In the metal industry, tensile strength is one of the most important properties that fabricators and engineers look for when trying to design products for high-stress applications. While many metals can withstand these applications, what metal has the highest tensile strength? With an ultimate tensile strength of 980 MPa, tungsten has the highest tensile strength of any other metal. However, it’s important to understand how its tensile strength compares to its compressive strength to differentiate tungsten’s application areas.

In this article, we compare the tensile strength and compressive strength of tungsten and discuss other metals with high tensile strength properties that can be used in place of tungsten.

Tungsten’s Tensile Strength vs. Compressive Strength

While tensile strength refers to a metal’s ability to resist tension or stress (pulling force) before it breaks, compressive strength refers to a metal’s ability to resist compression (pushing force). Below, we detail the tensile strength and compressive strength of tungsten.

Understanding the Tensile Strength of Tungsten

The tensile strength (also referred to as ultimate tensile strength) of a material refers to its ability to withstand load or stress before it breaks or fails permanently. In this regard, tungsten has the highest tensile strength amongst all natural metals.

The main reason for its high tensile strength is the arrangement of its atoms and molecules. There exists a strong metallic bond between its atoms by the 5d electrons. Thus, it requires a tremendous amount of energy to break the bond, and as a result, tungsten has a high melting point of 6,192°F. Because of this, tungsten is used in microwaves and in traditional incandescent lighting.

Due to its high tensile strength, tungsten is extensively used to produce hard metals based on tungsten carbides (tungsten steel). The ability to withstand high stress makes it an ideal alloy for the aerospace and automobile industries. Tungsten comes with machining challenges; however, with effective strategies, it can be used to make highly specialized devices, such as high-temperature furnace parts, high-voltage breakers, and high-power semiconductor rectifying devices.

However, it doesn’t matter what metal has the highest tensile strength unless it scores equally well on compressive strength for high-strength applications of any type.

Understanding the Compressive Strength of Tungsten

Unlike tensile strength, the compressive strength of a material refers to its ability to withstand uniaxial compression force until it breaks. This factor is highly essential to choosing materials for design structures.

The higher load a material can bear, the stronger it can resist plastic deformation. This ability of the material to withstand load stress is expressed as the yield strength of a material. The yield strength of tungsten and its alloys varies between 300 to 1000 MPa. A tungsten-carbon alloy (tungsten carbide) displays yield strength close to that of a diamond. That’s why tungsten carbide is mainly used for cutting and mining tools.

What Metal has the Highest Tensile Strength Next to Tungsten?

While tungsten has the highest tensile strength, other metal alloys, detailed in the table below, can also often be used in its place:

Alloys Ultimate Tensile Strength (MPa) Yield Strength (MPa) Properties and Characteristics Applications
Stainless Steel  860 520
  • High corrosion resistance
  • Retains high strength, even at high temperatures
  • Low maintenance
  • Least expensive
  • Medical equipments
  • Aircraft and aerospace
  • Architectures
Chromium 413 362
  • World’s hardest metal as per the Moh’s hardness scale
  • An ideal alloying element to increase strength of ferro alloys
  • High resistance to oxidation
  • Manufacturing stainless steel
  • Chrome plating to offer mirror finish
  • Molds for the firing of bricks
Titanium (CP 4) 550 483
  • Twice as strong as aluminum
  • High melting point  of about 2,750°F
  • Naturally resistant to corrosion
  • Excellent biocompatibility
  • Jewellery
  • Medical implants
  • Marine and aerospace structures
Vanadium 800 776
  • High melting point of about 3,470°F
  • Malleable, ductile, high corrosion resistance
  • With titanium, achieves high strength-to-weight ratio
  • Ferrovanadium
  • Cutting tools
  • Body armours
  • Dental implants
  • Jet engines
Inconel (IN718) 965 550
  • Exceptional strength at cryogenic conditions
  • Intrinsic ability to form protective oxide layer against corrosion
  • Easy to weld and machine
  • 3D printing 
  • Gas turbine engines
  • Turbojet engine parts
  • Metal die casting

Until 1920, tungsten was known as an ideal steel alloying element and was used as a filament in incandescent lamps. In 1935, the first tungsten heavy metal alloys were produced, and the next 40 years marked its exponential industrial demand. Today, despite the COVID-19 crisis, the tungsten market is booming and is expected to experience an exponential rise in the future.

However, because of the current supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19, it’s imperative to maintain a surplus inventory of tungsten or to find recycled materials to continue production regardless of the market situation in the future.

A Reliable Local Supplier of Tungsten, High-Temp Alloys, and More

Industrial Metal Service specializes in supplying metals such as tungsten, titanium, aluminum, and steel to machine shops, fabricators, and manufacturers in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide. We sell new metals sourced straight from U.S. mills, and we also offer verified metal remnants, which can provide considerable savings to those who need to maintain tight budgets.

To learn more about the best metals for your project requirements, contact us today! We’ll help you get what you need—fast.
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