11 Easy Tips on How to Make Carbide Tip Wood Turning Tools

Your Guide to Making Your Own Set of Carbide Lathe Tools Plus Where to Find the Inserts Dirt Cheap

This is 11 Easy Tips on How to Make Carbide Tip Wood Turning Tools. Carbide lathe tools are awesome, but they can be really expensive. Since you already have a lathe, here is how you can make them yourself for a lot less money. Enjoy.

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Carbide Tip Tools and Wood Turning

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-ToolsOnce upon a time, carbide tools were only for turning metal. The very dense cutter tips were important, because cutting and shaping metal is not as easy as wood. On metal lathes, all the tools are carbide, and they work really well.

Then, one faithful day, someone decided to try their carbide tools on their wood lathe. All of a sudden, they noticed that the tools worked really well on wood too. Even better in some cases, and easier too.

Since carbide is meant to cut metal, it barely notices when you cut wood. It’s like a hot knife through butter, and you as the wood turner feel like a super hero.

You can have that feeling all the time without spending a ton of money on brand name carbide tipped wood turning tools from a major company. Instead, since you already have the tools you need to make them, just do it yourself.

You will be glad you did, and between the video and the tips, you will know everything you need to get started at the end of this post.

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See Also: 8 Awesome Reasons to Use a Lathe to Make Wooden Rings

Breaking Down the Carbide Tool Into Parts

The carbide lathe tool is a very simple wood turning tool. It is essentially made of three major parts. The handle, the steel bar, and the carbide tip. All of three function together to make the tool work, and it really does work amazingly well.

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The carbide tip is where all the action happens. It’s the cutting surface, and how you shape your piece of wood on the lathe. The metal bar is the support system, and it needs to be strong to hold the carbide tip where it needs to be.

You can get the Half Inch Steel Bar Here on Amazon.

Finally, the handle is what gives you control. The bar steel sinks deep into the handle, and you control the tool using leverage over the tool rest. This is how the tool works, and it’s not very different from a traditional tool until you look at the advantages.

See Also: How to Stop Blowout When Drilling Rings on the Lathe

The Advantages of Carbide Lathe Tools

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-Tools-carbide-insert-toolsThe advantage of carbide tools is the time, labor, and investment in sharpening. So many woodworkers end up quitting on the lathe because they seem to get worse in the first several days instead of better.

This is typically because they tools dull, and they just don’t know it.

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Traditional wood turning tools need to be sharpened often to work well. As time goes by, and the tool becomes duller, it starts to work poorly. Carbide is different though, because it never requires sharpening.

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-Tools-square-and-round-toolWhen your insert loses it’s bite, you simply loosen the screw holding it in place, and turn it slightly. This exposes a new section of carbide, and you are back to day one.

For most cutters, you can do this a couple to a few times before you have to replace them.

Even so, most replacements are about $10-$25, and they do last a long time. This means less sharpening, and less money spent on buying jigs and a grinding wheel to sharpen traditional lathe tools.

See Also: 16 Great Tips for Setting Up a Workshop in the Garage

The Secret to Finding Square Carbide Replacement Inserts

The thing that will really make you excited about making a carbide lathe tool is when you find out you can buy inserts for really cheap. In marketing, what you use something for effects the price. This works for inserts as well.

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These are also refereed to as a carbide cutter or carbide insert.

When you buy a lathe tool inert, it’s about $20-$30. When you buy an insert for a helical cutter head in a planer or jointer, you can get ten of them for about that same price. This is a huge savings, and you will end up using them over the years.

Using a half inch bar, you can use these 15mm cutters, which come in a set, and they will last you a very long time.

You can get square carbide tips, or square with a slight radius. Both of these are your daily duty tips, and they will be the ones that you use the most often.

See Also: How to Pick the Right Beginner Woodworking Project

Round and Detail Tips from Amazon

The round cutter heads as well as the diamond shape cutter heads are also available on Amazon. These are sold in sets similar to the square and the radius square. You can get a whole set for about the same as two from the name brand.

This is a very economical way of getting into making these tools. If you plan on using them for a long time, you might as well get the kits. If you are just seeing if you like them, then you can get the same cutter heads from the name brand.

Buy one at a time, which will be less money than buying two whole sets by about half. You do get substantially less cutters, but if you want to dip a toe in the water and save a little cash, then this is the way to do it.

