Carbide vs traditional tools?

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Forum topic by smileygreen posted 06-02-2015 04:47 AM 1392 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 1228 days

06-02-2015 04:47 AM

I have been turning for about a year on the weekends when I get to go home and I have a set of cheap HSS tools I picked up at a yard sale that are in pretty rough shape. I kinda suck at sharpening though. I am hesitant to get new tools because I don’t want to ruin something that cost that much because I lack in sharpening skills. I was looking at carbide cutters and wanted to get some opinions about if I should go that route. Cost wise I could get a set of carbide cutters or I could get a good sharpening station and continue with the tools I have for about the same I think. If you have any ideas on pros and cons about carbide vs traditional tools, I would appreciate any advice. Thanks

15 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4986 posts in 2493 days

#1 posted 06-02-2015 11:41 AM

True skilled turners seem to downplay these carbide scrapers as real turning tools. I’m not a skilled turner, just a struggling wanna-be, and I just bought (used, at a good discount) to try out. I don’t have trouble sharpening, but do have a lot of trouble with tool technique….so though I’d try one to at least get something made. The common thread is that they are scrapers, and therefore don’t leave as smooth a surface as a real tool. My guess is they have 2 reasons for being marketed: one is to address your concerns about about not being skilled at sharpening, the second is to address my concern about tool technique…. they seem to be a not-so bad choice for those learning the skills. But that’s the opinion of a wanna-be.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3663 days

#2 posted 06-02-2015 01:49 PM

I think it all depends on what you want to do. If you want to produce gallery-quality hollow forms and bowls, then HSS is the way to go. If you just want to knock out an occasional utility bowl or pen, then go with the carbides.

Even cheap HSS tools can be sharpened and produce good results … you just get more practice sharpening. With carbide tools, you are likely to get a lot practice sanding.

I often use carbide tools for roughing, then switch to HSS for shaping and finish cuts.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4931 posts in 3960 days

#3 posted 06-02-2015 02:33 PM

I use both, and I agree with THE DANE. Learning how to sharpen is very important. You don’t need to go nuts buying a zillion bucks worth of exotic equipment to sharpen.
BTW, Cap’n Eddie Castelin has great deals on carbide cutters and bars. Check him out on Utube.


View OSU55's profile


1672 posts in 1989 days

#4 posted 06-02-2015 09:57 PM

I use Cap’n Eddie carbide cutters, on handles I made myself (here). Read the project for more, but essentially the carbide tools are great for roughing. Use HSS for finish cuts. IMO get a sharpening station for now. It’s hard to improve skills without properly sharpened tools. I think you will be amazed at the difference in performance a properly sharpened tool makes. Cheap tools work great with good edges.

View LeeMills's profile


543 posts in 1301 days

#5 posted 06-03-2015 12:18 AM

I use mostly HSS because that is what I started with.
I do have a carbide tip tool that I made. The shaft is inexpensive and available almost everywhere. Less than $10 for cutter, screw, shaft, and handle.
I use it for roughing bowls, especially if the bark may contain dirt or other fast dulling material.
I make the exterior cuts as Stubbs indicated in his 1985 video. From the bottom going to the rim and never directly into the side (end grain).
I do think the carbide cutters can be very nice and with some styles you can rub the bevel. IMHO if you can’t rub the bevel with a HHS gouge you probably can’t with a carbide cutter.
This is where I got my cutter. Box of 10 for $29, made in Germany. They only have square.

-- We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

View smileygreen's profile


6 posts in 1228 days

#6 posted 06-03-2015 04:58 AM

Thanks for the input. I might try and get a carbide cutter for roughing from Captain Eddie’s site. Looking at some sharpening jigs online I think I could probably throw one of those together so I don’t have to try and sharpen free hand.

View Planeman40's profile


1176 posts in 2761 days

#7 posted 06-03-2015 02:40 PM

Sharpening isn’t the bugaboo many make it out to be – once you UNDERSTAND it.

It is simply going from coarse to finer grits to get what you need. You need to envision the process as two stages, shaping and sharpening. The shaping is done with coarse grits to obtain the SHAPE of the edge. Once that is obtained, move on to finer grits to remove the scratches the coarse grits made and still finer grits to bring the edge to a sharpness so you can shave the hair from your forearm with it. That is my test.

