What is Tungsten: A Friendly Guide to its Properties and Uses

Tungsten, or wolfram, is a rare, high-density metal with the highest melting point among all elements, used widely from light bulbs to aerospace.

Understanding Tungsten

Basics and Characteristics

Tungsten, also known as wolfram, is a chemical element with the symbol W and an atomic number of 74.

It is a rare metal found naturally on Earth almost exclusively as compounds with other elements.

Tungsten has remarkable properties, such as high density, exceptional strength, and a remarkably high melting point of 3,422°C (6,192°F), making it the element with the highest melting point on the periodic table.

In fact, its boiling point is also impressive at 5,555°C (10,031°F) 1.

As a solid metal, tungsten has a grayish-white color and is lustrous.

It has a density of 19.35 g/cm³, making it the heaviest known engineering metal.

While it is incredibly strong, it can also be brittle when subjected to shock loading.

However, it can be ductile when processed correctly 2.

Historical Discovery and Naming

Tungsten was identified as a new element in 1781 by Swedish scientist Carl Wilhelm Scheele but was first isolated as a metal in 1783 by Spanish scientists Juan José Elhuyar and Fausto Elhuyar 3.

Tungsten’s name originates from the Swedish words “tung sten,” which translate to “heavy stone.” The alternative name, wolfram, comes from “wolframite,” one of the ores from which tungsten is extracted 4.

The principal tungsten-containing ores are scheelite and wolframite, and China is currently the dominant producer of tungsten, accounting for over 80% of total tungsten mined 5.

Some bacteria use tungsten in an enzyme to reduce carboxylic acids to aldehydes, making it the heaviest metal known to have a biological role 4.

Tungsten’s unique combination of properties has made it indispensable for a wide range of applications, from light bulb filaments to aerospace technology 1.

Its exceptional strength, high melting point, and resilience to high temperatures make it an invaluable resource for industries worldwide.

Tungsten in Practice

A glowing tungsten filament illuminating a dimly lit room, casting warm, golden light on surrounding objects

Industrial Uses and Applications

Tungsten is known for its exceptional properties, making it highly valued in various industries.

One notable application of tungsten is in the manufacturing of filaments for light bulbs and electronic devices, due to its high melting point and good electrical conductivity 1.

Additionally, its high tensile strength and resistance to wear make it an ideal material for cutting tools, such as drills and milling cutters.

In the steel industry, tungsten is often used to create steel alloys, which benefit from its qualities, including resistance to high-temperature applications and increased thermal conductivity.

These enhanced properties are ideal for producing turbine blades, rocket engine nozzles, and other components that require extreme durability and heat resistance 3.

Tungsten Compounds and Alloys

Tungsten can bond with various elements to form a wide range of compounds and alloys.

One of the most common compounds is tungsten carbide (WC), which exhibits exceptional hardness and wear resistance, making it a popular choice for producing tools, cutting equipment, and abrasion-resistant parts in various industries and applications 4.

Tungsten’s high oxidation state allows it to form compounds like tungstic acid (H2WO4), which has applications in the textile industry for producing fire-resistant fabrics.

Moreover, tungsten can be alloyed with other metals to create valuable superalloys.

For example, it can be combined with nickel, iron, or cobalt to make alloys that possess high tensile strength and remarkable resistance to corrosion and heat 5.

In summary, tungsten’s versatility and unique properties have led to its use in a wide array of applications, from cutting tools to alloys for strengthening steel or creating superalloys.

The impressive capabilities of tungsten ensure its important role in various industries and applications.


  1. Tungsten – Wikipedia 2 3

  2. Tungsten Metal: Definition, Composition, Properties, and … – Xometry

  3. Tungsten | Uses, Properties, & Facts | Britannica 2

  4. Tungsten – Element information, properties and uses | Periodic Table 2 3

  5. Understanding Tungsten: Properties, Uses, and Applications 2