Out of the many metals found on Earth, which is the strongest? It’s a straightforward question, but not one with a simple answer. You may find yourself becoming rather philosophical, because first you must define exactly what it is you mean by “strength”. When it comes to metal, being strong isn’t just a matter of toughness. There are several different ways of determining whether a metal is strong, and it helps to know how these assessments are made.
Types of Metal Strength
There are four basic ways to test the strength of a metal:
• Compressive strength: This measures the metal’s ability to withstand squeezing or compression. Testing involves using external force to press the metal, in order to see how much stress it can take without affecting its shape.
• Yield Strength: This tests the metal’s elastic behavior, which is the tension it can take without becoming deformed or broken. This is performed through a bend test, where the ends of a bar or beam are bent towards each other into a U-shape. The amount of force needed to bend the metal, and then past its breaking point, will identify its yield strength.
• Impact Strength: As the name suggests, this measures the impact the metal can withstand from heavy blows. Stronger metals will be able to withstand a major impact, even repeatedly, without cracking or breaking.
• Tensile Strength: A metal’s tensile strength is its ability to resist tension, specifically when the material is being stretched. Metals with high tensile strength are better able to withstand this test, while metals with low tensile strength can be easily pulled apart.
Comparing Strongest Metals
Having learned about the different types of metal strength, it becomes clear that it’s unlikely for any single metal to lead in every category. A metal can have high marks when it comes to one or more types of strength, while being more vulnerable in another area. As a general list, we can consider these to be some of the strongest metals:
Out of all pure metals, tungsten may have the best claim to the title of Strongest Overall. It is very tough, has the highest melting point of any unalloyed metal, and tops all others when it comes to tensile strength. However, its major pitfall is impact strength. Due to its incredible hardness, tungsten is very brittle – so much so that it’s known to shatter upon impact when dropped. But when used as an alloying element in steel, tungsten greatly enhances a metal’s strength. Due to its hardness and high melting point, tungsten is often used in military and aerospace applications.
Chromium is not only the hardest metal on Earth, but the third hardest element overall: surpassed only by carbon (diamond) and boron in hardness. But like tungsten, that hardness makes chromium extremely brittle in its pure form. Its greatest value is as an alloy, lending itself to boosting both yield and tensile strength. It is also very resistant to corrosion and reflective when polished, so it has aesthetic appeal along with strength.
While titanium isn’t nearly as hard as tungsten and chromium, it has extraordinary tensile strength. It is a relatively low density metal, and beats all other metals when it comes to strength-to-density ratio. What that means in actual practice is that titanium can be produced to be thin and flexible, without sacrificing strength and durability. In addition, it is highly resistant against corrosion, cracking, and other metal failure. Its lightness and strength make it a prized choice in the medical and aeronautical industries.
Unlike the other three metals on this list, steel is man-made: an alloy rather than a pure element. Alloys have the advantage of combining several different metals, resulting in a chemical composition designed to boost the metal’s most useful qualities. Carbon steel on its own is a strong material, with the carbon contributing to the steel’s hardness and toughness. With additional alloying elements such as vanadium or tungsten, steel becomes one of the strongest and most versatile metals on the market.