My friend uses carbon fiber tow in creating a component for automobile machines. However the carbon fiber is actually much tougher than it needs to be. As a risk manager in software I am concerned that his carbon fiber tow poses an unnecessary health risk for his workers working with this material, due to the high airborne asbestos-like risk that may present itself in the manufacturing process. Of course he educates his workers on this risk and they all use proper protective gear.

Basically, carbon fiber tow is prone to breaking and producing airborne particles when handled by hand, and I'd like to know whether stainless steel tow is less prone to breakages. But I am not sure what quantitative measurement to examine.

For his application, stainless steel tow is a perfect mechanical substitute. Thank you for not questioning whether it is a perfect substitute for his automobile part, because it is. The question here is whether stainless steel tow is more or less prone to breakage than carbon fiber tow.

There are two metrics that I began trying to learn more about that could be valid here. The first is "Fracture toughness" and the other is "tensile toughness". I am really just trying to get data on which is better, or how I could scientifically prove the stainless steel tow is less prone to breakages.

We can assume that the diameter of each fiber within the tow is about 5-15 micrometers. What's the best data we can gather on the subject?

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    $\begingroup$ It might be better to go straight to the problem. You're concerned about dust. Industrial hygienists are concerned about dust. So I wouldn't be surprised if your ultimate question "how much dust does each leave in the air?" is already answered. Have you searched on various combinations of "carbon fiber" "stainless steel fiber" and "dust" or "particulate"? $\endgroup$
    – TimWescott
    Nov 5, 2019 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ I am not even sure whether handling of stainless steel fibers would produce an appreciable amount of dust the way that carbon fiber does. Carbon fiber is extremely brittle. According to the answer below, stainless steel has some ductility that prevents breakage. If I were working with stainless steel powder, then I would search those terms $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2019 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


On the net ; 3/8 cable has 11,000 pound breaking strength. The figure shows the individual wire to be about 0.025 in. ( 7 X 19 cable). When I put that into a conversion , the result is 635 micrometers : Apparently more specifics are needed. Also, asbestos has a relatively unique crystal with "hooks" the catch on the cilia in the lungs. The cilia are then unable to move asbestos out of the lungs like ordinary "dirt". giving rise to cancer . Why do you think carbon fiber has this unique property ? Stainless wire , although very high strength still has enough ductility not to "shatter" and disperse small particles into the air when it is pulled apart.

  • $\begingroup$ Although carbon fiber particulate has not been shown to be toxic in rats, these warnings still exist (see link above), because the brittleness of carbon fiber produces similar particle sizes as asbestos does. I have never heard of the asbestos hooks before. Furthermore, I know a guy who crashed his bike and got carbon fiber stuck in his leg - doctors said the body doesn't break it down, and that it's stuck there forever. That may be because Carbon doesn't break down - at least stainless steel can be oxidized $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2019 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ Coal dust (carbon dust) is known to cause lung disease as well $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2019 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Asbestos in not toxic , it is carcinogenic because of its unusual crystal ; it is not simply "dust". I have never seen "black lung" defined as cancer, although it has similar aspects $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2019 at 1:21

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