I do my SHAPING with relatively coarse diamond files (usually purchased from Harbor Freight). Then to do my SHARPENING I use fine diamond files to remove the coarse file scratches and bring the edge to a mild sharpness. Do not use lubricants for diamond stones. At this point I move on to coarse and then fine Arkansas stones. Coarse is a relative term in Arkansas stones. Arkansas stones are by definition fine stones. Its just that the less expensive stones are usually not as fine as the more expensive somewhat transparent milky white expensive stones. Use light 3-in-one type oil as a lubricant for Arkansas stones. After I finish with the fine Arkansas stone, I end by using a home made leather strop charged (meaning rubbed in) with a super fine abrasive. You can get this abrasive at the usual Woodworking stores. Just be sure to rub the strop in a direction AWAY from the edge or you will slice up your strop. Keep sharpening with the Arkansas stones and stropping until you get an edge that will shave the hair on your arm. Once you get a really sharp edge, a few swipes from time to time with a fine Arkansas stone and some stropping will keep that razor sharp edge.

Everybody has their preferences for the type of stones they use. I prefer the diamond files for shaping as they are relatively cheap, stay flat, and don’t make a mess like water stones. I prefer Arkansas stones for sharpening as they are hard and don’t lose their shape easily like water stones. Arkansas stones are relatively expensive, but they seem to last forever.


-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View gwilki's profile


201 posts in 1473 days

#8 posted 06-05-2015 01:37 AM


Do you use this technique on bowl gouges? If so, do you file a fingernail profile or a straight across profile? I’m fascinated by the idea of sharpening bowl gouges with files. It’s something that I’ve never heard of before.

-- Grant Wilkinson, Ottawa ON

View Woodknack's profile


11626 posts in 2380 days

#9 posted 06-06-2015 06:06 AM

Start with a square cutter and make the tool yourself. They are great for roughing.

-- Rick M,

View JoeinGa's profile


7736 posts in 2007 days

#10 posted 06-06-2015 02:11 PM

Buy cutters online ( I use Capt Eddie) and make your own. It’s not that hard. Here’s what I’m doing

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View oldnovice's profile


6854 posts in 3368 days

#11 posted 06-06-2015 06:51 PM

A sharp carbide edge will outlast a sharp HSS edge but carbide can never be as sharp as HSS!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View MrUnix's profile


6715 posts in 2199 days

#12 posted 06-06-2015 07:21 PM

Not a big fan of carbide… it lasts longer but doesn’t give as nice a cut. Actually, my two favorite turnng tools – the ones I wind up using the most – were made from old screwdrivers ;)


PS: It wasn’t until the last few decades that ‘store bought’ turning tools came into being… for centuries before that, all turning tools were made by hand, and could produce as good or better work than anything sold today – even on lathes that were foot powered. Making your own also allows you to grind the profiles to your needs, not what some company thinks you need.

-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View Woodknack's profile


11626 posts in 2380 days

#13 posted 06-07-2015 10:14 PM

Time has gotten away from you a bit … a “few decades” ago I was in the army. :) Lathe tool sets have been around at least 75+ years, I suspect since the turn of the 20th century but I’m too tired to go look it up.

-- Rick M,

View MrUnix's profile


6715 posts in 2199 days

#14 posted 06-08-2015 12:24 AM

Time has gotten away from you a bit … a “few decades” ago I was in the army. :) Lathe tool sets have been around at least 75+ years, I suspect since the turn of the 20th century but I m too tired to go look it up.

LOL… yeah, a few decades may be a bit of a stretch… but the point is that the lathe is an ancient tool and has been around for thousands of years. Compared to that, they are a relatively recent convenience.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View Ron Ford's profile

Ron Ford

208 posts in 1732 days

#15 posted 06-08-2015 02:14 AM

+1 with TheDane and Bill White. I like using carbide tools for fast wood removal, but you can’t beat a well-sharpened HSS tool for putting a fine finish on wood. Take the time to learn to sharpen your HSS tools and you will find them to be a wonderful investment.


-- Once in awhile I make something really great. Most days I just make sawdust.

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