When someone asks me if a particular metal is magnetic, it’s usually because they’ve lost something and they’re hoping a magnet will be their saving grace.
Is that you? Did you lose your tungsten wedding band?
If it’s not why you’re here, maybe you’re just a curious detectorist or a nervous patient concerned about your tungsten carbide implant.
Whatever the reason, let me be as transparent as possible.
Tungsten is magnetic, but only slightly so. Its weak magnetic pull is classified as paramagnetic, resulting in unpaired electrons feebly reaching out to a nearby magnetic field.
There’s a lot of fluidity involving tungsten and magnetism. You and I will dive deep into its properties and demystify the enigma to get the answers you need.
Is Tungsten Metal?
Did I get too sciency on you?
Well, how about this?
A quick Google search on tungsten and magnetism will have you reciting the word weak repeatedly in your head.
So why is tungsten only weakly magnetic? It’s metal, isn’t it?
Yes, Tungsten, while found on the periodic table as a chemical element, is classified as a transition metal.
But when it comes to metals and magnetism, they’re not always mutually exclusive.
Will a Magnet Pick Up Tungsten?
Although tungsten is a metal, not all metals are magnetic. In fact, there are only three ample metals with a strong attraction to magnets.
These are iron, cobalt, and nickel.
If you tried to pick up tungsten with a magnet, the bonding would be unsuccessful, and the piece of tungsten wouldn’t respond.
However, a neodymium magnet, a rare Earth magnet, will pick up tungsten, even though it’s paramagnetic.
Don’t believe me? Check out this video.
Why is Tungsten Conductive?
Just because tungsten isn’t all that magnetic doesn’t mean it’s not electrically conductive.
Actually, tungsten is a reasonably good conductor of electricity, especially at higher temperatures.
You wouldn’t think that to be true, considering its only 30% as conductive as silver. But silver and copper set the bar pretty high.
I’ve seen much misinformation online proclaiming that tungsten isn’t very good at conducting electricity, but that isn’t accurate.
Tungsten is a better conductor than many alternative metals because its high melting point allows it to carry a current where others would melt.
Why am I talking about electrical conductors when you asked about magnets?
Will Tungsten Set Off a Metal Detector?
Forget about the magnet.
For those who need help finding your lost tungsten ring, disappointment in a magnet doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.
Thanks to the electrical conductivity of tungsten, it’ll set off any decent recreational metal detector.
But if you’re worried about walk-through metal detectors setting off the alarm because of your tungsten metal, that’s a different story.
You can get the specifics by visiting my article on body jewelry and metal detectors.
But in short, most standard security metal detectors set their devices to detect more traditional threats and ignore your smaller tungsten pieces.
Is Tungsten Carbide Magnetic?
Tungsten carbide is magnetic as long as it’s been bonded with cobalt.
Before we get too deep down the rabbit hole, let me explain the difference between tungsten and tungsten carbide.
Tungsten carbide is an alloy metal of tungsten.
It has been combined with carbon atoms (carbide), and together, it’s still only weakly attracted to magnets.
However, to successfully combine these elements, you need a binding agent. And the most popular choices are either nickel or cobalt.
Both are magnetic in their purest form. But once they undergo the binding process, only cobalt remains ferromagnetic.
Thus, tungsten carbide alloy made with cobalt binding is magnetic.
Will a Magnet Pick Up Tungsten Carbide?
If I was clear enough to help you understand the chemical bonding process, you should know the answer to this question.
Yes, a magnet will pick up tungsten carbide bonded with cobalt because the cobalt element is ferromagnetic and strongly attracted to magnetic fields.
But, if your tungsten carbide contains nickel, you won’t be able to pick it up with a magnet. You might be able to drag it slightly, just don’t bet on it.
What is Tungsten Carbide Used for?
Tungsten carbide is used in various endeavors like sporting equipment, industrial tools and manufacturing, jewelry, and military defense.
Pure tungsten has incredible resistance to heat, and its hardness rivals that of a diamond.
By adding carbide, this alloy can share those properties with other metals.
It makes tools harder and long-lasting. Rocketships can survive the extreme temperatures of traveling to space and back.
And it illuminates your home as a lightbulb filament needed to carry electricity in extraordinarily high temperatures longer than other metals could fathom.
Is Tungsten Carbide Detectable by a Metal Detector?
Because of the many uses of tungsten carbide, you’d find it everywhere when metal detecting, right?
Maybe not everywhere, but…
Detecting tungsten carbide with a metal detector is easy, thanks to its electrical conductivity.
Even if you happen upon tungsten carbide bonded with nickel, your metal detector will still pick up the disturbance it causes in the magnetic field.
You just have to make sure you’re using the appropriate metal detector and settings, so you don’t miss it.
Tungsten Metal Detector
There are a lot of metal detectors I could recommend for detecting tungsten.