Both images take you to Amazon, and you can see more details about each of the cutter heads, as well as pricing and such. They are a steal for the amount you get, and you will use them all the time.

See Also: How to Make a Wood and Copper Ring from a Pipe Fitting

Sourcing Bar Stock Steel

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-Tools-homemade-toolThe next thing you need is bar steel. For most of the cutter heads, you need half inch square bar steel.

The length will depend on the tool you are making, but for a good reference you should sink at least the same length of steel into the handle as you leave exposed.

There are a lot of local places that can sell mild steel in the dimensions you need. The easiest is to search for a local metal shop. Once you find a place, stop in and see what you can get a length of bar steel for. If you are making several tools, buy one bar that is big enough to do them all.

An alternative is buying on Amazon, which is what I did. My bar came wrapped in cardboard a few days later, and it was perfect. You can find a bar online for a low price, just watch the shipping cost because it’s a long item.

If the shipping is too high, it may be better to buy it locally.

See Also: 13 Myths About Getting Into Woodworking

Making a Handle from Standard Lumber

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-Tools-turned-handleNext, you need to make a handle blank. The nice thing is you can make it from standard 4/4 thickness boards.

Once you have the bar for a reference, you can glue up a handle blank that is perfect for your tool.

The easiest way to do this is to use a router and a flute bit. Cut a couple pieces of 4/4 wood that are an inch and a half wide, and as long as your handle needs to be plus a few inches. The extra padding is for the lathe to grab, and for waste.

Run the flute down the centers of both pieces, and make a channel that the metal bar can fit inside. When you route the pieces, go through one end, but stop before exiting the other end. This will be where the end of the bar is hidden, and you don’t want that popping out of the handle.

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Test the fit, and when your handle pieces are ready, glue them together. Use the bar inside the handle for a guide, and then remove it before the glue sets. This will ensure that the bar can fit back inside when it’s time to attach them.

See Also: 20 Easy DIY Woodworking Projects With Tutorials

Attaching the Tips to the Bar Steel

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-Tools-square-cutter-headIt’s important that the carbide tips are attached to the bar steel really well. There is a lot of force happening at the tip of your lathe tool.

The downward force is extreme in some cases, especially when you are cutting a lot of material.

The process of attaching your tips is not super difficult to do thankfully, and all you need is a drill and tap. Center your insert over the end of the steel, leaving the cutting edges overhanging. Then, mark and drill a center hole, and tap the hole for the screw.

You can choose to sink the insert into the steel a little at this point and grind or file a flat spot and a bevel behind the insert. You do not need to do all of that however, and you can simply tighten the screw and align the insert square to the end of the bar.

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-Tools-round-and-square-cutter-headsNo matter how you do it, make sure that the edges of the cutter that are angled are sticking out past the edges of the bar.

This will give you clearance, and the bar will not get in the way when you are cutting.

The way you have to shape the bar tip will be a little different depending on the cutter you are working with. The square is pretty easy because the bar is square. The round will need to be rounded off, and the pointed detail tool will need a similar shape at the end of the bar.

See Also: 9 Great Reasons to use a Metal Core in Your Wooden Rings

Choosing the Right Size

Unless you make really small things, then you should just make the full size tools. You can make a few sets if you want, and make smaller tools. That’s ok. However, you can save a lot of fuss if you make a little of everything and just make the full size tools.

When you buy your inserts, look for the inserts on the full size carbide tools, and buy replacements for those. There are a few sizes out there, and you will immediately see which are the big ones and which are the small.

The small inserts are really small, but again if that’s what you need, then by all means get a thinner bar and make your perfect set of tools. Finally, the bar length should be as long as you think you will need too.

Don’t make this tool and give yourself a three inch bar. Make a nice long bar so you can reach into vessels if you need to in the future. Mine are over 8” of exposed steel with the same length buried inside the handle for strength.

This extra long steel shaft makes the tool more flexible. You can do really close up work like pen making, or you can do really far away work like reaching inside a goblet and hollowing out the inside. Small tools will only do the small work.

See Also: The Myth that You Need Lots of Tools to Get Started in Woodworking

Turning the Handle With Your Bar and Insert

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-Tools-square-and-round-toolHere is probably the coolest part of this whole project. Once you are done making the bar and attaching the insert, you get to use your new tool right away.

