The logistics of getting custom things made from fantastic materials

Over in the thread about tungsten carbide wedding rings, I asked about getting a ring made of another unusual material, rhenium diboride. This is something I’ve been idly pondering for a while. I am NOT in the market for any such thing: this is a purely academic question meant only for my own amusement. It’s also a pretty vague question. I appreciate your input both in answering and refining it.

Rhenium diboride is just an example of what I mean here. How difficult is it for a normal civilian to commission objects made of fantastic/extraordinary materials? I know that, given enough money, you can obtain pretty much anything (that can’t be used in a bomb), but I’m interested in whether you can do it with a non-astronomical amount of money. Let’s say I wanted a doorknob made out of iridium. Now iridium is one of the rarest metals on earth, but you can, theoretically, buy it on the open market for a price similar to platinum. If I were an industrial crucible manufacturer, I could buy iridium for my factories, but where would a non-industrial person go to buy this?

Rhenium diboride is a metal-like material discovered fairly recently that is harder than diamond. According to the scientists in the article, it can be produced “cheaply and easily.” Could I have a fancy fake tooth made out of the stuff for, say, under $10,000? Or would I first have to donate enough money to UCLA to have them name a new materials science building after me? Can I get a chess set made with yttrium and aerogel? How about some glasses frames made of solid teflon and a cigarette case made of bismuth?

If my heart were really set on such a frivolous thing, how would I go about getting it? Would it be possible? How would it work?

My guess is that you would follow the same general process that an industrial customer would follow. Find a machine shop or fabrication facility that has the capacity to work with the material of interest, generate a work order and a purchase order, and essentially contract with the industrial firm to get the object of your design created. There are a lot of firms that do custom machining and fabrication, creating prototypes and test items, and I’m sure they would make whatever you’d like as long as they have the capabilities (both people and tools) and you have the ability to pay for it.

I already spend way too much time pushing my glasses back up my nose. This would just necessitate a sports strap being attached to them.

We could attach chromium carbide non-skid cleats to the nosepiece.
“How about some glasses frames made of solid teflon and a cigarette case made of bismuth?”
These could be handily made at home with minimum tooling.

Solid Teflon is quite soft and a fairly useless structural material for items subject to wear and tear. It’s use is mainly in coatings, tapes, lab equipment and similar applications to provide a low friction, non-reactant surface or container.

And the more esoteric the request, the more the contract starts to look like R&D…

As far as Rhenium Diboride goes it looks like you would contact Sarah Tolbert and give a ton of money to her research. It is likely that she is the only group that makes it. Oddly, they only make mention of Osmium Diboride on her website. Perhaps there are proprietary deals in negotiation, in which case you are SOL unless you give another much larger donation to people in charge of that.

Of course with this Rhenium Diboride, you have some major problems. They likely don’t make ingots in the shape of the ring, and what the hell are you going to use to machine it into a ring. It’s harder than diamond.

>“How about some glasses frames made of solid teflon and a cigarette case made of bismuth?”

There are more and more web sites where you can buy materials with your credit card. offers bismuth, for example. The McMaster-Carr company may be the world’s most versatile hardware store ( and you can buy “teflon” from them in many forms (“Teflon” is actually a trademark of DuPont for several different polymers including polytetrafluoroethylene and fluorinated ethylene propylene and, I think, perfluoroalkoxy resin).

There are several companies whose specialty is selling all of the elements, often in the form of collections.

You can find yourself an Alpha catalog and order pretty nearly any element and any of a wide variety of materials. I have bought, for example, rhodium foil from them, along with gold and nickel and tantalum and silver. How anybody can roll out brittle rhodium into a foil is beyond me.

There are plenty of fabricators out there, too. But there’d be a more complicated task in finding and cultivating one to create a unique item. You can’t buy a unique element, but you can certainly want it in a unique form.

Fom the thread title, I was kind of expecting you to ask about getting something made out of mithril, or flubber, or green kryptonite.

Oh, mithril’s easy. The stuff’s so cheap any more that they use it for food packaging, and when folks are done with the food, they just throw the mithril away rather than cleaning it.

One of the products I designed is machined from a solid 4" x 2" block of Teflon. It costs about $50 in materials and $200 in machining…

So the consensus is that the right machine shop will machine anything you want? Would the customer provide his own raw materials, if it were something unusual? Or would the shop have avenues for that already in place? If the customer has to provide it himself, where would one get it? I mean, yttrium? Iridium?

First of all, many exotic materials are hard to machine. You can’t just stick a hunk of tungsten on an average mill and have at it (and tungsten isn’t even exotic). You might need to use so less-common machining techniques, like water-jet, EDM, or plasma. So, if you were serious, you would have to discuss it with your machine shop first.

As for where to get exotic material, someplace like Fisher or WVR would be a good start.

In my experience, if it’s an exotic material, the machine shop may ask you to provide it. And if it’s not something they’ve worked with before, they may want some extra material to practice on.

I suggest an alternate method. Many companies organize their business around an exotic material or category of materials. For example, Mathy-Bishop (sp?) specializes in precious metals including platinum. They sell raw materials and also do shaping, such as maybe machining or grinding. They have the experience to work platinum, and they have the capture and recycling methods in place to retain the scrap dust and shavings and so forth, and purify it and recycle it. They generally don’t do any other fabrication work except as necessary to get the platinum into shape (so maybe they’d make the platinum and nonplatinum parts that must fit together in a certain way).

I needed a 30 lb hunk of Tungsten (metal, not carbide) in a certain form years ago, and found a company that stocks and fabricates tungsten.

When we started working with Invar a few years ago, we found material suppliers but our own machine shop wanted to try working with it. Invar is an iron and nickel alloy known for having a small coefficient of thermal expansion (its size is invariant with temperature) and it has a reputation for being messy to machine, as the shavings are wooly and ropelike and tend to get tangled and mar finishes.

If you do web research on iridium you will find people like this. Expecially, try phrases like “iridium plate” or “iridium rod”.

They sell pretty much everything, including iridium and its alloys, here.

What in Og’s name do you use a block of Teflon for (that wouldn’t work better as a block of steel coated in Teflon)?

We make specially pressure gauges for the semiconductor industry. One of our products is 100% teflon - even the sensor surface is teflon. It turns out that it’s worth the cost to make the body out solid teflon, rather than risk a scratch in a coating that might lead to contamination or corrosion. It’s a niche market, but when you want a pressure gauge that will withstand being placed in an environment contaminated by Sulphuric or Hydrofluoric acid fumes, there’s not too many choices.
Here’s a link:
You can see the all-Teflon gauge on the right.

skyspring, that is spam. Not allowed here. Reported