Life's too short for cheap lathe tools

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Forum topic by Marcus posted 12-13-2013 11:30 AM 1564 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1149 posts in 1439 days

12-13-2013 11:30 AM

After sitting in storage for a while , I finally took a class on the lathe and got the confidence to get it out and start working. It’s definitely a different branch to the family woodworking family tree, but immensely fun and rewarding. Anyways, after talking with a few people locally here and looking at online reviews, I picked up the harbor freight set of lathe tools. These were supposedly one of those diamond in the rough tools there, and of course the price was right. I took them home, touched them up on the grinder and away I went.

I kept up this way for about a month, and then I decided it was time for a bowl gouge. I picked up a sorby 3/8”, sharpened and away I went. I was instantly impressed with how well it cut. After a whirl, I noticed it was still cutting this well and realized it was still sharp. I wondered if I was just noticing the difference between a bowl gouge and a spindle gouge or if it was really the steel.

A week or so later, I went back and picked up a 3/8” spindle gouge, touched it up, and started cutting. Same thing, great cutting from moment one and it stays sharp considerably longer. I definitely wish I would have have out the $45 I spent at HF on a quality tool. The only tool i still reluctantly use from the set is the parting tool, and that is just until I can buy a nicer one. It’s painful how quick it dulls especially with how little it gets used.

6 replies so far

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1170 posts in 1133 days

#1 posted 12-13-2013 12:30 PM

I once had a cheap, chinece set as well. They looked ok’ish but the steel was super soft and they dulled quickly. Ended up re-hardening them (actualy just in the wood stove as a quick test, 10 min holding time between 2 logs with medium air, water quenched and then anealed in the oven) and that made them so much better! Ended up making new handles for the whole lot.

Might save that parting tool of yours from endning in the bin at least…

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View Wildwood's profile


1850 posts in 1554 days

#2 posted 12-13-2013 09:00 PM

If go to bottom of the chart in link will see HF HSS tools considered okay. Same with Penn State if buy from them and not off E-bay. Have no problem recommending HF or PSI tools if looking for inexpensive tools. No, not best tools around, but not bad for someone learning to turn & sharpen tools.

If look at that chart will see all but two sellers tools made in China. Hamlet 2060 tool should not be included when comparing HSS tools.
Why do we not see HSS tools made by Ashley Iles, Crown, Hamlet, Henry Taylor, and P&N listed? Only Ashley Isles & Sorby claim their tool made in Sheffield England.

If go to Sheffield England today will find many steel brokers or companies that sell tool steel. Many of the foundries there have shut down. Foundries remaining make exotic steels using cryogenic (KRYO) or powder metal (PM) process.

Shopt the sales, many vendors offer discounts if buy more than one tool!

-- Bill

View Marcus's profile


1149 posts in 1439 days

#3 posted 12-14-2013 12:30 AM

Great article bill, thank you. Very interesting to see the difference between the two Benjamin best tools.

View TheDane's profile


4934 posts in 3082 days

#4 posted 12-14-2013 01:20 AM

I have actually been pretty happy with the ‘Benjamin’s Best’ tools from PSI. As wildwood points out, they are not top-of-the-line tools, but they are serviceable and will do a good job once you learn how to sharpen.

As need arises, I am replacing worn out tools with the Hamlet line from Craft Supplies USA

I just took delivery of a 3/8” Hamlet spindle gouge (Part Part# 247-0006) this past Monday, and it is stamped ’Made in England U.K.’ It may not be Sheffield steel, but at least it is not rice-a-roni, and CS lists it as M2 steel. In my (limited) experience with it, it seems to hold an edge better than the PSI Benjamin’s Best tools.

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

View Wildwood's profile


1850 posts in 1554 days

#5 posted 12-14-2013 05:03 PM

Gerry, Sheffield at one time just an industrial city with many foundries in England that made just about every type steel known. Many foundries have closed their doors, those remaining produce mostly exotic steels for various industries. Many of those steel companies still around have become steel brokers (importers).

Years ago, many flee market quality tool sets claimed Sheffield English heritage. Today some better not yet HSS, and HSS tools claimed that same heritage. Guess where they are made?

My ¼” Hamlet skew from Packard Woodworks is stenciled not stamped, have other HT with stenciled info as well as stamped HSS & manufacturer. At one time stamping a tool HSS may have been a requirement not sure anymore I have a mix.

Yes, tool steel is important, no matter what manufacturers & vendors claim about time between sharpening; dull tools need re-sharpening. In addition, wood species and grain orientation can hinder smooth cuts too!

-- Bill

View Wildwood's profile


1850 posts in 1554 days

#6 posted 12-14-2013 05:04 PM

Gerry Glaser now deceased, introduced HSS turning tools in mid 1960’’s. Later exotic steels and shot filled tool handles. When first got into woodturning most vendors carried his turning tools. Could buy his famous screw chuck and Bob Stockdale spindle gouge for under $100. He sold the company and now known as Glaser-Hitec.

Not all exotic steel tools have been successful. Problems with sharpening and wood surface left by some steels not so good.

While still think HSS tools best op for most turning we do. Worth a look at some of the new vendors and their web sites. Besides sticker shock, some site offer a lot of information on turning once get past chest thumbing.

SB tools need to click on catalog besides lots of self promotion lot of good information. Stuart produced some excellent videos at this site too click on free educational videos.

I bought an handled bowl gouge from him, and price including shipping not bad.

D-Way Tools, want one of his CBN wheels for sharpening, need a new grinder his wheels will not fit on my grinder. Lots of nice info at his sight.

This site is back up now.

-- Bill

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