Make Your Own Carbide Lathe Tools

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About: My name is Troy. I'm a Mechatronics graduate studying Mechanical Engineering. I like to make things and spend time outdoors (especially SCUBA diving). I am a Community Manager for Instructables.

I purchased my lathe second-hand about a year ago. It came with a set of alright traditional tools, but nothing special. Since then, I've wanted to try replaceable carbide lathe tools. However, at a price of more than $100 per tool, I couldn't justify the expense.

After spending some time looking at these tools specifically, I decided it would be easy enough to make my own. With inserts found online and other locally sourced material, these tools came out to cost around $25 each. That's a savings I couldn't pass up for a custom tool. If you'd like to make your own carbide lathe tools, you can follow the steps below.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Materials:

Tools:

Step 2: Turn Handle

I had a nice piece of oak in my garage that I could cut in half for two tool handles. Turn the blank round and to whatever size you like. Once round, mount the spindle in a nova chuck. This will help with drilling out the end for the tang later. I replicated the thickness of my other lathe tools as they have a great feel to them. I made mine 14 in. long.

Step 3: Make Ferrule

Turn the end of the handle down just larger than the threads inside the brass cap. Using the tailstock to apply pressure, tighten the cap in place. Drill a small hole in the center of the cap so the live center can secure the spindle in place.

Step 4: File Ferrule

Turn the lathe on a slow speed and file the ferrule round. Be sure to cover up the motor and any speed control devices so the brass shavings don't ruin anything. Use sandpaper to shine up the ferrule.

Step 5: Drill Hole

Use a step drill to keep the hole centered. Drill to 7/16 in. Once through the brass, use a regular drill bit to extend the hole to 3 1/2 in. deep.

Step 6: Cut Threads

Using calipers and a punch, mark the location for the threads to go. This will be placed 1/4 in. from the end centered on the shaft. Use a drill press to ensure the the hole is accurate and square. Drill the hole for the threads with a #29 drill bit. I didn't have a tap handle, so I replaced the drill bit with the tap and cut the threads by hand (do not turn on the drill). Use cutting fluid to lubricate the tap.

Step 7: Shape Shaft

Using a bench grinder, remove a portion of the shaft so the carbide insert remains flush with the surface. Cut away a relief on the front of the shaft. This will ensure that the carbide insert is the only part of the tool that will contact projects on the lathe. Be mindful not to cut away into the threads coming from the bottom. Use a countersink bit to clean up the hole.

Step 8: Shape Tang

Mark 3 in. from the end of the shaft (opposite from the end with the threads). Mount the shaft into the nova chuck and cut at the 3 in. mark with a hacksaw. Cut until the diameter of the tang is 7/16 in.

Remove from the lathe and shape the tang to the same 7/16 in. in diameter with an angle grinder and strip sander. It's impossible to get this perfectly round (look at my picture) but don't stress about it because no one will see it. While working on the tang, periodically check the fit in the handle.

Step 9: Lacquer Handle

Cover the ferrule with painters tape and lacquer the handle while the lathe turns slowly.

Step 10: Remove From Lathe

Using the parting tool, part off the handle from the lathe. Once it's about as thin as shown above, I switch to a pull saw to fully remove from the lathe. Sand and lacquer the end of the handle.

Step 11: Polish

Using the buffing system I made a few months ago, polish the metal pieces to a mirror finish.

Step 12: Epoxy Tang

Mix up two part epoxy and slowly add it into the hole trying to keep it off th brass. Once there is sufficient epoxy in the hole, insert the tang slowly while rotating to ensure even coverage. Let the epoxy dry.

Step 13: Attach Carbide Inserts

Using a hex wrench attach the carbide inserts with included screw.

Step 14: Go Make Something!

I used my first tool to make the second and it works splendidly! I plan on making a third tool to hold the detailing cutter when I purchase more oak to match these two handles. I can't wait to try them on future turning projects.

What tools have you made to make your time in the shop more enjoyable?

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17 Discussions

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Bruceputman

5 months ago

Here are a few other photos from when I made the tools.. they work great. I got the cutters for $1.05 ea, so my total cost was minimal.. check out my instructable..

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Yonatan24Bruceputman

Reply 5 months ago

Where did you get them for so cheap?! Been searching forever!

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BruceputmanYonatan24

Reply 5 months ago

I did the same thing. Purchased some from AZ Carbide and they sent a case. I found the same cutters through Alibaba ( eBay of China) ordered 100 and sold 1/2 to a friend..

