Durable Materials: Uses / Sourcing / Tools

I’m recently become interested in building using durable materials - think: products which would survive situations like: 5th grade classroom, underwater, extreme sports, in space, in the arctic.

I couldn’t find a single list of “durable materials to work with” on the internet, so I put one together below.

My goal is to create a “palette” of materials that I am familiar building with. I am personally interested in building a musical instrument.

Questions the come to mind:

  • Where can I get it? How expensive is it? Can I get it locally? What’s the smallest quantities I can get?
  • How can I work with it? Which tools are effective? Where can those tools be found? How “difficult” is it really?
  • Who are the experts on this that we might know?

Durable Building Materials

Type Material Notes Where to get Locally Tools
Gemstone Sapphire Hard. Shock & fracture resistant. Used for windows, wristwatch crystals, movement bearings, blue LEDs, windows in barcode scanners, iPhone camera lens & fingerprint reader, ornamentations on crowns. There are pink sapphires. ? ?
Gemstone Ruby Shock & fracture resistant. Used for ruby lasers, masers, ornamentation, sculptures (e.g. Liberty Bell Ruby. It was stolen in 2011) ? ?
Gemstone Jade Soft but tough. Used for decoration (e.g. jade burial suits, ? ?
Stone Quartzite Used for gravestones stone tools, roofing tiles, stairs, floors, kitchen countertops, industrial silica. Avoid breathing silica dust while processing… ? Laser etch?
Stone Fieldstone Heavy. Used for walls, ? ?
Metal Inconel Used for rocket engine nozzles, gas turbine blades, nuclear reactors, race car exhaust, waste incinerators, cryogenic storage tanks. . oxidation-corrosion-resistant . Difficult to shape. ? Waterjet cutter. Selective laser melting. Electrochamical machining. Selective laser sintering.
Metal Tungsten Does not rust. Difficult to work with. Used for light bulb filaments, electrodes for arc welding, radiation shielding, armor-piercing weapons ? sintering
Metal Bronze . Resists salt water corrosion. Made from copper, tin & some other metals. Used for signs, placards, axes, coins, boat & ship fittings, springs, bearings, guitar & piano strings, sculptures, , mirrors. ? ?
Wood White oak Resists water. Repels insects. Used for wine & whisykey barrels, ships, musical instruments ? ?
Wood Pine Used for outside furniture, furniture, window frames, floors, roofs, turpentine, . ? ?
Wood Cedar Used in Saunas. Moth repellant. Clothing storage boxes. Bonsai. Good for 20+ years ? ?
Plastic Polycarbonate UV resistant. Impact resistant. Heat resistant (melts at 120*C). Low scratch resistance. Can be used in place as glass. Used for electronic components, domelights, roofing, 3d printing, CD/DVDs, bullet-resistant glass, fighter jet canopy, safety googles, cases for electronics, , ? ?
Plastic High-Density Polyethyene (HDPE), Marine Board Used for plastic bottles (e.g. shampoo bottles), cutting boards, snow boards. Food containers. . High impact resistance. High melting point. ? ?
Cloth Linen Made from Flax. Dries faster than cotton. Breathable. Antibacterial. Wrinkles. Used for lingerie, wrapping mummies, clothing, bags, towels, tablecloth, handkerchief, bedsheets, oil painting, baking clioth (non-stick “couche” to hold dough into shape) ? ?
Cloth Hemp Antifungal. Used for ropes, clothing, shoes, bioplastics, insulation bricks, paper, weed control (smothers tough-to-kill weeds), biofuel, oil paint, moisturizer, food, building construction material (hempcrete) ? ?
Cloth Alpaca wool Strong. Used for bedding, clothing, hats, scarves, gloves, sweaters, rugs. ? ?
Cloth Mohair Made from goat. Frizzy, curly. High luster. Flame resistant, moisture wicking, elastic. Repels odors. Expensive/luxury. Used for hats, suits, sweaters, socks, carpets, doll wigs, ? ?
Paper Banknote paper 75% cotton, 25% linen ? ?
Paper PermaLife 25% cotton. Usable with photocopiers and inkjet and laser printers ? ?
Glass Tempered glass Used for vehicle windows, aquariums, refrigerator trays, phone screen protectors, diving masks, plates, cookware, balcony doors, shower doors, skylights, glass near swimming pools, baking (Pyrex) ? ?
Glass Borosilicate Heat resistant. Used for cookware, lab equipment (e.g. beakers), prosthetic eyes, implantable drug pumps, flashlight lenses, OLED, telescopes, smoking pipes (e.g. bong), guitar slides, ? ?
Glass Polycarbonate panels ? ? ?

I would appreciate feedback, experiences with these materials on projects, suggestions - Basically, what would make this list valuable?