Not only that, but you get to use it to help finish the tool by making the handle.

Since you made a longer bar after reading the last tip, you have about a 16 inch overall length piece of steel with a Carbide tip at the end. You essentially have a skinny handle lathe tool. When you mount your handle blank on the lathe, just use your new carbide tool to turn it.

The handle is easy to turn as well. Just chuck one end of your glued up handle blank, and then use the live center to center the other end. Turn the shape, and then turn a tenon at the top for where the brass ferrule will go.

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Once you have the entire thing turned, you can insert the bar, and glue on the ferrule, and you will have a fully formed tool. A little work on the section that was inside the chuck, and you are ready for a finish.

See Also: 29 Ways to Maximize Your Woodworking Shop Layout

The Best Adhesive For Your Handle and Bar

Since you are gluing metal to wood, the best thing you can possibly use for this application is two part epoxy. This is a great tool, and it will be a longtime companion on your lathe. Trust it to nothing less than a strong, brand name two part epoxy.

Before you join your pieces, you need to prep the bar a little. First, make sure there is no grease on the steel. This happens when they make and ship steel, and you need to rag it all off before adding the epoxy.

After that, sand the part of the shaft that will be inside the wood handle with 100 or 80 grit sandpaper. Make a lot of scratches. This is so the epoxy has something to bite into when it hardens and bonds the pieces together.

Do a dry run first. It’s easier to solve a fit problem before your pieces are covered in epoxy. Especially epoxy that will be hardening in five minutes or less. Make sure your fit is good, and if it is, you can add epoxy and secure the joint.

See Also: Woodworking Tips Cards – Two Part Epoxy

Adding a Nice Ferrule at the Joint

11-Easy-Tips-on-How-to-Make-Carbide-Tip-Wood-Turning-Tools-making-a-ferrule-from-a-copper-pipe-fittingA mark of a well made tool with a wooden handle and a metal blade is a nice ferrule. On the carbide lathe tool, the ferrule is typically made of a couple inch long tube that is about 3/4 inch in diameter.

The perfect piece for this job is a 3/4 inch copper pipe fitting.

The specific fitting is meant to join two pieces of pipe and make one long piece. You can get these from the hardware store for less than a dollar, and the copper contrasts nicely with the steel.

Test fit your copper ferrule on your tenon, and make any adjustments that are necessary to ensure a good fit. Scratch up the inside of the copper pipe fitting with 100 or 80 grit paper, and use more epoxy to secure the piece in place.

Wipe off any excess immediately, and clean the surrounding area. Then, allow the epoxy to fully cure.

See Also: 19 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Woodworking

Finishing the Handles by Hand

Now your tool is made, and it just needs a finish. Sand the handle down to 220 grit, and make sure that you have addressed any bad scratches or dents. When you are happy with the look, it’s tine for a finish.

The easiest finish for your carbide lathe tool is a hand applied oil. Finishes like this are easy to apply, easy to repair, and have a nice matte look which is great for tools. Select an oil you like, and follow the directions when you apply it.

Allow the tool a full rest to cure, and then you are ready to use it. Once you make one of these tools, you will want to make the whole set. It’s a great project, and you end up with an expensive tool for a very small investment.

See Also: How to Buff Wood to a High Sheen

How to Make a Carbide Tip Lathe Tool Video

This is my video showing my homemade carbide tip lathe tools. They were a lot of fun to make, and they were a huge cost savings over buying new. I also got to produce another awesome woodworking video and project tutorial, so it was a triple win.

The video is less than 10 minutes long, and you can see a lot of detail on how the tool is built, as well as come up with more ideas on how to make your own. 

Your Homework

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Now that you know how to make a carbide tip turning tool, get out there and make one.

Well, order that you need first and then get out there and make it. Order your cutters, and order your steel first.

You will need both of these to make the rest of your decisions. While you are waiting for those to arrive, start planning your sizes, and your handle shapes. Look at lathe handles online, and find the handle shape that speaks to you.


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Start making some templates, and go shopping for some really nice looking handle wood.

Any hard piece of wood will work, and you have a lot of great options. You are going to have this tool for a long time. Make each carbide wood turning tool well, and they will serve you well. Happy building.

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