Carbide vs. HSS tools

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Forum topic by eflanders posted 08-30-2016 01:37 AM 904 views 0 times favorited 31 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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84 posts in 1268 days

08-30-2016 01:37 AM

I am new to turning, but recently I acquired a small H.F. lathe. I also got some of the H.F. steel (not HSS) lathe tools which need constant resharpening. So now I am debating whether I should invest in some carbide tools, or get a CBN grinding wheel and some HSS tools. If you add the cost of the wheel and the tools, it is about the same as the carbide tools are alone. What do you suggest I do and why?

31 replies so far

View TheDane's profile


4930 posts in 3081 days

#1 posted 08-30-2016 01:51 AM

Carl Jacobson recently did a video on this …

I personally prefer HSS tools … I get cleaner cuts with them. I do use carbides for some situations, mostly roughing out bowls and hollowing vessels.

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

View nightguy's profile


213 posts in 80 days

#2 posted 08-30-2016 01:55 AM

Carbide last long between any sharpening or change of replaceable bits, but you cant get carbide as sharp as good HHS once you learn to sharpen, as a turner you will have to learn that, it comes with turning.
As previous stated, carbide has its uses, roughing, but sharp, good HSS, will give you a better end finish.

View waho6o9's profile


7115 posts in 1995 days

#3 posted 08-30-2016 02:32 AM

The reason why these cut so well is because they use the best steel for the job. I only have one of them but it’s a night and day difference between the Sorbys and Benjamin Best tools that I do use as well.

No carbides in my shop so I can’t attest to their usefulness.

Have fun on your journey and ride that bevel.

View Rick M.'s profile (online now)

Rick M.

7681 posts in 1798 days

#4 posted 08-30-2016 04:32 AM

carbide tools, or get a CBN

- eflanders

Given an either or … CBN. I like carbide for roughing and for very hard, abrasive, woods like ipe, cumaru; they are also good for brass and aluminum. But you’ll get a better finish with steel tools and gouges are faster at roughing than carbide, imo.


View MadMark's profile


965 posts in 871 days

#5 posted 08-30-2016 04:37 AM



-- Madmark -

View oldnovice's profile


5648 posts in 2785 days

#6 posted 08-30-2016 06:31 AM

I don’t do any turning but I am a routerholic and HSS provides a cleaner cut.
I only use carbide on materials that eat HSS, such as Corian and the like.

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

View HokieKen's profile


1519 posts in 556 days

#7 posted 08-30-2016 09:08 AM

These guys pretty well covered it. Carbide is harder and will keep it’s edge longer. There’s always a trade-off though and in the case of carbide, it’s sharpness. Because it’s so hard, it’s also brittle and the grain structure prevents getting as close to a zero-radius edge as HSS.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Wildwood's profile


1848 posts in 1552 days

#8 posted 08-30-2016 10:25 AM

The only point not brought up is initial cost of carbide tools & cutter replacement over HSS tools. Yes can certainly buy some steel and make your own carbide tools and save a few bucks but cutters & replacements not cheap.

You can touch up those non-HSS tools you have now by hand with a stone. A bench grinder or belt sander would be faster. Just don’t buy your grinder at HF they don’t seem to last.

Hardest thing for me was getting the same bevel angle at the grinder so bought intermediate Wolverine jig set. Lot of people start out with the Basic Set! I can freehand sharpen now but still use my jig. You can find Wolverine systems at many places but prices about the same.

There are other sharpening jigs on the market today and lot of people make their own. I made several jigs before biting the bullet and picked up Wolverine system.

Think we have someone here that uses a Wolverine system on their belt sander, but that’s above my pay grade!

-- Bill

View Redoak49's profile


1816 posts in 1406 days

#9 posted 08-30-2016 11:08 AM

It is amazing how fast turning costs add up. Yes, Sorby tools are great and expensive. All of the Wolverine jigs are not cheap and the same for CBN wheels.

Turning is fun but you can spend $$$$.

I posted a project of the 4 carbide tools that I made and they were less than one Sorby tool. I also have some old Craftsman turning tools that work fine and sharpen them on my Worksharp and use diamond salivary disks on it. I get a pretty sharp tool that works well.

The bottom line question is how much you have to spend on turning.

View Gixxerjoe04's profile


829 posts in 994 days

#10 posted 08-30-2016 11:45 AM

I only have used carbide, made my own tools so it wasn’t that expensive, bough my cutter from captain eddie. One good thing about them is the learning curve is pretty quick and easy. I really want to use traditional tools but haven’t, been nervous about trying to figure out how to use them and sharpen them. One thing I’ve noticed about watching guys use traditional tools, besides a cleaner cut, looks like they’re a lot faster at getting the job done. Carbide seems to take awhile, bogs down my HF lathe pretty easy if you try to take a big cut.

View OSU55's profile


1039 posts in 1407 days

#11 posted 08-30-2016 11:56 AM

I made my own carbide tools and got inserts from Capn Eddie. I tried them on spindle turnings and went right back to HSS. I used them a while for roughing out bowls, but after I learned how to use bowls gouges better (check out Lyle Jamieson on youtube) I don’t use the carbide at all. Properly sharpened HSS requires less force and makes a cleaner cut. Not sure why you must have CBN, Al oxide wheels do fine for me.

View TheDane's profile


4930 posts in 3081 days

#12 posted 08-30-2016 01:37 PM

Not sure why you must have CBN, Al oxide wheels do fine for me.

You don’t have to have CBN wheels, but they are cleaner (nothing flaking off the wheels), they run cooler, repeatability is better (the wheel diameter doesn’t change), they are available in different profiles (e.g. radius edge, etc.), and they are safer (won’t crack and explode). And (IMNTBHO) they do a better job of sharpening your tools.

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

View Gixxerjoe04's profile


829 posts in 994 days

#13 posted 08-30-2016 01:39 PM

The sharpener made by sorby is pretty cool, just a sander with jigs basically, of course the $500 price tag isn’t cool.

View HapHazzard's profile


92 posts in 286 days

#14 posted 08-30-2016 02:38 PM

Whoever said HSS tools are sharper made an important point. I’ve found HSS to be better than carbide for turning wood, plastics, brass and even mild steel. It not only holds an edge better at high temperatures, but it doesn’t get as hot running at higher speeds because it cuts with less friction. It’s possible to ruin an HSS cutting tool, of course, either by not keeping it sharp or by improper grinding, but when you come to appreciate the performance of well-sharpened HSS tools, you’re going to want to hone your sharpening skills and keep them performing to the max. It’s no coincidence that the best turners out there are also the best sharpeners.

-- Unix programmers never die; they just > /dev/null

View HapHazzard's profile


92 posts in 286 days

#15 posted 08-30-2016 02:53 PM

A combination belt-disk sander is the best thing out there for grinding and sharpening turning tools. You can easily set it up to grind any angle you desire, and belts are available in a variety of grits and abrasives. You can make some simple jigs and fixtures if you need them, but with a little practice you can sharpen most tools without them.

-- Unix programmers never die; they just > /dev/null

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