Carbide or HSS?

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Forum topic by mileskimball posted 11-17-2013 03:52 PM 1773 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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97 posts in 2036 days

11-17-2013 03:52 PM

I like sharpening tools, so I’ve always stuck with HSS. But I’m tempted to try out carbide. Any thoughts?

My biggest concerns: cost and performance. The initial price is comparable, but the carbide replacement tips seem really spendy. Also, on HSS, I know the performance degradation when you go from acceptably sharp to dull can be sudden. Is it more gradual on carbide?


-- Miles

8 replies so far

View Bill White's profile (online now)

Bill White

4947 posts in 3982 days

#1 posted 11-17-2013 04:25 PM

What tooling are you discussing? Lathe tools?
There are numerous sources for carbide tooling and replacement inserts. Capt. Eddie Castelin is one.
Carbide does not feel as sharp as HSS, but will last longer, won’t degrade as fast, but might shatter/flake an edge in some circumstances.


View Woodknack's profile


11763 posts in 2402 days

#2 posted 11-17-2013 05:42 PM

I have carbide and carbon steel tools, don’t have any HSS so just extrapolate from the carbon steel. The carbon steel is much sharper, cuts cleaner and faster but requires sharpening a couple times on each project but they are really easy to sharpen and it only takes seconds.

The carbides are excellent for roughing which dulls steel faster than shaping. The square carbide is all around the most useful followed closely by the round carbide. The square is excellent for creating a flat surface (no surprise) while the round is excellent for coves (no surprise), smoothing gradual curves (once you get the technique right) and is okay for hollowing. I have a 2” radius cutter which cuts easier than the square since it has a smaller contact surface but the corners tend to dig in and catch unlike the square cutter which just cuts. When the radius cutter dulls I’m going to replace it with a square cutter. I also have a diamond shaped cutter which I use for cutting dovetails, small coves, starting grooves for burning, and squaring ends but you have to be careful of the side corners as they will cause catches. Overall I feel the durability of the carbide has been exaggerated a bit. Mine have dulled much quicker than I expected although each edge still lasts a couple months, but you will notice the dulling. Carbide degradation in cutting is much more subtle than carbon steel, much more gradual.

Summary: If you buy carbides, don’t feel you need to spend the extra for expensive brands. The Easy Wood Tools are nicely made but cut no better than the cheap carbides I bought off ebay. Actually I would recommend making your own and buying the cutter from Captain Eddie or ebay. At a minimum, I would recommend square carbide to anyone for roughing just because it can handle the abuse without dulling anytime soon. If you’re proficient in sharpening then there isn’t much reason to use carbide for anything else.

-- Rick M,

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2270 days

#3 posted 11-17-2013 06:18 PM


HSS can be sharpened easily. Everyone thinks they need slow speed grinders for HSS tools. You don’t. You have to get the steel to about 1000 degrees F to remove the temper. You aren’t doing that with a grinder. You can get HSS tools cherry red and not harm the temper. Just don’t quench them in water, it can cause cracking. You will have a problem with carbon steel on a high speed grinder.

Contrary to popluar belief, the carbide inserts aren’t disposable. You can sharpen them easily. Get a fine diamond stone and rub the flat part on the stone a few times. You can sharpen an insert 6 to 8 times before you need to replace it. The carbide tools do hold an edge longer and are easier to sharpen, but I don’t think they are as sharp as properly sharpened HSS tools. Due to the nature of carbide (it’s really dirty metal) you can’t get as clean of an edge as you can with HSS tools.


View JollyGreen67's profile


1676 posts in 2785 days

#4 posted 11-17-2013 06:49 PM

I have both, carbide and HSS. I use the carbide to “hog” turn, then finish with HSS. I don’t have those itty bitty carbide thingees. I got mine form Joe Rollins at – big honkers to do the hogging job.

-- When I was a kid I wanted to be older . . . . . this CRAP is not what I expected !

View pintodeluxe's profile


5701 posts in 2835 days

#5 posted 11-17-2013 07:10 PM

Well it does depend on what type of tool we are talking about, but carbide wins 90% of the time for me. The only place I don’t use carbide is when the cost is too high for the benefit (like bandsaws).

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View TheDane's profile


5438 posts in 3685 days

#6 posted 11-17-2013 07:45 PM

I use my carbide tools for roughing, then go to the HSS for shaping and finishing.

You can get good deals on carbide cutters from Eddie Castelin …

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

View Woodknack's profile


11763 posts in 2402 days

#7 posted 11-17-2013 10:45 PM

What I’d really like to have is a carbide thin parting tool. I’ve seen them made from saw blades but the depth of cut was limited. Be nice if you didn’t have to chop up a saw blade to make one.

-- Rick M,

View mileskimball's profile


97 posts in 2036 days

#8 posted 11-18-2013 12:40 AM

Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

I was referring to turning tools (posted in the turning forum, but should have specified).

It’s good to hear the carbide tips can be successfully resharpened. I also like the idea of using carbide to hog out the waste and then moving to HSS for the fine cuts.

I’ve spent the month’s turning budget on a new CBN grinding wheel, but I think next month’s purchase will be a carbide tool – sounds like a round cutter would be most versatile.


-- Miles

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