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Rockler’s Carbide Mini Turning Tools
Great tools, simple sharpening plan
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 11-1-2012
Buying good quality turning tools AND a good sharpening system can quickly exceed many real-world budgets. Modern machining and materials capabilities provide a cost-effective answer in the form of replaceable cutting edges. Couple that technology with thoughtful tool design and you get the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools.
The packaging and literature classify these Rockler Carbide Turning Tools as “mini’s” but I think they work well in situations where I would use traditional mid-sized tools. At 13-1/2”-long overall the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools are comfortable to use. They sport a tough stainless steel shank that resists corrosion in the often moisture-laden turning environment.
The shank protrudes 4” from the handles and have all been ground flat on the bottom for increased stability on the tool rest. This flat also indexes the cutting edge so that it stays square to the work for a consistency that makes using the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools easier for beginners. However the overall quality and design appeal to veteran turners as well.
The generously sized handles are turned from solid ash. The diameter and ergonomic shape offer lots of comfort and control. To enhance your grip and comfort the handles have a molded rubber section that lets your hand relax more without sacrificing control. That makes the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools less tiring over long sessions at the lathe.
The cutters on all Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools are made from high-end carbide stock. All of the bits are replaceable by removing a tough Torx®-type fastener using the included wrench. The cutters have a super sharp edge all the way around so when one section goes dull (not anytime soon as I found out) you can loosen the screw, turn the cutter to put a fresh section in position for use and tighten the screw!
The replacement carbide cutters cost between $19.99 (round cutter) to $29.99 (diamond-shaped cutter) but considering their toughness this will not be a frequent expense. You can also keep one or two spare cutters on hand so when one goes dull (in the middle of a project if your luck is like mine) you can swap it out for a fresh, sharp cutter in a couple minutes and get back to work making smooth cuts. When a dedicated sharpening system is not in your budget or available time the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools represent an elegant solution that fits your shop.
In the Shop
The first thing I noticed about the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools is the handles. The large diameter and shape make them very comfortable to the hand yet give plenty of leverage for rock steady control despite the relatively short length. The rubber section of the handles is indeed comfortable but also virtually eliminates slipping.
The stainless steel shanks are 7/16” in diameter and very rigid. Keep the tool rest set correctly and there is virtually no vibration to deal with. I wondered how well the flat surface ground into the bottom would work but it really does stabilize the tool. The edges of that flat area are gently rounded so the tool still glides along the tool rest easily.
Most surprising is the toughness of the carbide cutters that come with the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools. Though I used all three of the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools, round, square and diamond-shaped, I focused on the round tool the most to see how long it took to dull the cutting edge noticeably. Now after three days of turning on and off, I still don’t know how long that is because the edge is still cutting very efficiently. I did burn up a bunch of camera time in the pursuit of dullness but finally gave up. I did change cutters but only to try it and to show you how easy that is. After shooting that video I put the original cutter back on the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tool.
The Torx® style retaining screw secures the carbide cutters using a specialty tool, which Rockler includes. I actually like the idea of this type of screw because the shape of the recess provides a huge amount of surface area to prevent stripping at the torques needed to keep the cutters secure. You do not have to do your best Hercules impression when tightening the retaining screws but good and tight is needed.
The shapes of the cutters cover all but a few specialty operations at the lathe. The round cutter is probably the most versatile and makes a good choice for hollowing objects like bowls and goblets. It also works well on contoured outer surfaces. The square cutter makes finishing straight or flat areas easier and does work with many outside shapes as well and leaves a surprisingly smooth surface. The diamond-shaped cutter is very useful in detail tasks and smaller work.
The Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools are well made and thoughtfully designed for a surprisingly wide range of woodturning tasks. The high level of comfort and control make these tools great for the beginner but their performance will be attractive to veteran turners as well. The toughness of the materials used to make the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools insures a long useful life that makes them a very good value in turning tools.
The Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools are available in a three-piece set with a price of just $189.99 (10-30-2012) or individually. The round ended square-tipped and the diamond-equipped models each sell for $69.99 when purchased individually. The Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools each come in nice plastic tube that makes a good storage container to protect them when your tool drawer gets crowded.
If you turn wood, regardless of how much or how little experience you have the Rockler Carbide Mini Turning Tools could very well make your time at the lathe more fun and productive. The replaceable cutters are surprisingly tough but eliminate the expense of maintaining a dedicated sharpening system and that extends your tool dollars.
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