In terms of technology, a VLF metal detector is ideal because of the two separate coils in its design. One for sending a signal and the other for receiving a metal’s response.
But honestly, the best metal detector for tungsten depends on how much you’re willing to spend. Or how much interest you have in a metal detecting hobby.
Instead of assuming everyone reading this is in the same boat, I’ll map out your options.
Besides your search for tungsten, if you’re curious about metal detecting and want to know more about it, check out my beginner recommendations.
But if you want to find that tungsten ring of yours and worry about a new hobby later, I have a whole page dedicated to cheaper metal detectors that you can rely on.
Metal Detector Settings for Tungsten
When you have a metal detector and are ready to find some tungsten, your discrimination settings will be the ultimate advantage in your search.
The discrimination settings on your metal detector are designed to limit the metals your device will detect.
It’s not so much the metal itself as it’s the frequency being detected. The thought is to ignore junk metals like iron that you don’t want to dig up.
The problem is tungsten alloys come in all shapes and sizes.
Or should I say, they come in different mixtures of metals?
So setting your discrimination to ignore certain metals may not be the best unless you know what metals are in the alloy.
Besides discrimination, try lowering your sensitivity so you aren’t detecting too deep.
Most tungsten alloy treasures to be found will be just under the surface.
And detecting a bottle cap five inches deep will only take more time away from you.
What Number is Tungsten on a Metal Detector?
Unfortunately, tungsten’s ID number will differ depending on the metal detector and the specific tungsten properties.
For instance, on a Garrett AT Pro, a tungsten carbide ring will generally display a number in the low to mid-60s.
On other metal detectors using a different frequency, that same ring would have an ID number between 75 and 80.
What makes it more difficult is that some metal detectors use a number system between 0 and 99. And others use a range of -95 to +95.
Most times, tungsten will register a number similar to gold. But read the manual of your metal detector to get the exact ID number.
How to Tell if a Metal is Tungsten
Testing its weight and durability are two of the easiest ways to tell if a metal is tungsten.
Tungsten has a high density and can be clearly felt when holding a piece in your hand, compared to a similar metal like steel.
Besides the extra weight, tungstens scratch resistant toughness is hard to replicate.
You’ll have little luck if you try to apply pressure, scratch, or dent tungsten.
And if you don’t mind damaging your metal, take it to a grinder.
Unlike titanium, which shoots out white sparks, tungsten sparks look more orange.
FAQs About Tungsten
I’m hopeful that my science lesson on tungsten has helped you in some way.
You may have gotten started on the search for lost jewelry. Or that chemical reaction conundrum has finally clicked for you.
But being curious about tungsten’s magnetism means you’re likely interested in other aspects of tungsten.
So before you go, let’s wrap up with some related questions that come up a lot.
Does Tungsten Break Easily?
Despite the strength of tungsten, it can break easily if enough force is applied.
You’ve spent the last couple of minutes reading about how strong tungsten is. Does it surprise you to know that it’s equally as brittle?
Because of its remarkable toughness, tungsten doesn’t bend or change shape like gold can.
So when that pressure is used, tungsten will generally shatter in response.
Does Tungsten Rust?
In its natural state, tungsten is resistant to oxidation. But when tungsten carbide is bound with cobalt, it can rust over time.
While it does give tungsten more magnetism, cobalt is chemically reactive and gradually decomposes.
Exposure to natural oils, cleaning products, and environmental factors will speed up the rusting process.
Is Tungsten Hypoallergenic?
Tungsten and tungsten carbide is hypoallergenic. Even jewelry-grade tungsten carbide with a nickel binding is considered safe for those with allergies.
The amount of nickel used to bind tungsten carbide is extremely small. And while I’m no doctor, I’ve been told an allergic reaction is unlikely.
But all things being equal, you should request a tungsten carbide with a cobalt alternative.
Why Tungsten is So Expensive
The demand and high cost of tungsten originate from its many popular attributes, economically desirable uses, and the effort it takes to refine.
Tungsten is relatively expensive compared to some metals. Admittedly it’s not as costly as gold, but it’s still a good investment.
Specifically in the United States, the US military utilizes tungsten for numerous defense applications. And while the US has an abundant reserve of tungsten deposits, we generally import our active supply from countries like China.
But this is just one example of how supply and demand work for tungsten.
Between military defense, industrial manufacturing, and other US markets, we spend nearly a billion dollars a year on tungsten.
Does Tungsten Jewelry Have Any Resale Value?
Regardless of your price for tungsten jewelry, it has little to no resale value.
This is primarily due to the large availability of tungsten and its physical properties.
For instance, this metal is so tough that resizing a tungsten ring is impossible. And no jewelry wants to be stuck trying to sell a ring that only fits a handful of customers.
That’s all, folks! I’m glad you enjoyed the ride.
Until next time, be sure to peek through all the other metal and metal detecting hubbub I cover here.