Carbide Lathe Tools

Lathes are one of the most versatile tools for woodworking, metalworking, glassworking, and more. They have a rotational design that allows them to sand, drill, cut, and perform other precise movements while maintaining an object’s symmetry.

They can produce helices, solids of revolution, and other intricate ornamental designs, turning out objects that range from cue sticks, baseball bats, candlesticks, instruments, and other decorative or functional items.

But what really determines how effective your lathe is are the cutting tools that you use on it. From roughers and detailers, to hollowers and parters, lathe tools give your items the precise shape and texture that you’re looking for.

In this article, we’re going to take a close look at lathe tools – including those made out of carbide – and how you can increase their lifespan with cryogenic treatment.

What are carbide lathe tools?

Lathe tools include a wide variety of instruments, and they can be made out of dozens of different materials. The strongest are those made with tungsten carbide. Tungsten carbide is a compound of tungsten and carbon, which is twice as stiff and twice as dense as steel, making it the ideal cutting tool.

In most cases, the tools will be made out of high carbon steel, with a carbide tip. That’s because, despite its hardness, pure carbide is very brittle. When only the tip is made of carbide, you get the hard cutting edge of carbide attached to a less brittle tool. You can also use carbide inserts, which are replaceable components.

So, what are the most common types of tools you’ll encounter when using a lathe, and which ones are made out of carbide? Here’s a quick rundown of your options:

A facing tool is used to smooth down the surface of a material at a right angle while the material rotates on its axis. In this process, the cutting tool remains stationary and only the workpiece rotates. Facing tools are often made out of HSS (high-speed steel).

A boring bar is used to increase the size of a hole that you’ve already drilled. You can’t use it to make a new hole from scratch, but it can be used to widen existing ones.

A chamfering tool is what you use to produce a chamfer, which is a right-angled edge or cutaway that can be considered a kind of bevel.

Knurling tools are used to create knobs, diagonal or diamond patterns, and more. You can choose carbide knurling tools to get the superior hardness of carbide.

Parting tools are used to cut pieces off of your item, and are key to resizing objects so they all fit together when you’re done.

Channeling tools cut ridges or channels into your workpiece. Because these require a precise cutting edge, you can get channeling tools tipped with tungsten carbide.

Chisels, gouges, and scrapers are handheld tools that serve specific functions, such as smoothing the surface of a piece of wood or cutting grooves into it. These are often made with a wooden handle and a metal blade or carbide inserts.

Finally, a grinding wheel is a circular tool made with an abrasive material that can be attached to your lathe to perform several different woodworking tasks. Some grinding wheels are made with silicon carbide, a slightly different form of the material than the tungsten carbide used on carbide-tipped tools.

As you can see, lathe tools can be used to perform a wide variety of functions, so you’ll need a comprehensive set to get the most out of your lathe.

Not all tasks require carbide tools, but they can provide a harder cutting edge that HSS tools, and can last several times as long, saving you money on replacements.

How do you use them?

A lathe is a large, stationary machine that holds your workpiece in place on either end while it rotates on its axis. Most lathes are used for woodworking, but they can also be used for glassmaking, metalworking, and even pottery.

When working with wood, you’ll place the wooden workpiece into the lathe’s headstock and tailstock. Other parts include the faceplate, clamps, and collet, all of which work to hold the piece in place and rotate it to the precise specifications of your project.

The cutting depth and speed, as well as the feed of the lathe, all help to determine the result of the operation. Some of these operations include:

  • Turning, which determines the contour and form of the piece
  • Tapering, which trims the end of the material into a cone shape
  • Chamfering, which produces a bevel-like edge or cutaway
  • Threading, which produces screw-like threads in the workpiece
  • Drilling and boring, which produce holes in the workpiece
  • Knurling, which creates a knob or pattern on the workpiece

Some tools can be fixed to the lathe, while others are held in your hand while the object rotates. It’s important to take proper precautions while using a lathe, both to protect your hands from injury, and to avoid making deep or imprecise cuts in the workpiece.

After all, the wooden or metal object is spinning so quickly, and carbide lathe tools are so sharp, that it doesn’t take a lot of pressure to make a cut. Always position your tool properly to avoid making an accidental cut and damaging the workpiece.

Can you sharpen carbide lathe tools?

Carbide lathe tools are stronger than high-speed steel tools, and they can last up to 100 times longer. They may only need to be replaced once or twice a year, and you can also rotate the cutting edge to make them last longer.

That doesn’t mean carbide tools never wear down, though, and eventually you’ll notice a reduction in quality. Because they’re more expensive than steel tools, it’s often more cost-effective to sharpen them rather than to replace them alogether.

How do you know when it’s time to sharpen or replace your carbide tips or inserts? For one, you’ll hear a difference when you use it, because your tool will produce vibrations when you apply it to the workpiece. Additionally, you’ll have to press harder to make a cut than you would if your tools were new or freshly-sharpened.

Carbide tools can’t be sharpened with any old knife sharpener, though. They require a dimond stone, because it’s the only material hard enough to properly sharpen carbide. Be sure to have some lapping fluid on hand to use as a lubricant.

So in short, you can sharpen carbide lathe tools, but it takes a little more effort, and it won’t make them quite as sharp as fresh inserts. But considering the cost of carbide tools, it makes sense to get the most use out of them as possible. If you don’t have access to a diamond stone sharpener, you can hire a professional to do it.

Using cryogenic treatment to make carbide lathe tools

In some cases, you can use cryogenic treatment to increase the lifespan of your carbide lathe tools. This is a process that cools materials to cryogenic temperatures (−238 °F or below) and then heats them up again and returns them to room temperature.

A standard process can be completed in 24 to 48 hours, although the precise technique depends on the composition of the tools and their intended use. Most treatments rely on liquid nitrogen to produce the cryogenic temperatures needed to cool the tools.

Cryogenically-treated tools have been shown to last longer and resist wear better than tools that haven’t been treated. The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology reports that “wear resistance of tungsten carbide insert was increased by shallow and deep cryogenic treatments.”

How does it work exactly? In short, cryogenic treatment alters the underlying structure of the metal. In the case of steel compontents, the treatment process turns austenite into martensite, which is a stronger form of alloyed steel.

With tungsten carbide, the material appears to shrink as it cools and strengthen as it returns to room temperature, eliminating weaknesses in the finished product.

Initially, you may need to fine-tune the treatment in order to have the best results, but from then on you can simply make it a standard step in your procurement process, in the same way you might send out parts to be plated or coated.

Get the strongest, most resilient carbide composite tools

Cryogenic treatment isn’t a time-consuming process, but you do need to incorporate it into the planning stages when you order new tools. By having your parts cryogenically treated in advance, you’ll cut down on delays and replacement costs later.

At CTP Cryogenics, we have over 30 years of experience fine-tuning our techniques, and we use a proprietary method to provide the most effective treatment possible for carbide lathe tools. With multiple locations around the U.S., we also ensure prompt delivery of your treated tools so you can start using them as soon as possible.Your treated carbide tools will last longer, even if you use them frequently, resulting in less need for sharpening and replacement. Contact us today to get a free quote and learn more about how cryogenic processing can improve the quality of your tools!