Hand Tools Archive

Subject:
The A2 Steel Debate Going on Elsewhere

david weaver
Summary of it - David Charlesworth has brought up again that he sees nothing wrong with A2. I don't participate where the discussion occurs, but I'd like to suppose a couple of things.

1) the question was asked, why is A2 used at a higher cost if it's not better? The question is better for who. It's better for the maker because it's stable in heat treatment and doesn't warp much. I don't think makers wear an apron and hand-adjust everything anymore, and LN likes to finish their irons nicely. Whatever is flatter is going to win in their book.

2) what did LN use before A2. W1, not O1. They had trouble with the heat treatment and only hardened part of the iron. George Wilson asked them about that, and they said they didn't think anyone would use the whole iron (I guess they did get through the hardened area with a few at williamsburg. George suggested A2 to them as an alternative - something he's used longer than karl holtey, and i'm sure lots of small toolmakers did). They declined at the time. I didn't hear a reason why part of the W1 iron was hardened, but I'd bet at Lloyds that it was due to warping and cracking.

3) The surface is fine off of A2 - yes, it is, if you're scraping or sanding. Someone like Brian Holcombe who finishes furniture for sale off of the plane won't like it, because the tiny fracturing leaves little lines all over surfaces. Not big ones, just little ones

4) something not said - I found when I got my metallurgical microscope that A2 will give up chips just to the stone on washita stones. It's a one off issue, and not an issue at all for someone who doesn't use a washita. I do. Simply because either by itself or as a pair with a fine oilstone of some type and a grinder, nothing is faster for sharpening. And you can sharpen anything on stones like that in any direction (gouges, little knives, moulding plane irons.). Once you leave the simplistic world of taking off planer marks or four squaring a board, those things become important. You can use waterstones to do them, but it's less productive.

5) If you're trying to get finished surfaces, you will spend more time sharpening A2 irons. This wouldn't be the case if they were 59 hardness, but LN and LV are a few clicks above that. I'd venture to guess that if all O1 was 62 hardness, people would complain about sharpening. If it's left with little temper (O1), it can be as hard to sharpen as white steel and harder than typical A2.

6) A2 holds up better than O1 - well, sort of, but not really. Compared to O1 that's not as hard, it holds up better. If chisels are hardened to the same level, the edge retention is probably similar overall. The fine edge use is in favor of O1 (as in, if you want sharp chisels and are touching them up often). Plane irons made of really good O1 steel (hock's irons are not the best I've seen, so you can't use them as a comparison) seem to hold up in practical use as well as A2 does, except they take less chipping damage at the edge and the result is less sharpening time.

7) the wire edge is tougher on A2 - it is. The solution to that is to go finer and more aggressive abrasive. That's something that someone using a guide would do. Freehand sharpeners, especially who roll up their tool on the last few strokes, will appreciate a slower stone for more control.

What's better for beginners? I have no idea. When I was a beginner, I did like A2. I followed David C's sharpening method, but it is less productive once you're not a beginner, and it leaves you hamstrung when you want to sharpen complex things (whereas basic understanding of angles and trusting your hands and eyes doesn't.).

I could work only with a shop full of A2 tools, but what drove me away from them (and I don't think anyone is a bigger pig here in terms of wasting money on tools) was wanting to finish flat surfaces off the plane. A2 is marginally less pleasant to sharpen (in the way that mediocre red wine isn't quite as good as a good dry red wine). The reward for being less pleasant to sharpen is that it chips more easily and if you're finishing off the plane, it can occur on the first few passes. If you're sanding or scraping, that doesn't matter.

Bottom line, it's used because it's good for the maker. Comparing most O1 irons to LN's A2 (I have used irons and looked at them under microscopes - LN's irons have held up the best for fine work in the half dozen or so that I've looked at) for longevity and sharpening both the same way is not an apples to apples comparison. No makers that I'm aware of make an iron that holds up as well as Steve Knight's O1 does (it's pretty much even with A2, but leaves a better surface), but I have had success making similar quality irons with Starrett and Precision Presto O1 and leaving them around 62 hardness.

If anyone likes the tools they have, I don't think they should buy something else just to do it unless they're curious like I am. I have what I like now, but it was fun to look at all of the stuff.

I'm not sure why we use beginners' experience as the calibrator of everything. That's sort of like going to Vic at LV and asking him about the double iron.

I still think, too, that many people would be well served to get rid of the notion that you can't get anything done by hand with heavy work and do a project or two totally by hand. Their sawing and planing would advance leaps and bounds, and some of the things that warren and brian like would make more sense.

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The A2 Steel Debate Going on Elsewhere
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LN and A2
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Galoot Tools blades
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Haha!
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That post was what I truly appreciate about David
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Coupla random thoughts
My re-post from SMC
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Re: in all of this...
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