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Tungsten Carbide Selection

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Tungsten Carbide Selection

Considerations In Tungsten Carbide Selection

From the book Building Superior Brazed Tools    Buy the Book

  Refer to our Carbide Material Index for more information on Carbide grades, Carbide Productions, and other Articles Carbide Related Articles.

Things to Consider:
  • Hardness
  • Toughness - whole body breakage
  • Toughness - fracture initiation
  • Toughness - fracture propagation
  • Toughness - edge fracturing
  • Wear resistance
  • Corrosion resistance
  • Temperature resistance
  • Sharpness
  • Edge retention


Factors effecting performance
Amount of Cobalt

We are talking about cemented tungsten carbide.  This is tungsten carbide grains cemented together by cobalt.  Cobalt is the binder.  As you get more cobalt you get a softer grade that is more impact resistant.  If you have less cobalt you get better wear but the part will break more easily when hit.  Generally as you go from a minimum of 2% cobalt to a maximum of 20% cobalt you get a part that is harder to break but also a part that will wear out faster.

 Hardness vs. Wear Resistance

Rule of thumb:  More cobalt means it will be harder to break but it will also wear out faster.

 Grain size: Smaller grains give better wear and larger grains give better impact resistance.   Very fine grain tungsten carbides give very high hardness while extra coarse grains are best in extremely severe wear and impact applications such as rock drilling and mining applications. 

More cobalt generally makes a tungsten carbide harder to break

Tungsten carbide as used here means WC grains in a cobalt binder.  Cobalt is softer than the tungsten carbide grains so the more cobalt you have the softer the overall materials will be.  This may or may not relate to how hard the individual grains are. 

Grain size and Cobalt in combination

A good tungsten carbide manufacturer can change the characteristics of their tungsten carbide in a great number of ways.  

This is an example of good information from a tungsten carbide manufacturer

                                                            Rockwell          Density Transverse Rupture
Grade          Cobalt %   Grain Size         C          A         gms /cc Strength
OM3                4.5       Fine                  80.5     92.2      15.05                270,000             
OM2                6          Fine                  79.5     91.7      14.95                300,000
1M2                 6          Medium           78         91.0      14.95                320,000
2M2                 6          Coarse            76         90         14.95                320,000
3M2                6.5       Extra Coarse  73.5      88.8      14.90                290,000
OM1                9          Medium            76         90         14.65                360,000
1M12             10.5      Medium            75         89.5      14.50                400,000
2M12             10.5      Coarse             73         88.5      14.50                400,000
3M12             10.5      Extra Coarse   72         88         14.45                380,000
1M13             12         Medium            73         88.5      14.35                400,000
2M13             12         Coarse             72.5      87.7      14.35                400,000
1M14             13         Medium            72         88         14.25                400,000
2M15             14         Coarse             71.3      87.3      14.15                400,000
1M20             20         Medium            66         84.5      13.55                380,000
Grain size alone does not determine strength
                                                Transverse Rupture
Grade               Grain Size         Strength
OM3               Fine                  270,000
OM2               Fine                  300,000
1M2                Medium            320,000
OM1               Medium            360,000
1M20              Medium            380,000
1M12              Medium            400,000
1M13              Medium            400,000
1M14              Medium            400,000
2M2                Coarse              320,000
2M12              Coarse              400,000
2M13              Coarse              400,000
2M15              Coarse              400,000 
3M2                Extra Coarse     290,000
3M12              Extra Coarse     380,000 


Grain Size & Cobalt % Compared to Hardness & Toughness 



In the very early days of carbide you made carbide tougher or harder by changing the amount of Cobalt in the binder.  Cobalt is metal and softer than carbide grains so more cobalt made it tougher and less made it harder. Then people learned how to change the grain size. 

Bigger grains made carbide tougher and smaller grains made it harder. By varying grain size and cobalt % you can make carbide a lot tougher or a lot harder.

If you add more Cobalt to large grains then you get even more toughness.  However there is a limit to how tough you can make carbide or want to make carbide.  If you get it too “tough” then it is too soft.  Remember we are using the term ‘tough’ here as the opposite of hard.

If the grains are too large and there is too much Cobalt then the carbide will move and deform under pressure.  One of the major strengths of carbide is its ability to handle pressure or compressive force.   If it is too soft it loses that ability.









Co% bottom line

Grain size bottom line

Grain size & Cobalt %

What you can do is mix Cobalt % with grain sizes and get carbide that is both tough and hard so you get long wear without breakage.

This is a graph of 23 different grades of modern carbide. In the left graph you can see by the Co% line on the bottom that as co% goes up hardness drops and toughness stays sort of the same.  This is because grain size differs. In the middle graph we increase grain size and hardness drops while toughness sort of drops.   

Neither Cobalt percentage or grain size alone determines how a grade will perform. 

Electrochemical Effects

Electrical Conductivity - Tungsten carbide is in the same range as tool steel and carbon steel while Cermet II grades conduct more like glass. 

By the addition of titanium carbide and tantalum carbide, the high temperature wear resistance, the hot hardness and the oxidation stability of hardmetals have been considerably improved, and the WC-TiC-(Ta,Nb)C-Co hardmetals are excellent cutting tools for the machining of steel. Compared to high speed steel, the cutting speed increased from 25 to 50 m/min to 250 m/min for turning and milling of steel, which revolutionized productivity in many industries.

Specifying a large WC particle size and a high percentage of Cobalt will yield a highly shock resistant (and high impact strength) part.

The finer the WC grain size (and therefore the more WC surface area that has to be coated with Cobalt) and the less Cobalt used, the harder and more wear-resistant the resulting part will become. To get the best performance from carbide as a blade material, it is important to avoid premature edge failures caused by chipping or breakage, while simultaneously assuring optimum wear resistance.

 As a practical matter, the production of extremely sharp, acutely angled cutting edges dictates that a fine grained carbide be used in blade applications (in order to prevent large nicks and rough edges). Given the use of carbide which has an average grain size of 1 micron or less, carbide blade performance therefore becomes largely influenced by the % of Cobalt and the edge geometry specified. Cutting applications that involve moderate to high shock loads are best dealt with by specifying 12-15 percent Cobalt and edge geometry having an included edge angle of about 40º. Applications that involve lighter loads and place a premium on long blade life are good candidates for carbide that contains 6-9 percent cobalt and has an included edge angle in the range of 30-35º. 

Additives to WC

Grades C-5 to C-8 commonly have added tungsten carbides such as Tantalum tungsten carbide and Titanium tungsten carbide.  This is partly because of the problems cutting iron based materials such as steel and may not have any advantages in cutting other materials.  Adding titanium tungsten carbide gives better hardness at high temperature as well as greater wear resistance and resistance to cratering.  Adding 'tantalum tungsten carbide increases hardness while it lowers strength and wear resistance. 


Micrograin and nanograin tungsten carbides are becoming popular and rightly so.  They do work well.  The tighter grains can mean better wear and a tougher tungsten carbide.  Typically they wear longer, retain a better edge longer and polish better. 


HIP is hot isostatic pressure.  Ordinarily tungsten carbide is rammed in a mold with the pressure all coming from the direction of the ram.  HIP is a means of applying pressure evenly from all sides of the tungsten carbide.