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Cemented carbide

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Cemented carbide

Circular saw blade with tungsten-carbide inserts

Cemented carbide, also called widia, is a hard material used in machining tough materials such as carbon steel or stainless steel, as well as in situations where other tools would wear away, such as high-quantity production runs. Most of the time, carbide will leave a better finish on the part, and allow faster machining. Carbide tools can also withstand higher temperatures than standard high speed steel tools.


Cemented carbides are composed of a metal matrix composite where carbide particles act as the aggregate and a metallic binder serves as the matrix. The process of combining the carbide particles with the binder is referred to as sintering or Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP). During this process the binder eventually will be entering the liquid stage and carbide grains (much higher melting point) remain in the solid stage. As a result of this process the binder is embedding/cementing the carbide grains and thereby creates the metal matrix composite with its distinct material properties. The naturally ductile metal binder serves to offset the characteristic brittle behavior of the carbide ceramic, thus raising its toughness and durability. Such parameters of carbide can be changed significantly within the carbide manufacturer's sphere of influence, primarily determined by grain size, cobalt content, dotation (e.g. alloy carbides) and carbon content.

The first Cemented Carbide developed was Tungsten Carbide (introduced in 1927) which uses tungsten carbide particles held together by a cobalt metal binder. Since then other cemented carbides have been developed such as Titanium-Carbide which is better suited for cutting steel and Tantalum-Carbide which is tougher than Tungsten-Carbide.[1]


Inserts for metal cutting

Tungsten-carbide inserts

Carbide is more expensive per unit than other typical tool materials, and it is more brittle, making it susceptible to chipping and breaking. To offset these problems, the carbide cutting tip itself is often in the form of a small insert for a larger tipped tool whose shank is made of another material, usually carbon tool steel. This gives the benefit of using carbide at the cutting interface without the high cost and brittleness of making the entire tool out of carbide. Most modern face mills use carbide inserts, as well as many lathe tools and endmills. In recent decades, though, solid-carbide endmills have also become more commonly used, wherever the application's characteristics make the pros (such as shorter cycle times) outweigh the cons (mentioned above).

Insert coatings

To increase the life of carbide tools, they are sometimes coated. Four such coatings are TiN (titanium nitride), TiC (titanium carbide), Ti(C)N (titanium carbide-nitride), and TiAlN (titanium aluminum nitride). (Newer coatings, known as DLC (Diamond-like carbon) are beginning to surface, enabling the cutting power of diamond without the unwanted chemical reaction between real diamond and iron.) Most coatings generally increase a tool's hardness and/or lubricity. A coating allows the cutting edge of a tool to cleanly pass through the material without having the material gall (stick) to it. The coating also helps to decrease the temperature associated with the cutting process and increase the life of the tool. The coating is usually deposited via thermal CVD and, for certain applications, with the mechanical PVD method. However if the deposition is performed at too high temperature, an eta phase of a Co6W6C tertiary carbide forms at the interface between the carbide and the cobalt phase, which may lead to adhesion failure of the coating.

Inserts for mining tools

Mining and tunneling cutting tools are most often fitted with Cemented Carbide tips, the so-called "Button Bits". Only man-made diamond can replace the Cemented Carbide buttons when conditions are ideal, but as rock drilling is a tough job the Cemented Carbide button bits remain the most used type throughout the world.

Rolls for hot-roll and cold-roll applications

Since the mid-1960s, steel mills around the world have applied cemented carbide to the rolls of their rolling mills for both hot and cold rolling of tubes, bars, and flats.

