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Solid Carbide, Carbide Tipped and High-Speed Steel

Posted on 30 July, 2020 at 17:35

How Do I Select the BEST Router Bit for a Job? - Part 1

Router cutting has come a long way since the early days of carbide tipped and high-speed steel bits to the purpose designed composite cutters we have today. There can be no arguing that there are a lot of different router bits to choose from, many of them seemingly overlapping, being designed to do the same thing! In a world with so much confusion how are you ever supposed to know which router bit to select.


For anyone who really can’t be bothered, give Hartlauer Bits a call and we’ll gladly walk you through any questions you have and help you pick the right tool for the job.


Next, and I can’t stress this enough, keep a journal of what you used and how it worked. A little spiral notebook right by the router can save you massive headaches down the road. All you need to do is record the material, tool, feeds and speeds, and how the finished product looked. If you’re really ambitious, you can note the air temperature, humidity and moon cycle…


Solid Carbide, Carbide Tipped and High-Speed Steel


When choosing which bit you’re going to use, a great place to start is with the composition of the bit itself. The most common compositions are going to be solid carbide, carbide tipped and high-speed steel. In general, CNC routers will use solid carbide bits, hand routers will use high speed steel and carbide tipped bits are a balance between longevity and cost.


For CNC router operators, the vast majority of the bits you’ll use will be solid carbide. Compositions will vary, but most are going to be a Tungsten-Carbide with a Colbalt binder. If you’ve ever dropped one, you’ll know how brittle they can be. But, these hold a sharp edge longer than high-speed steel. They can be ground with a wide variety of edges from a single edge spiral to a prickly burr. The biggest disadvantage to solid carbide bits will be their cost, especially if you require larger diameter cutters. And, keep in mind that heat is their enemy, it breaks down the Cobalt binder and dulls an edge very fast.


High-speed steel is a common tool for hand routers because the tool has a little bit of flex. Especially if you’re new to routing its very difficult to maintain a smooth speed. So, having that added flex can save you a lot in broken tips. High-speed steel bits won’t last as long as their carbide edge counterparts. But, they can have a sharper edge and cost a fraction of the price, especially in larger diameters. Like solid carbide, these too come in spiral and straight varieties, though most of the innovative composite cutters will only come in solid carbide.


Carbide-tipped are generally a cost saving alternative, which sounds great, but it has some limitations. These are going to be a high-speed steel bit with a tungsten-cobalt edge. It brings the cost advantages of high-speed steel with the longevity of solid carbide. However, you can’t just glue a solid carbide edge onto anything and cut with it. These bits generally only come in straight edges and seldom can you find them in small diameters. But, if you’re roughing out a lot of material and need a big bit these are perfect. V-cutters and table surfacers are almost always carbide tipped because there is a lot of material and solid carbide drives up the overall cost of the tool.


The material the router bit is made from is just one piece of the tool picking process. But, it’s an important consideration because it can have a serious impact on long-term cost. In general, CNC routers will use solid carbide and hand routers will use high-speed steel. Carbide tipped is a great way to cut down on costs when you need a large bit with a straight edge. But, also keep in mind, that if you’re doing a small, one-off, job or, if you need a really sharp edge, high-speed steel may provide the solution you’re looking for, even on a CNC.


Next we’ll talk about the number of flutes a bit has.

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