Lathe tools, is carbide worth it?

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Forum topic by JoeinGa posted 11-19-2014 09:58 PM 4759 views 1 time favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7740 posts in 2245 days

11-19-2014 09:58 PM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe turning sharpening question carbide tools

Having recently got my first lathe, I bought a set of Freud tools that I found on E-bay. Not the most expensive set in the world but I figured it would give me a good start while I decided if I really wanted to turn or not.

Now that I’ve done a couple bowls I think I’m really gonna like this. I see where some guys spend a small fortune on carbide tools and some guys use an old screwdriver they’ve ground an edge into. I realize that keeping a SHARP EDGE is the best trick to cutting and I just picked up a Harbor Freight variable speed grinder so I can learn how to keep my tools sharp without burning the edges off.

But my basic question is… will carbide tools help make me a “better” turner?

Is it easier to get a smooth turning with the carbide?
Does the carbide stay sharp longer, or do you even need to sharpen the carbides?

I see prices all over the road, from $20 up to several HUNDRED for one tool. I also see where you can buy just the carbide tips and make your own holders for them. Is it really worth the price to invest in a couple carbide tools?

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

13 replies so far

View Woodknack's profile


12465 posts in 2618 days

#1 posted 11-19-2014 10:05 PM

Are they worth it?
If you make your own, yes. Not worth it if you buy them except maybe something like the Hunter Osprey.

will carbide tools help make me a “better” turner?

Is it easier to get a smooth turning with the carbide?

Does the carbide stay sharp longer

do you even need to sharpen the carbides?

The best use of carbide is as a rougher because they will remove even hard woods in a hurry without needing to stop and sharpen but they leave a rougher surface than traditional tools so you’ll either need to finish with traditionals or use a lot of sandpaper.

-- Rick M,

View LeeMills's profile


629 posts in 1539 days

#2 posted 11-19-2014 10:14 PM

I agree with Rick but would add for:
”will carbide tools help make me a “better” turner?

Practice, Practice, Practice and study will make you a better turner.

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

View Sawdust2012's profile


151 posts in 1951 days

#3 posted 11-19-2014 10:18 PM

I have some of the Easy Wood Tools. They will make it easaier to turn some basic stuff, and are more forgiving than, for example, a bowl gouge. Catches with a carbide tool are memorable, catches with a bowl gouge or a skew chisel will bring you to religion. I have started adding some of the Crown PM tools to the arsenal, and have come to learn that there is no substitute for high quality steel turning tools. They require skill, but will open up new worlds for you. It is actually far easier to get a smooth surface with a good sharp gouge than a carbide tool. Carbide tools are typically scrapers and cause a lot of tear out, which leads to long afternoons holding sandpaper and cussing friction.

View TheDane's profile


5575 posts in 3901 days

#4 posted 11-19-2014 11:20 PM

... I just picked up a Harbor Freight variable speed grinder so I can learn how to keep my tools sharp without burning the edges off.

Didn’t know Harbor Freight had such a beast. What kind of wheels does it have? If they are not friable wheels then they probably aren’t appropriate for sharpening high speed steel tools.

As Rick and Sawdust pointed out, carbides are (with a few exceptions) scrapers, and lead to a lot of sanding.

Each to his own … as for me, I have two carbide tools that I use for hogging off wood … they spend most of the time in a drawer. I like using HSS tools, and feel that the quality of the work I do has improved tremendously since I stopped looking for quick fixes and shortcuts and learned how to sharpen my tools.

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

View JoeinGa's profile


7740 posts in 2245 days

#5 posted 11-20-2014 12:41 AM

Gerry, this is the HF grinder I got. It’s only a 3” wheel, but what I liked about it is that you can vary the speed up to 10,000 rpms. I’ll probably throw out the flex shaft and will try to find a finer grit stone to replace the “polishing wheel”. The reviews weren’t too awfully bad on it.!

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

View TheDane's profile


5575 posts in 3901 days

#6 posted 11-20-2014 12:55 AM

Wow … a 3” wheel is going to produce quite a hollow grind, which is going to make it hard to ride the bevel.

Some people use grinders with 6” friable wheels, others use low speed wet-grinders (e.g. Tormek), but most use 8” friable wheels on 1/2 hp or more slow speed grinders. Never heard of anybody using a grinder like this on turning tools.

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

View jgt1942's profile


207 posts in 2127 days

#7 posted 11-20-2014 01:29 AM

Henry Taylor Woodturning tools are a great choice and will not cost you a ton of money. Sorby is another great tool. There are better but then the price really goes up. I highly suggest staying away from HF too often you get what you pay for, e.g. a low grade tool. Lately I’ve been giving very serious consideration to D-way Tools (see I suggest that you join a local woodturning club and often you can pick up really good deals on tools. Recently I picked up two tools, one was FREE and the other cost me $2.50. Both were HSS tools (High Speed Steel). BTW if the tool is not HSS or better I suggest that you stay away from it.

For your grinder I suggest starting with a slow speed grinder with 8” wheels. I got mine Rikon Slow Speed Grinder from Woodcraft on sale for about $100 (at least I think this was the price). I then made the plunge and purchased a set of CBN wheels from This was a purchase through the local woodturners club thus we got a deal.