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Yonatan24Bruceputman

Reply 5 months ago

Do you by any chance have a link to the listing/square cutters you bought? I can't stand having to sift through Alibaba's minimum 10KG order and innability to sort by price! Thanks!

I have a bunch of ideas for projects/Instructables with them and need only a few, not a 10-pack which is only what I can find on eBay... :)

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Yonatan24Yonatan24

Reply 5 months ago

Oh, I see now you wrote $4.95 each. So maybe the 10-pack I saw for $20 isn't that bad. Maybe it costs less because it's Chinese carbide...

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BruceputmanYonatan24

Reply 5 months ago

I sold for $4.95 ea .. You would have to buy 100 min on Alibaba.. The larger sizes and flat edges are less expensive than the smaller cutters with a 2 in rad. like Pen State sales for $9.95 ea. I’m a Mechanical Engineer and Carbide with the correct amount of Cobolt is what you look for.. A lot of the Carbide on eBay is from China, and all that I use is from China and they work great.. Again I did a lot of research before I bought the cutters assuring they were selling product with the correct properties. Too hard and they are brittle and break when cutting, to soft and they dull quickly.. Cobolt at the correct amount is key as it bonds the metal together.

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BruceputmanYonatan24

Reply 5 months ago

I’ve turned about 100 pens including ebony, ironwood, maple etc.. and I used 3 cutters.. I am saving them and will sharpen them once I get 10 that need to be sharpened.. I also sold 30 cutters on eBay for $4.95 each so have 100 that we’re paid for.

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jeanniel1

5 months ago

Nice work!

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Chuck666

5 months ago

This is very nice work and at a substantial savings over purchasing the entire tool. Did you consider using a copper tubing cap? It’s already round and much less expensive. Still considering how much you’ve saved why not settle for a great job as is?

To quickly address the value of these “carbide “ cutters I’d add they seem to last forever, produce a clean finish, work quickly, and “resharpen” with a rotating of the cutter edge.

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tomatoskinsChuck666

Reply 5 months ago

I did think of using a copper tube, however I like the look of brass better. I felt this made for a much brighter looking tool at only a few more dollars. Personal preference.

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Kenny Garrison

5 months ago

Not only can the inserts be rotated, but they can be resharpened in less than a minute utilizing your finger to rub the upper surface of the insert over a flat diamond sharpening card such as "Trend", 600 or 1000 grit. Treat the card with sharpening fluid prior to sharpening for best results. Do not attempt to sharpen the edges of the cutters.

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BardP

5 months ago

Quick and dirty way of making something similar:
(The result will of course not be as nice as this, but you get a working tool much faster.)

- Buy a cheap set of lathe tools with decent handles. Amazon have some that cost less than $20 for an 8-pack, shipping included. Or use some old useless tools you already have.
- Remove the temper if necessary. Cheap tools may be untempered already.
- Grind away the cutting edge and whatever other metal you want to remove.
- Drill and thread a hole.
- Mount the carbide bit.

Done!

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ericsnis

5 months ago

I like this idea of making my own lathe tool. These are hideously expensive at the woodworker stores and I'm sure I could make a fairly good quality one. I just wish I had a wood lathe instead of driving across town to borrow someone's machine.

I think you could also polish up and lacquer the brass if you get it off of the handle.

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duncanh

5 months ago

If you want to save time - there's no need to make the tang round. Make the diameter of the hole slightly less than diagonal distance of the bar and you can simply hammer it into place.
Also, the hole in the ferrule doesn't need to match the bar, and I don't usually bother rounding off the flats on the brass.

I've never been sure why thse tools have the recess and the end where you seat the carbide tip. On the few I've made I just placed the on top and they worked just fine. One advantage of this is that you don't need to undo the screw quite a much when you want to rotate the square cutter.

Nice tools though

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gm280

6 months ago

I really like this project. And since I have both a metal and wood lathe, this is easily doable for me. Thanks for the info and seeing your project. I like such things. I do have one question. How long do the carbine cutters seem to last? I realize you can turn them and use all sides, but how long do you think they will cut before needing replaced. Thanks again for this project.

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tomatoskinsgm280

Reply 6 months ago

A metal lathe would have made this project 100x easier! :) I honestly don't know how long they last from experience. I finished the first tool on Monday and the second tool yesterday. However, looking at Easy Wood Tools FAQ page they say that you should expect about 20 hours of cutting per insert.

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gm280tomatoskins

Reply 6 months ago

Okay, thanks for that info. 20 hours is longer then one would think. As for the metal lathe, yea, having both makes everything pretty much easier to do.