What is nichrome wire?

Alloys are a mix of two or more elements which are combined to achieve better strength or resistance. Nichrome wire is comprised of a non-magnetic alloy of nickel and chromium.

After being heated, it becomes resistant to oxidation because it produces a thin layer of chromium oxide. Nichrome is also resilient at high temperatures, making it a versatile heating element that’s perfect for many domestic and industrial applications.

Chances are that you probably own something with nichrome in. So how is used? Read on to find out.

Uses for nichrome

As nichrome is a material with high resistance, it can get to a very high temperature without degrading. This property means it’s a material suitable for formulating hot wire cutters, as it can cut precisely and withstand the heat needed to cut through things like plastic.

Likewise, heat doesn’t cause it to oxidize, making it appropriate for use in appliances like toasters and hair dryers.

Ceramic sculpture and glassmaking hobbyists can also use nichrome wire because it’s able to survive the high temperatures of the kiln while acting as a supporting structure.

Nichrome is useful in laboratories to aid in identifying trace metals in flames and in industrial contexts, like the manufacture of ignition methods in fireworks.

Types of nichrome wire

When selecting nichrome wire, there will usually be numbers representing the percentage composition of each alloy. Usually, the first number that comes after the nichrome wire type indicates the percentage of nickel in the alloy. For example, “Nichrome 80/20” is approximately 80% nickel and 20% chromium.

Generally, the higher the percentage of nickel in the nichrome wire, the higher the maximum operating temperature and the higher the oxidation resistance. In broad terms:

  • Nichrome 30: Commonly applied in de-icing elements and electric blankets
  • Nichrome 40: Ideal for heaters and resistors
  • Nichrome 60: Used in household appliances, especially the tube components in things like grills and some toaster ovens
  • Nichrome 70: Perfect for industrial furnaces
  • Nichrome 80: Good for soldering equipment and irons

Copper wire vs nichrome wire

Copper conducts electricity well, so isn’t as resistant. This means the current running through the wire doesn’t get converted to heat in the same way.

Nichrome also has a higher melting point than copper wire, which makes it more appropriate for use with appliances at a high heat and more frequent electrical or temperature fluctuations.

Inappropriate use for nichrome wire

Nichrome wire is not suitable for connecting two parts of an electric circuit because it would get too hot. Nichrome also should not be used as a fuse, as it has a melting point that’s too high. Due to this, it could become a fire risk by not breaking under dangerous conditions.

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