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Tungsten carbide woodturning tools

Tungsten carbide is a very hard but brittle material used for cutting tips in metalworking. It is now used in woodturning too. I first made some tungsten carbide woodturning tools many years ago. They had a use, but I had to use them fairly forcefully to make them cut. I could not make them sharp enough to cut wood at the lathe, even though carbide has long been used for saw teeth. Recently there has been a lot of publicity given to tungsten carbide woodturning tools. They normally have replaceable carbide tips. They are supposedly formulated to be sharper. However, they are apparently less robust than other grades.

Several companies are now selling tipped tools, and users report very favourably. The tools are expensive, and without information about the carbide grade, you have to take the quality on trust. I would like to make some tipped tools with this woodturning grade carbide. I’ve bought some tips from various sources but the ones I have tried so far don’t keep their edge very long when cutting MDF. MDF is very abrasive and hard on sharp edges. A long-lasting edge is the main reason for using carbide. After a bit of use, the carbide edge feels rough to the touch, and like a sawblade when tried with a fingernail,

Yesterday, I bought a micrograin carbide tip from Robert Sorby. I fitted it to one of my homemade tools to try. First impressions are not good. It didn’t do well on MDF, which I turn a lot. Very likely it would work well on ordinary wood though. And at least the tip has a very generous thickness to allow sharpening with a diamond hone.

4 thoughts on “Tungsten carbide woodturning tools

  1. Terry

    I agree with you there, I’m very new to this woodturning skill set. And I just love it. I bought a set of Turnmaster from Sorby, looked lovely and did the job straight out of the box for a few days then went blunt, trying to bring the edge back to the cutting tool was much harder than they tell you in there video’s. conventual tools you take to the grinder and in few minutes your of again.
    Working in the construction industry for over 40 years I’ve gathered some fancy woods and one in particular, I’m convinced its like turning a chunk of steel with wood turning tools: blunt in no time., any hints would be much appreciated.

    Alan

    1. Alan, perhaps the best advice is not to use that timber! Wood is actually harder on the tools than steel because it so often contains grit and mineral deposits. Metal turning tools can stay sharp for longer than wood turning tools, though some steel may contain hard spots too. And tools for wood usually have a keener edge, which is easily damaged.
      But very hard wood usually responds well to scrapers. I would use a sharp high speed steel scraper, and resharpen as soon as it stops cutting well. With practice, sharpening HSS scrapers should take seconds, not minutes!
      Enjoy your turning, but don’t be in a rush to use exotic timbers, they are best saved for when you have some experience. Ordinary temperate hardwoods can be just as beautiful.

  2. Where can I buy four different Tungston carbide tip’s to make woodturning tools.
    Stan Thompson.

    1. Stan, do you really need them? Most carbide tools are just scrapers and don’t work better than high speed steel as far as I can tell. They keep sharp longer, but because they are harder to sharpen, when they get blunt they stay blunt longer too. And they do get blunt. The edges chip and can take a lot of work with a diamond hone to grind them back.

      I found suppliers on Amazon by searching for tungsten carbide inserts. Some dealers advertise them as suitable for woodturning. You can get discs, squares, triangles etc. I believe grades intended for machining aluminium are supposed to be good. You might be able to buy replacement tips for the branded tools, but they are much more expensive than the generic ones. I don’t know if they cut any better than the others. Eddie Castelin in the USA sells unbranded inserts and might be worth a try.

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