Tristan Hume

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My Tungsten Cube

A few months ago I bought a featureless cube of tungsten. It’s 1.5 inches across and cost $130, but I argue it was one of the best purchases I’ve made recently.

Why would I spend so much money on a cube? Well it’s really dense. Tungsten is one of the densest elements, over twice the density of steel. My cube weighs one kilogram despite being pretty small. The first time I held a friend’s tungsten cube I was blown away, it felt like some otherworldy force was pulling the cube down into my hand (spoiler: it was gravity). Whenever I show people my cube they consistently find it really cool and it’s fun to be able to so easily share a unique experience like that.

Even after the initial surprise wore off, I still find it just really satisfying to hold. Ever hold something with satisfying heft? Well it’s like the platonically purest amplified form of that satisfaction. I keep it on my desk and turn it around in my hands while I’m thinking.

The cool thing about it being a featureless hunk of extremely hard, durable metal that doesn’t really oxidize away, is that it will last for a long time. I expect I’ll continue getting value out of having this cube on my desk for at least 5 years and probably more. Given how much I fidget with the cube and enjoy owning it, I figure I definitely get more than $2/month worth of value out of it.

I struggled a lot with deciding to buy a cube. It felt wrong to spend so much money on a featureless hunk of metal. Money is for buying fancy doo-dads, or large things, or hotel nights, or any number of other things that cost about as much while delivering arguably less value. On the other hand there was something appealing to me about buying an object that was so platonically good. It was just a really dense cube that I could derive a pure and weird form of satisfaction from holding.

Anyhow, tungsten cubes, 10/10 would recommend. There’s a reason they have so many 5 star Amazon reviews. Maybe some day I’ll work up the courage to buy a $500 one that’s over 10 pounds like my housemate last term did.

Edit 2021-08-26: Since this is ended up on HN today, I’ll mention that in September of 2019 I bought a 3kg tungsten sphere to add to my collection. It has beautiful turning marks that give it nice anisotropic reflections, which the rendering nerd in me appreciates. It’s also really nice to roll around in my hand, and is 3x heavier than my cube. It sits on a very nice walnut stand a coworker made for me on his lathe and CNC router. I still keep the cube on my desk at work though since it’s a better size and shape for casually fidgeting with.

I got it from a custom tungsten products supplier on Alibaba as a one-off in a custom size, since it was almost half the price of a similar sphere on Amazon, although it did take a while to arrive.

Here’s a photo of it on my Lichtenberg figure coffee table, which I got on Etsy from a seller who unfortunately doesn’t make them anymore, because they’re amazing:

Tungsten Sphere