// JRO

For metals, don’t count out “normal” stainless steel. Some standard alloy of stainless steel is probably most effective for what you want. It’s also probably the most machinable (relative to everything else you mention).

Inconel and titanium are difficult to mill because they work harden if you don’t handle them correctly.

Bronze is mostly used because it can be cast easily and is malleable (thus easily machined), not because it is more resistant than stainless.

Tungsten (and other heavy metals like Iridium and Osmium) are not something you want to deal with unless you really have a need. They are chemical resistant, but remarkably brittle for a metal and tend to shatter into dust particles making machining difficult. To make matters worse, heavy metal dust tends to be toxic.

HDPE - it seems a trend for folks to collect these plastics for personal projects, where they melt it with things like panini presses. DIY recycling.

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned aluminum, which is almost the default material for machining projects. It’s lightweight and strong, with a strength-to-weight ratio similar to steel. And it doesn’t oxidize readily under most circumstances. (To be more precise, the surface actually oxidizes almost instantly, but the resulting molecular mono-layer then stops any further oxidation. Heat and humidity together can tarnish it more deeply – don’t put it in the dishwasher! But even then, you just get a readily removable surface layer of tarnish which isn’t structurally compromising.) It’s also essentially non-toxic with few negative environmental effects.

There are (as always with metals) quite a number of alloys, but the 6061 alloy is readily available in all sorts of stock sizes and it’s extremely easy to machine. If you’re making a piece on the metal mill or lathe, it’s almost always your first choice.

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“Durable” is not definable without a context. An application.

All these are materials, yes. You’ve got “pine”, which by some measures is the weakest, cheapest throwaway material there is.

One-time-use shopping bags are HDPE. Strong as hell for their thickness, but not a durable good.

Every material has strengths and weaknesses. UV resistance, temp resistance, water resistance, deformation under load, stress cracking, creep (permanent change in shape) under load, heat resistance, scratch resistance, acids/bases, solvents, resistance to any of a million chemicals… and also totally different situation in how it’s used.

Like I say, a shopping bag is HDPE. Spectra fiber is also HDPE- well, technically UHMWPE- and used in bullet-resistant armor.

A specific thickness or mass of plastic and aluminum are totally different strength and durability. Carbide is one of the strongest materials known to man, but will chip if dropped on cement. So will diamond, for that matter. Borosilicate is no stronger than regular glass- but it’s got a near zero thermal expansion coefficient and thus will not stress and break with high temperature variations. Other than that, totally breakable glass.

It’s also an endless list of materials and specs. It would be more practical to narrow this down with at least a general idea of the application and work from there.


Great discussion, thanks. Will have to look into Aluminum & HDPE.

Danny - and I appreciate the note about defining the context for “durability”

Here are several conditions I am considering for a music instrument

(1) Survive a 5th grade classroom for a year. Drops, spills, etc.

(2) Outside in the sun. Think: busking musician playing on the Pfluger pedestrian bridge street all day for months. Heat, direct sunlight.

(3) On stage. It’s gotta look good - shiny, colorful, but survive being beat up.

(4) Immersed in water. A musician could be on a SUP board, clustered at Lou Neff point - confident that the instrument is completely comfortable in the water (perhaps amplified by one of those floating boom boxes).

For fun, 3 scuba divers could take the instruments to PADI Open Water depths (30 feet?) and have a jam session Under Da Sea.

Salt water, water pressure.

(5) High altitude. 3 skydivers may bring these on a jump, and perform an epic solo while in free fall, and then a peaceful ballad while parachuting. All live streamed by a GoPro.

Cold air. Change in surrounding air pressure.


A few thoughts came to mind of what existing tech has some of these attributes…. Military radios (able to function in a hot bumpy sandy conditions… and then freezing at night, getting rained on, etc) . Also a GoPro + Scuba housing. (Extreme conditions, can still record sound) fits some of the usage profile…

What other existing products have similar requirements, and what materials are they typical built from ?

It’s not just the material, but the design. And that is based on intended use. Some hospital equipment has to withstand autoclave. Some military connectors are hermetically sealed, where the connector body is steel, and is fired with glass insulation inserts, and steel contacts in the center of the glass. Waterproof, pressure proof, rugged and damned expensive. But glass isn’t “rugged” on it’s own - typically. Corners, protrusions, mass - these things can compromise many product designs.

Waterproofing often requires insert molded contacts for the connectors, where the leadframe is placed in the mold before the resin is shot. There are now post production waterproofing coatings used in cell phones that can protect PCBs and components, but the body design of the device still tries to limit water intrusion.

The specifications typically state test conditions, shock, temperature, humidity, pressure, duration, etc., but do not specify material. A material perfect for one application may be horrible for another, but both applications might be thought of as “durable” or rugged.