsten carbide or only the tip is. Some manufactures use less tungsten carbide in their tools or cutters to save money and market them as more durable.
If you are buying cutters or tools, look to the more reputable dealers, manufacturers, and sellers to get the best tool you can afford, and it will last much longer and do a better job for you.
At CCA, Inc., we work with the best manufacturers in the industry to bring you high-quality tools that will do the job you need them to do. Give us a call, and we can help you select the right product for the job you are doing.