The W³ Cube: 95% Tungsten 100% BS
Something hit my radar recently thanks to my good friend Jim that was too absurd to let pass silently into internet history without a certain degree of incredulity being poured upon it.
Kickstarter is no stranger to absurdist campaigns. For the most part, these campaigns at least know that they are absurd. They are acts of comedy or thinly veiled scams.
This one though… I have watched and read their material and, I fear, that they may be genuine.
They seem to really want you to have a tungsten cube. Specifically, a cube between 0.5″ and 2″ on a side, weighing between 37g and 2.36kg. For reasons known only to the Kickstarters, they decided to mix their systems of measurement.
The next time someone measures something in inches and gives you the mass in kilograms, please wound them. Not badly, that would be cruel, just a quick round of friendly classical conditioning.
I have to say that tungsten is a pretty neat substance. It’s very dense, quite hard, and has an extremely high melting point. It’s relatively rare and is a massive pain in the butt to work with. We used to use it in light bulbs because it has a very difficult to find combination of conductivity, thermal resilience, and incandescence.
This campaign, though, goes a few steps past “this is a neat thing” and declares their cubes to be “mind bending minimalist totems.” If you don’t believe me, watch their video.
There’s something mind-bendingly dense in there. Let’s unpack it a little. First, why is it the W³ Cube. The W comes from the elemental symbol on the periodic table, so that part makes sense. Why we would call it Tungsten cubed cube seems redundant to me, but maybe that’s why I’m not in marketing.
Their first slide, accompanied by what sounds like a train arriving in Inception, claims “Perfect lines. Perfect symmetry.” Ignoring that those are not complete sentences and do not deserve periods, the only objects with perfect lines are hypothetical mathematical objects. Likewise for symmetry, but the only thing that has perfect symmetry is a sphere as you can split it on any plane passing through its center and it will be symmetrical.
Next up, the cube is a creative focal point. I can’t even start to guess what that means, but I was too distracted by the sound an impending attack by Ultron to think hard.
Okay, tungsten is pretty dense. As the name of the Kickstarter states, it’s “denser than solid uranium.,” a whole 0.8% more dense. That’s pretty dense. I would go so far as to support the claim that you would be quite surprised at the weight of a 1″ cube of the stuff. Perhaps I have a more rigid brain that normal, though, as I would hesitate to use the term “mind bending.”
It’s a cube… so… sure why not.
It’s a small cube. I promise that my this would simply get lost in the clutter of my desk or be stolen by my cat. It is not perfect for any desk. Also, the music is starting to make me fear that these cubes are the harbinger of an alien invasion. I wonder if Scott Sigler was a vertex or two short in his treatment of the subject.
That’s completely meaningless in this context. No, the cube will not deliver 60 tons of compression or withstand 60 tons of compression. It took some digging through their site to figure out what’s going on here, but that’s the pressure produced by the press that makes the damned things. Not to mention, that’s imperial tons again. Gods can they not keep their units straight?
IT’S JUST A FUCKING CUBE!
Had a bit of a moment there.
Out of mad curiosity, I thought I’d find out the profit margin on the cubes. I looked up the market value of tungsten. It turns out that it is currently running at about $34 USD/kg. They’re selling their 1 kg cubes for $209 each. %600 markup seems fair to me, I mean, they have to mash them in a big press and finish the surface, that’s value added process, right?
Also, look at the chart of tungsten market price. It’s value has dropped 30% in the past year and seems to be falling steadily. I have a theory that these guys have a stockpile of tungsten sitting around that they can’t get rid of. Some marketing genius came up with the idea of selling it, pretty much unprocessed, to extremely dense people on the internet in hopes of recouping their losses and has, apparently, struck gold.
The alternative explanation is that someone, really and truly, thinks that these things are mind-bending creative focal points that are perfect for any desk, a true minimalist totem. Is it wrong that I’m hoping it’s the more cynical explanation?
In case you are curious, at time of writing, these guys have pulled in 112 thousand US Dollars. At least I assume it’s USD, they’re not very consistent with their units.
Pretty much right on, but as a materials engineer who works with tungsten heavy alloy regularly, I think the 600% markup crack is incorrect. $35/kg is still about the going rate for tungsten powder, but you can’t just melt it like iron, copper, gold, etc. You must mix appropriately with lower melt metals like iron, nickel, or copper and then vacuum sinter it at a high temp, then melt the metals in a specific rate and cool. It cannot be done in large quantities, and consumes a lot of energy. Then it has to be machined into a cube, which is actually fairly easy but will generate some scrap. I think it’s fair to say that the production cost of the cube is closer to $80, but never less than $70 even at large quantity. And the price of tungsten is expected to climb, especially if our new president insists on taxing imports — 95% of tungsten mining is in China.