A Comparison of Surgical Tool Materials

brandon llewellyn | 07 February, 2023

            Surgical tools materials

Today's high-quality surgical tools are available in such a tremendous variety of surgical tool materials that it can be hard to decide which material is best for everyday use. State of the art surgical instrument materials include surgical grade stainless steel, resin, titanium, tungsten, and carbon steel. How can you choose the material that works best for your applications?

Surgical Grade Stainless Steel

Stainless steel manufactured in a surgical grade was the material of choice for surgical instruments for decades. It resists rust and corrosion. Even thin blades made from surgical grade stainless steel hold up in difficult surgical procedures. It is relatively easy to sterilize for reuse, and it is even possible to neutralize prion particles on stainless steel surfaces with a photocatalytic decontamination procedure. Surgeons prize stainless steel for its minimal friction against connective tissue, and the cleanness of the resulting incision.

Stainless steel is always an alloy of at least iron, carbon, silicon, manganese, and chromium. When stainless steel is used for high-temperature or high-pressure applications, adding nickel increases heat resistance and reduces "creep" in the fit of a part or the sharpness of the blade. The problem with using stainless steel incorporating nickel into the alloy is that some patients are allergic to it.

Trocar Supplies offers trocars that are nickel free. Enough manufacturers use stainless steel-nickel alloys that about half ofoperating rooms nonetheless have leaching of nickel from surgical instruments that can trigger allergic reactions in patients or staff. It is possible to test a surgical tool for nickel with a dimethylglyoxime nickel spot test. This will not be an issue with trocar from Trocar Supplies.


Titanium surgical instruments are very light. Surgeons can use them to make repeated, precise incisions with minimal fatigue.

Titanium surgical instruments are also resistant to the formation of shattering into fragmantomes while inserted into the patient. It is the material of choice for occasions when a thin, narrow blade can't be just a scaled-down version of a larger instrument, such as when the physician is inserting hormone pellets.

Like stainless steel, titanium resists rust and corrosion. It provides considerable tensile strength. Like stainless steel, it is biocompatible. The hardness of the metal allows the blade to remain sharp after repeated use.

Titanium provides good surface tension for reloading with antibacterial agents. It introduces fewer bacteria into the incision, and carries fewer bacteria when it is removed.

Rotary surgical instruments are often fashioned from an alloy of titanium and nickel. As previously mentioned, nickel can leach from the instrument and cause allergic creations in both medical personnel and patients.

Tungsten Carbide

Tungsten carbide is corrosion-resistant. It is biocompatible. And it is three times harder than stainless steel.

Tungsten carbide is the material of choice for surgical scissors. It can be "glued" to a cutting surface to make it harder, without having to make the entire instrument out of tungsten carbide. Tungsten carbide is nickel-free, so it will not trigger sensitivity reactions in either patients or their doctors.

Alloys of tungsten carbide and silver are especially resistant to bacterial contamination.

Doctors can use tungsten carbide blades for years without any sharpening. When a tungsten carbide surgical tool has finally reached the end of its useful life, it can be recycled to be smelted and turned into new equipment. The clinic receives a small fee for providing recyclable tungsten.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel surgical instruments are prized for their ability to hold sharp edges. They are harder than stainless steel. The downside of using carbon steel surgical instruments is that they are subject to corrosion and to attack by chemicals. They are also harder to autoclave.

What's the attraction of carbon steel for surgical instruments?

It's considerably less expensive than stainless steel, tungsten carbide, or titanium. It is not really a disposable material, but the investment in the surgical tool is not so great that it could not be discarded after several sterilizations between uses.


Modern trocar blades can be formed from a huge variety of plastic resins. Just a few of the choices for resin blades are:

  • Acetal copolymers
  • High-density polyethylene
  • Nylon
  • Polycarbonate
  • Polyphenyl sulfone
  • Polypropylene

Manufacturing trocar blades from plastic resins has several advantages. Plastics can be injection-molded, making it easier to mass-produce the blade. Plastic resin costs the manufacturer less than metal alloys. Resin blades can be disposable, saving sterilization time at the doctor's office. Plastic components are lightweight. They can be color coded, making it easier to confirm that the doctor is using the correct size blade.

Handles can be molded into an ergonomic shape that fits the surgeon's hand. They can be equipped with an easy-grip handle that fits the surgeon's hand.

You wouldn't want a plastic blade on a surgical tool that has to be forced into tissue with a hammer. But for pellet insertion, it is easier to ensure sufficient hardness of the blade. Modern extrusion techniques allow the production of blades with tolerances of 0.001 inch (0.02 mm), adequate for any pellet insertion procedure. And the resin blade reduces the cost of the trocar.

Not all surgical instruments made from plastic resins can be sterilized for reuse:

  • Acrylic blades are warped by contact with alcohol. The blade loses its sharpness when exposed to temperatures over 50°C.
  • Neither high-density polyethylene (HDPE) nor low-density polyethylene (LDPE) can be autoclaved. Their blades can lose sharpness when exposed to temperatures over 90° C.
  • PFA can be autoclaved up to 15 times at 121° C/15P SI.
  • Polycarbonate can be autoclaved at temperatures up to 135° C, but it gradually softens.
  • Polypropylene can be autoclaved at 121° C/15 PSI in 15-minute cycles.
  • Teflon (PTFE) can be autoclaved at up to 260°C, but it is important not to run cool fluid over the blade until it has cooled to room temperature..

Trocar Supplies Has the Trocar You Need at the Price That Fits Your Budget

Trocar Supplies offers a tremendous selection of bothautoclave-ready anddisposable trocars. Got questions?Contact us online or call us at(937) 478-0469