Other industrial applications

This category contains a countless number of applications, but can be split into three main areas:

  • Engineered components
  • Wear parts
  • Tools and tool blanks

Some key areas where cemented carbide components are used:

  • Automotive components
  • Canning tools for deep drawing of two-piece cans
  • Rotary cutters for high-speed cutting of artificial fibres
  • Metal forming tools for wire drawing and stamping applications
  • Rings and bushings typically for bump and seal applications
  • Woodworking, e.g., for sawing and planing applications
  • Pump pistons for high-performance pumps (e.g., in nuclear installations)
  • Nozzles, e.g., high-performance nozzles for oil drilling applications
  • Roof and tail tools and components for high wear resistance
  • Balls for ball bearings and ballpoint pens

Non-industrial uses


Tungsten carbide has become a popular metal in the bridal jewelry industry, due to its extreme hardness and high resistance to scratching. Given its brittleness, it is prone to chip, crack, or shatter in jewelry applications. Once fractured, it cannot be repaired—only replaced.


The initial development of cemented and sintered carbides occurred in Germany in the 1920s.[2] ThyssenKrupp says [in historical present tense], "Sintered tungsten carbide was developed by the "Osram study society for electrical lighting" to replace diamonds as a material for machining metal. Not having the equipment to exploit this material on an industrial scale, Osram sells the license to Krupp at the end of 1925. In 1926 Krupp brings sintered carbide onto the market under the name WIDIA (acronym for WIe DIAmant = like diamond)."[3] Green et al[2] give the date of carbide tools' commercial introduction as 1927. Burghardt and Axelrod[4] give the date of their commercial introduction in the United States as 1928. Subsequent development occurred in various countries.[2]

Although the marketing pitch was slightly hyperbolic (carbides being not entirely equal to diamond), carbide tooling offered an improvement in cutting speeds and feeds so remarkable that, like high speed steel had done two decades earlier, it forced machine tool designers to rethink every aspect of existing designs, with an eye toward yet more rigidity and yet better spindle bearings.

During World War II there was a tungsten shortage in Germany. It was found that tungsten in carbide cuts metal more efficiently than tungsten in high-speed steel, so to economise on the use of tungsten, carbides were used for metal cutting as much as possible.

The Widia name became a genericized trademark in various countries and languages,[3] including English (widia, ), although the genericized sense was never especially widespread in English ("carbide" is the normal generic term). Since 2009, the name has been revived as a brand name by Kennametal,[5] and the brand subsumes numerous popular brands of cutting tools. For the sake of clear communication, the reviving of the Widia brand may naturally further discourage use of the genericized sense (which was not very common in English anyway).

Uncoated tips brazed to their shanks were the first form. Clamped indexable inserts and today's wide variety of coatings are advances made in the decades since.[2] With every passing decade, the use of carbide has become less "special" and more ubiquitous.

Regarding fine-grained hardmetal, an attempt has been made to follow the scientific and technological steps associated with its production; this task is not easy, though, because of the restrictions placed by commercial, and in some cases research, organisations, in not publicising relevant information until long after the date of the initial work. Thus, placing data in an historical, chronological order is somewhat difficult. However, it has been possible to establish that as far back as 1929, approximately 6 years after the first patent was granted, Krupp/Osram workers had identified the positive aspects of tungsten carbide grain refinement. By 1939 they had also discovered the beneficial effects of adding a small amount of vanadium and tantalum carbide. This effectively controlled discontinuous grain growth.[6]

What was considered ‘fine’ in one decade was considered not so fine in the next. Thus a grain size in the range 0.5–3.0 μm was considered fine in the early years, but by the 1990s, the era of the nano-crystalline material had arrived, with a grain size of 20–50 nm.


  1. ^ Childs, T.H.C. (2000). Metal Machining: Theory and Application. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 388–389. 
  2. ^ a b c d Green 1996, p. 744.
  3. ^ a b ThyssenKrupp AG, 1926 Krupp markets WIDIA tool metal,  
  4. ^ Burghardt & Axelrod 1954, p. 453.
  5. ^, retrieved 2010-10-22. 
  6. ^ A history of fine grained hardmetal by Geoffrey E. Spriggs


External links

  • Cemented Carbides - A Success Story, ITIA Newsletter June 2010
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