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What Is Tungsten Carbide and Why is it So Popular on Tool Accessories?


We Talk About Tungsten Carbide in Power Tools, But What is This Magic Substance?

Tungsten carbide is all over the power tool industry. Often shortened to just carbide, there are actually more blends than just with tungsten. We’re teaming up with Bosch’s knowledge base to dig deeper into this material and how it makes accessories more effective.

10-Second Summary

  • Carbide is a compound that blends carbon with a lower electronegative element
  • Tungsten carbide is an equal blend of tungsten and carbon
  • It’s tough attributes make it popular on blades and concrete drilling bits
  • Low-grade tungsten carbide is more brittle and can chip easier
  • Poor attachment processes can lead to carbide popping off completely
  • High-quality carbide outperforms and outlives standard accessories
  • The cost per cut or hole is usually much better than less expensive accessories

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What is tungsten carbide?

The general term “carbide” simply means it’s a compound using carbon and a less electronegative element. Tungsten carbide contains equal parts carbon and tungsten and starts life as a powder.

The powder goes through a sintering process for use in many different products, including accessories like drill bits and saw blade teeth.

It’s a robust compound that can survive tough applications like drilling through aggregate. That toughness is why I chose it for my wedding band instead of gold since I work with power tools every day.

Most accessories aren’t pure carbide. On blades, it’s just the individual teeth and on bits, it’s just the cutting edges. The rest of the accessory is usually some form of steel. For concrete bits, the shaft still has flutes to remove material and it generally feels just like using a standard steel bit. You don’t have to change the way you work just to use a carbide bit.

Why is tungsten carbide so popular?

There’s a perception that accessories using tungsten carbide perform better than non-carbide ones. But does that perception match reality?

In most cases, it does. Carbide tooth blades outperform and last longer than steel or bi-metal in nearly every application. That combination makes it the go-to standard for circular saw blades and rotary hammer bits. It’s gaining more traction for reciprocating saw blades and oscillating tool blades, too.

Cheap Vs Quality Carbide

The quality of the carbide has everything to do with the quality of the raw materials and the processes of shaping and attaching it.

Cheap carbide is more brittle and is easier to chip. In the case of poor attachment processes, it can pop off entirely. Use a cheap carbide bit and there’s a good chance you won’t buy another one.

Tungsten Carbide Bits Cost Vs Life

Labor is the biggest cost on any jobsite and the bane of your existence is downtime—paying people when they’re not working. Your tools need to be ready to go and you need replacement accessories on site to minimize downtime. Productivity comes to a halt and your client isn’t happy about the lack of progress.

One of the major benefits of tungsten carbide accessories is that it keeps everyone working longer. Since carbide has superior speed for many accessories, the work moves along faster as well. Faster work is less fatiguing and less fatigue means higher quality work.

If that’s not enough, look at some of the claims on carbide blades. 10x, 50x, even 75x the life over standard ones? They may cost more up front, but when you look at the cost per cut or per hole, they’re saving you money over the course of the job.

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The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, tungsten carbide accessories are worth it when heat doesn’t kill it, cutting edges don’t break, and tough materials don’t wear them down. When you buy carbide bits that use quality materials and manufacturing processes, they’ll outperform and outlast any standard ones you might have used before.

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Gordon A. Gilmour
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Because it’s the hardest metal on earth.