The next jump is to consider if you want a sharpening jig. Some people are skilled enough to avoid using such. My wood turning instructor (BTW I’m an old fart and just taking classes for fun) feels that they are a waste of money but she is VERY skilled and has pieces in the Smithsonian. When she sharpens a tool (and this is VERY often when she is turning) it looks like it was done with a jig. In that my skills are nowhere near her skills I’m considering the Oneway Wolverine Grinding Jig $92,
BTW I’m SUPER pleased with the CBN wheels!

However once you start down this road there are other tools that you will need with it.
Wolverine Vari-Grind Attachment $58
To ensure you got the angles correct you might want a set of Raptor Set Up Tool – $8.25 each (each tool is a different angle and so noted by the number on the tool)
Possible discount coupon at

Now that I am about to break the piggy bank I added all this plus a lot of other tools to my Christmas list. Hopefully Santa will be super nice to me. Currently I’m trying to sharpen my tools by hand and sorta doing a good job. When I can I go by my friend’s house where he has the above jig. It really does produce a nice edge.

Speaking of edge, you want to remove as little as possible from your tools. As you suggest they can get expensive.

As you gain more experience you will start to look at specialized tools some of which you can make. Also it helps to have a friend with a metal lathe and he can help you make some special tools.

Also you will quickly learn that it is a must to have a sharp edge thus keep the grinder close to the lathe. Last week I was turning some Iron wood and the edge on the tool would last about 15 seconds. I spent more time on the grinder than the wood. Because Iron wood is soooooo hard it takes a LONG time to turn it. At this time I have only turned the outside but it looks super!

BTW nice job on your bowls but I can see in the image where you turned the inside your tool was not sharp or at least that what it looks like.

For sanding I highly suggest using the Mirka Autonet or Abranet disk. See my review at

-- JohnT

View doubleDD's profile


8042 posts in 2281 days

#8 posted 11-20-2014 02:52 AM

Pretty much agree with others. There are times for some reason the carbide will give me better results, but for the most part they are used for roughing off a lot of material, inside or out. As Rick said make one for yourself and test it. You can probably make one for $10.00 – 15.00. That way not much invested. I made quite a few.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View Woodknack's profile


12465 posts in 2618 days

#9 posted 11-20-2014 03:31 AM

Yeah I made two carbide tools and they cost me less than $10 each including the blades and perform as well or better than my Easy Wood Tools which cost a whole lot more.

-- Rick M,

View Carl W Richardson's profile

Carl W Richardson

79 posts in 2733 days

#10 posted 11-20-2014 04:34 AM

I have a few nice high speed steel gouges (expensive), some inexpensive tools and even a few old screwdrivers ground to make a specific groove or line on something I’m turning. Because I work at Woodcraft, I’ve had the opportunity to take some carbide tools home for the weekend to try out and I didn’t like them… didn’t feel right in my hands or the way they kissed the wood.. They do stay sharp for a very long time and with a little touch-up with a diamond stone, they last even longer.

Turning will make you an expert sharpener.. Cheap tools have to be sharpened more often and expensive tools will last longer between sharpening but you will be sharpening almost every time you turn on your lathe. Hardwoods will require more sharpening and some exotics with internal silica will make your sharp chisel dull in a few minutes..

I’ve seen beautiful pieces turned by someone with reground old screwdrivers and very cheap tools and some simply atrocious pieces that have been turned with hundreds of dollars worth of very expensive tools. The ONLY way to become a good turner is “practice, practice, practice” until you discover that the wood will begin talking to you to tell you what it has hidden inside.

Hang in there Joe. Turning will make you swear, throw things and slam the door of your shop as you leave in frustration but when the gods are smiling upon you and the chunk of wood has released it’s hold on the beauty hidden within, you display your artwork with pride knowing that you will do better next time….

-- Carl W Richardson, Tennessee Woodworker

View JoeinGa's profile


7740 posts in 2245 days

#11 posted 11-20-2014 01:34 PM

Thanks for all the tip and tricks guys. I’m sure I’ll get better with time. I have a few logs that a friend gave me, some gum and some other piece we aren’t sure of what it is that I’ll start playing with soon. Probably wont get much shop time today, gotta take Bonnie to the dialysis doctor for her monthly check-in.

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

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1434 posts in 1968 days

#12 posted 11-20-2014 02:32 PM

I disagree with those saying that you can’t get a smooth surface with carbide. I believe it depends on the conditions of the wood whether it’s going to be smooth or not.
I’ve turned many pieces of dry Mesquite with EWT with very little sanding required. Then, just yesterday, I turned green Chilean Mesquite with the EWT’s, and had what looked like 2” long hair growing from the wood. I got a HSS gouge and cleaned it up, but if the wood was dry, it would have come out smooth.
Too much tool overhang will cause chatter, which will leave tool marks on the wood. Carbide tool marks seem to be a little harder to remove than marks from HSS….......... You need to practice tool control no matter the tool you are using….. Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View dok's profile


2 posts in 1522 days

#13 posted 11-20-2014 06:15 PM

Joe as others have said carbide is not a fix all nor will it make you better. I do use a few carbide tools, mostly Harrison tools and some handles from Thompson as well as one of his fingernail gouges. All of them I like a lot! I also have a big selection of regular gouges, chisels, parting tools and many more and use them all. I believe the best use for carbide is in roughing out a piece. For final turning I use mostly regular tools. Best part is practice, practice, practice and have Fun with it! If you get a chance to take some classes with a local AAW chapter or a particular turner DO IT! The knowledge and experience will help you a lot.

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