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Dedicated experiments have been carried out in vacuum to study breakdown and arc burning on graphite cathodes covered by a thick (1 μm) tungsten layer. The motivation originates from the usage of similar layers as first wall material in fusion devices where a large number of arcs appeared during plasma operation. Besides the standard measurements of current and voltage optical observations of the developing cathode spot and the retrograde motion in a transverse magnetic field on a short time scale have been carried out to determine the arc velocity reliably. Special attention was payed to nonreversible modifications of the layer by arcing. Electron microscopy and surface analysis techniques (SIMS, AES) have been applied to specify the geometric structure of the tracks together with the distribution of elements. Main result is the observation that a 1 μm tungsten layer can permanently be perforated by the passing of an arc exposing carbon from the underlying graphite to all subsequent erosion processes. The effect depends on arc type as well as current, and is used to extract information from remnant tracks found on plasma facing components.