What Is Better, Carbide or Steel Router Bits?
Steel router bits are cheaper, but that is their only advantage.
Carbide-tipped router bits maintain a sharper cutting edge far longer than steel; produce a better finish when cutting; and provide cleaner and smoother cuts.
They also withstand very high temperatures better than steel bits, allowing for faster machining.
You can walk into any major home improvement store and see an endless choice of tools, hardware and accessories.
With each, there can be a large price gap between the most affordable to the most expensive.
For the most part that translates to steel router bits vs. carbide tipped bits. Steel and carbide are very different compounds developed in different ways. I won’t get into the technical details.
In one sentence I can tell you the advantage of steel: Steel bits are cheaper, so much cheaper that you can purchase multiple types of steel bits for the price of one carbide tipped bit.
Other than that, there is no real advantage.
In fact, because of the much shorter life span of a steel bit, you actually pay more, in the long run, when purchasing replacements.
That being said, I think it is important to discuss why spending a little extra can not only extend the life of the bit, but also enable you to work more precisely, safely, and efficiently. When you can work in this way, it makes your working experience that much more enjoyable.
What is "Carbide"?
For those who are not familiar, let's define what carbide is. "Carbide" is short for Tungsten Carbide; it is a chemical compound which contains equal parts of tungsten and carbon atoms.
Its basic form is a grey powder, and it can be pressed and formed into unlimited shapes. Carbide is much denser than both steel and titanium.
Its finished product is often polished and finished with even harder abrasives such as diamonds.
It's truly a versatile and durable material.
What’s the Practical Advantage of Carbide Over Steel Router Bits?
Carbide tools resist abrasion very well. They can also withstand very high temperatures--much higher than steel. Tools containing carbide tips maintain a sharper cutting edge better than steel tools, they generally produce a better finish when cutting, provide a cleaner and smoother cut. And their temperature resistance allows faster machining. While drill bit “chattering” is the most common reason for bit failure, carbide tipped tools generally do not allow this to occur.
Using carbide cutting tools has several advantages:
- Carbide tools are very efficient because they retain their cutting edge.
- Retains hardness when machining at high temperatures which are generated by high cutting speeds.
- Carbide tools have a longer working life.
- Using carbide tools can achieve a better surface finish quality.
What types of bits can I find made from carbide?
The following are popular carbide bits and knives:
- router bits,
- countersink bits,
- planer knives,
- spiral plunge bits,
- replaceable insert knives for adjustable router bit systems,
- composite material bits,
- dowel drill boring bits,
- shaper cutters,
- masonry bits,
- and many more.
The Winner? Carbide Tipped or Solid Carbide, Hands Down
Like all the supplies you purchase to create your furniture, it is important to do your homework. Assess the value of each product and the return you expect to receive from its purchase.
Carbide does just that, it gives value. It is a superior material, lasts longer and in the end saves you money.
Whether you are a seasoned or unseasoned woodworker, we all know the importance of purchasing the best you can afford. This will enable your work to become more seamless as well as allow you to use the same tools, with propoer care, over a longer period of time.