I thought I would enter this post because I’ve already offered my opinion in writing to a tool retailer on these turning tools this morning. He thanked me for the most comprehensive explanation he had ever heard or read. Oddly enough, I was at another tool retailer this afternoon and the sales person asked me to help explain carbide tools to one of their customers. I warned him that the tool might not be what the customer needed and as it turned out, it wasn’t. He was happy that I had steered the customer toward joining our guild and learning how to turn properly rather than buy a tool that wouldn’t solve his problem. The coincidence moved me to write the first post I’ve entered in a long time.
Tools such as Easy Wood and others offering a system of replaceable carbide cutters have entered the market and in my view are simply appealing to a niche market made up of folks who scrape rather than cut in their normal turning process (as in, they haven’t yet learned how to turn with a controlled cut). While there is a place for carbide cutters like Mike Hunter’s Hunter Tools, designed for end grain cutting, the rest are no more sophisticated (other than specifically designed carbide material) than a normal scarper without the advantage of being able to grind the specific shape that you may require.
If you are considering purchasing these tools ask yourself why you need them. If you are having trouble with your turning, look first to your technique rather than the tool. If you see a specific job that they alone can accomplish, then go for it. So far, gross wood removal in bowl turning is the only thing that I have seen them excel at. Personally, I can remove wood equally as fast using a traditional bowl gouge. Do not expect any increase in control from these tools.
Following is my detailed response to Mike from Lee Valley Tools:
I am a member of WoW (World of Woodturners) which is a worldwide on-line site. Folks post pics of their work and there’s a Q&A and comment section as per usual on such sites. The question has been asked a couple of times for comments and opinions on the carbide tools from anyone who had tried them. The universal response is pretty much “Bought one, tried it and it’s sat on the rack unused since”. The way I see it, the clear advantage of carbides is very little to no sharpening required and all agree. The downside is that they still do nothing but scrape, and at best, a shear scrape. The one exception is the Hunter tools that have a carbide cup (or similar), therefore has an extremely positive rake. This makes them excellent for end grain work, so box turners often use them when turning end grain boxes.
In general, as I say, they are used in a scraping mode, so therefore are not of any use when trying to teach cutting over scraping. Typically, anyone whose opinion was that they stayed on the shelf were all turners who used proper cutting technique, so had no need for the carbides. Remember that in scarping, it’s impossible to use the bevel of the tool as a guide, so you just can’t teach anyone how to make a controlled cut. In general, they are a tool (there are others like this) that treat a symptom rather than the problem. In this case, they appeal to turners who scrape rather than cut so offer a better mousetrap for scraping where the true solution to the problem is to learn how to turn properly in the first place. As scrapers, for an experienced turner, they fall short because you can’t burnish a hook on the tool so can’t be used as effectively in shear scraping (even a simple ground scarper cuts with the burr left from grinding). Typically we all have a variety of scrapers that we have ground to our own weird likings for various jobs. Tool racks often have a variety of odd and strange shaped scrapers. Carbides don’t lend themselves well at all to reshaping unless you have a diamond wheel and even then, in a production environment they are usually sharpened with jigs (I was an apprentice machinist for a while and spent my allotted time in the tool room). Reshaping carbides kind of defeats their original intention.
Other than that, I think they’re the cat’s ass.