Unique Characteristics of Tungsten Unmasked

Updated on February 29, 2020
GoldenRod LM profile image

We know mining and manufacturing involves crushing, cutting, and smashing. Tungsten tools are an economic way to transform material size.

By Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) - Tungsten rods with evaporated crystals, partially oxidized with colorful tarnish. Purity 99.98 %, as well as a high pure (99.999 % = 5N) 1 cm3 tungsten cube for comparison.
By Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) - Tungsten rods with evaporated crystals, partially oxidized with colorful tarnish. Purity 99.98 %, as well as a high pure (99.999 % = 5N) 1 cm3 tungsten cube for comparison. | Source

Basic Characteristics Highlighted

There is nothing droll about tungsten. This rare earth metal has many lofty characteristics that set it apart from lots of other elements. It's melting point, boiling point, density and hardness let it tower above the rest. In addition, of the elements known essential to any living organism, it is the heaviest.

Tungsten, X-rays, and Coolidge form a trinity that has left an indelible impression upon our life and times. The key word in this triad is Coolidge, for his work brought the element tungsten from laboratory obscurity to the central role of the industrial stage and gave the X-ray a central role in the progress of medicine throughout the world.

— C. Guy Suits

Edison's Non Tungsten Light Bulb

Thomas Edison is often cited as the first to use tungsten in an incandescent light bulb filament. However, after numerous failed experiments, Edison gave up the quest to use it. Apparently the purity of the tungsten was in question and contributed to the failure of the bulb to light for any decent period of time. Edison first used a carbonized filament. William David Coolidge discovered the tungsten filament in 1910. Later, Edison adopted it.

Tungsten Seems Everywhere, But Few Would Know It

Nevertheless, the tungsten filament has been in use with incandescent light bulbs for over 100 years. Because tungsten alloys can be used to cut other materials within small tolerances at an economical rate, it has contributed to our well being in innumerable ways.

Other uses of tungsten include: woodworking tools, drill bits, saw blades metal work tools, cutters, knives, abrasives, electrodes for welding, X Ray tubes, super alloys, jet engine turbines, and radiation shielding. Tungsten's hardness is impressive also - it is used for military penetrating projectiles. Tungsten may in some cases be used as a catalyst. It is used in vacuum tubes when they are called for.

China, Russia, Portugal, Austria, Bolivia and Vietnam produce the most tungsten, with China being the number one producer in the world.

Tungsten electrode used in a gas tungsten arc welding torch
Tungsten electrode used in a gas tungsten arc welding torch | Source

What's So Hot About Tungsten?

  1. Tungsten has the highest melting point of all the elements discovered. It melts at 3422 °C (6192 °F, 3695 K).
  2. It also has the highest boiling point, at 5930 °C (10706 °F, 6203 K).
  3. Its density is 19.25 times that of water. It is similar to that of uranium and gold, and much higher (about 1.7 times) than lead.
  4. Tungsten carbide is the second hardest material after diamond.

Tungsten bulb filament with shiny burn
Tungsten bulb filament with shiny burn | Source

Speaking About Hot

Since tungsten has such a high melting point, some folks ask if you can make liquid tungsten. That is a curious question.

With such a high melting point, the crucible withstanding the temperature would need a higher melting point than tungsten. The only thing with a higher melting point would be carbon. But if you attempted to melt tungsten in a carbon container the contents would become tungsten carbide, not tungsten.

Scientists have created liquid tungsten by utilizing super conductive copper crucibles which pull heat from the surface of the copper. This enables the copper to stay in solid state. It is such an expensive operation that for commercial purposes liquefying tungsten is unreasonable.

Picture for a moment molten tungsten being poured from the copper crucible discussed above into a triple-walled stainless steel thermos. As the tungsten was being poured, the bottom and the walls of the thermos would disappear. That's hot!

Tungsten in Medical Imaging

Tungsten dissipates heat almost as well as copper. It can stand up well under high tube current with no bubbling or pitting. Tungsten can produce X ray and is also chosen as the target on an x-ray tube for general radiography because of its atomic number 74.

Atomic mass is the total number of protons and neutrons (taken together known as nucleons) in the nucleus. Its atomic mass is 183.84 u. The greater the number of bonds between particles in the atom, the greater the strength.

Dissipating heat without losing structural integrity is a characteristic of metals with high atomic number.

Abrasive tungsten carbide cutting tool
Abrasive tungsten carbide cutting tool | Source

Shed Gold for Tungsten Gold at Your Wedding

Tungsten rings are much heavier than cobalt, titanium, and stainless steel rings. Crafted with tungsten carbide, tungsten wedding rings have recently become popular with the male population because of their resistance to wear. In other words, they have become popular for their toughness. The toughness arises from a compound that contains equal parts of tungsten and carbon atoms called tungsten carbide. Highly resistant to scratching, tungsten is also somewhat rare. The shade of tungsten is approximately 2 shades darker than that of platinum or white gold.

Traditional polished tungsten, brushed tungsten, black tungsten, and gold tungsten are various colors of rings currently on the market. They can be had for as much as $1200 in today's market or for as little as $30 for tungsten carbide.

Final Thoughts

Because tungsten is used in hot environments and for all types of cutting, especially that of hard substances, the characteristics of the tools should be understood very well.

From Cibola Burn

“He is, however,” Amos continued, “keeping a constant rail gun lock on Israel’s reactor.”

Holden ran his fingers through his hair. “So not too generous, then.”

“Say pretty please, but carry a one-kilo slug of tungsten accelerated to a detectable percentage of c.”

― James S.A. Corey, Cibola Burn


Uses of Tungsten (2011, May 11). Retrieved August 19, 2019 from https://wanttoknowit.com/uses-of-tungsten/

Tungsten Filament (2014, October 19). Retrieved August 20, 2018 from https://www.nostalgicbulbs.com/blogs/vintage-bulbs/carbon-filament-vs-tungsten-filament

References, Tungsten, updated 2019, August 10. Retrieved August 21 from, 2019(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tungsten

RadTechOnDuty (2015, February 13). Why tungsten is the material of choice for Target? Retrieved August 22 from http://www.radtechonduty.com/2015/02/why-tungsten-is-material-of-choice-for.html

Lee, K.C. and Chug Yu Wang (1955). Retrieved August 23 from https://tungsten.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Tungsten-The-Story-of-an-Indispensable-Metal.pdf

10 Insider (2018). Strongest Metals. Retrieved August 24 from http://www.teninsider.com/top-10-strongest-metals-world/

Jablons, Joshua ( 2015, July 9). How tungsten is Unique, from Its Name to Its Properties. Retrieved August 25 from https://metalcutting.com/5-interesting-facts-about-tungsten/

© 2019 John R Wilsdon


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    • GoldenRod LM profile imageAUTHOR

      John R Wilsdon 

      10 months ago from Superior, Arizona USA

      Thank you, Pamela

      I am interested in materials. One of my past times is building things, and understanding material strengths and weaknesses is important. The Earth's elements are fascinating.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      10 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I found this article to be very interesting as i knew little about tungsten. This is more up my husband's alley, but I like learning new facts and this article has plenty of them. Thanks for a very good article about tungsten.


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