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Thread: M42 lathe tools compared to. . .

  1. #1

    M42 lathe tools compared to. . .

    This seems like something that must have been discussed here before but I couldn't turn anything up searching.

    My "first line" set of gouges are from Thompson, which are made from "A-11" powdered metal (probably using that terminology wrong). All other lathe tools I've used are M2 HSS, most of them inexpensive. I got started with Thompson tools from a recommendation from a turning board; I've been very satisfied with the Thompson tools, but can't really claim that I've done careful comparisons to assess the asserted longer edge life. Not doubting it, just saying I don't really have anything objective to point to.

    My observation from reading boards is that virtually every maker of "non-economy" lathe tools has its fans. That could be taken to mean there isn't much difference among decent quality lathe tools, or it could suggest that confirmation bias (the innate desire to believe our choices are good ones) is strong among turners. . .or some of each.

    I have a friend (no really, it's a real person) who bought my old lathe and has Thompson tools as a result of my input. He's been reading about M42 tools having greater ability to take an edge than powdered metal (not sure it's a good idea to lump powdered metals together as though they were one thing), while having greater edge retention than M2 (not saying either part is necessarily true, but there are those that make the claims).

    So, I'm interested in the collective wisdom/experience here as to where M42 tools lie in the pantheon of lathe tools. If a more specific context is necessary, let's say bowl gouges. I'm asking in the context of "all other things being equal", so this is just about the steel, not the grind or flute shape. Subjective opinions are fine (since that's all most of us have), but I'm super interested in anything quantitative (sorry, my day job is in research, I can't help myself).

    Thanks for any input.


  2. #2
    Dave, there are three main characteristics that determine the suitability of a particular steel for the intended use. They are toughness, wear resistance and hardness. The web site for Crucible Powder Metallurgy has a significant amount of information on powder metal as well as other commonly used tool steels. M42 is a different animal, and has different characteristics. I have some M2 tools - mainly cheap single purpose scrapers, several of Doug's Vanadium 10 (V10) tools, and several of D-Way M42 tools. In my opinion, the wear resistance of M42 is better, but it can be a slight bit more brittle, so if there is dirt in the wood the M42 might dull a little quicker. I don't think the hardness of wood is the most dulling factor. I think it is the amount of silica in the wood. I have turned butter soft wood before and it dulled both the V10 and M42 very quickly.

    V10 and M42 are both excellent steels and far superior to M2, or even M4. But, they do have different traits and only your use will determine whether one is better than the other. I would be more concerned about the profile of the gouge and whether that suits your turning style.

    Left click my name for homepage link.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
    Western Maine
    I have nothing to contribute here, but I will be watching this thread with interest.
    I am at the point of needing to upgrade my turning tools. I have been using economy class stuff (Tropical Storm) which I have sharpened beyond the extent of the hardened area.
    I wonder which tool material ( M2, M42, PM, Cryo) is superior overall, and which excels in sharpness and which excels in edge retention.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Wayland, MA
    I've got three bowl gouges at this point, an old Taylor Superflute in M2 that's sharpened with an Ellsworth/Irish grind, an M42 from D-Way sharpened as a bottom feeder, and most recently a V10 from Doug Thompson sharpened 40/40. Obviously not a perfect comparison. All three perform very well as far as I can tell. All three can be sharpened to give a very high quality surface-- the tool definitely isn't limiting for me in that regard, my technique is. My impression, not rigorously quantified is that both the D-Way and Thompson gouges stay sharp longer than the Taylor. I just got the Thompson and have only used it on three (large) bowls, but whether because of the steel or 40/40 grind, it was really impressive. I only honed it once in the course of roughing three 14" bowls from irregular logs. I don't use the bottom feeder as intensively, but I keep being surprised that it is still sharp when I pick it up for a new bowl. The Taylor wants honing several times during the course of a single bowl. So my impression is that the exotic steels do, in fact, hold a better edge; at this point I'd be hard pressed to tell them apart.

    In a related note I recently bought one of the Lee Valley PM-V11 bench chisels for a size I was missing. It got wicked sharp and stayed that way through a ton of use and abuse. I went back and ordered the whole rest of the set. It was head and shoulders better than any of my other bench chisels. So yes, I think there is something real to the exotic metallurgy.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    E TN, near Knoxville
    Dave, these days I mostly use Doug Thompson's 10V tools but have some M42, and some of other types of HSS. I really like the Thompsons but the others are fine. Any tool that is hardened, even carbon steel, can be used effectively for turning. Some may stay sharper longer but the time it takes to sharpen more often doesn't prevent making beautiful turnings. When you think of it, for hundreds of years people did amazing woodturning using tools that we would laugh at today. It's all relative - someone with the skills can pick up almost any tool and make things. As for the brand fan base, sometimes it's a bit like Ford vs Chevy.

    The important thing for most of us today is to use some type of HSS so the hardness and temper are not destroyed by overheating when sharpening on a bench grinder. In the long past a lot of lathe tools were sharpened by hand and by slow-speed grinding wheels cranked by hand which didn't heat the metal.


  6. #6
    As one who absolutely has to experiment, I have a number of both the Thompson V10 and the D Way M42. I couldn't tell any difference in final sharpness or edge durability. I have a friend, now retired from turning, who turned Myrtle wood trays for the Oregon Coastal shops, some thing like about 750 per year for maybe 30 years. Larry could give a weather forecast for a week depending on how his Myrtle was turning. I asked him if he could tell any difference between the two. All he said was 'Nope'. I will agree. I think Stuart Batty uses the V10 for his tools and he commented that he didn't see any need for the M42. I will disagree on him with that point. both work excellently. The edge holding ability mostly means that you can hog off a lot more wood before needing to go back to the grinder, but I still prefer a fresh edge for finish cuts.

    robo hippy

  7. #7
    Oh, afterthought, or I just forgot to add, the biggest difference is in the flute shapes, not in the cutting ability of the different metals.

    robo hippy

  8. #8
    Thank you all for your thoughtful input. My take home from all that's been said is what I was thinking I would hear, that all high quality steels are up to the task, and flute shape, grind, etc. are probably going to drive one's impression of a tool as much as the actual steel.



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