Hand Tools

Re: Steels and their places
Response To:
Steels and their places ()

david weaver
The point that I'm making is that in the context of making things, it doesn't really do anything - it doesn't save any time or increase productivity at all, except for beginners.

Uniformity is important in edges for smoothing. In heavier work, edge retention is essentially a non-issue because we use a grinder (if we hand grind - even if you hand grind, the advantage of carbon steel will become instantly evident) to do most of the bulk work in sharpening and then maintain camber by eye, sharpening with a single stone or maybe two. On top of that, those planes that take heavier shavings go very far into the work cycle because the time that lack of clearance becomes an issue is highly dependent on how thick of a shaving we're taking.

It's uncommon for me to sharpen a jack plane more than once each time I'm in the shop. Try plane, I don't really know, but you can go very far into a wear cycle with a try plane before you have to sharpen it - enough to be physically worn out twice or three times. What'll drive you nuts is anything that breaks the shaving, but we don't get those things with carbon steel. Maybe with A2, but I can't think of any good reason to ever put A2 or anything like V11 in a try plane (they're not available in the right geometry, anyway, at least not if you're going to use a cap iron).

For smoothing, efficient smoothing is done with a heavy smoother shaving and then a thin one. it's a fleeting thing in all but the very finest of smoothing like Brian might do for a custom piece. In that case, edge retention is again not the top issue, but uniformity is extremely important because anything that threatens it threatens the ability to plan a clear surface that won't show anything at all after a quick burnish with shavings. That kind of thing is where carbon steel excels because of the way it wears, and because of the way it's doesn't hang onto a wire edge so the sharpening result is highly reliable.

Abrasion resistance is an issue for beginners, because they take a lot of very thin shavings to try to make up for lack of elegance and economy in their technique, or to play it safe. And then they take a very long time to sharpen. A very hard or highly alloyed iron that's done properly will last longer in a contest of the most feet of one thousandth shavings, but there just isn't much of that in normal work - except for beginners.

Hard and abrasive woods are often brought up as a need, but once you develop some planing economy and use the right types of planes, even those aren't very difficult to work with standard carbon steel (and carbon steel-ish irons). The bigger issue with those woods above and beyond edge retention is that they're just not very nice to work. Scrape and sand is probably the standard method to finish them, but any large volume of planing is not occurring in many pieces before someone gains some experience and searches for wood that works nicely by hand and takes detail without surface problems (Derek notwithstanding because he uses local wood in WA).

I think the alloyed steels are probably better for what they were developed for - diemaking (or manufacturing) and high temperature or metalwork applications. They have a clear economic advantage there, but not in woodworking for experienced woodworkers.

Not trying to say that you can't do work with A2 and V11, there just comes a point where there's no real advantage to it, unless you're going about working in an inefficient manner in the first place. In that case, efficiency is easily gained by improving how you work. The easiest way to gain efficiency is to do some pieces entirely by hand - the physical expenditure involved and the desire to stay connected to the process will do two things:
* it will cause you to quickly figure out what works the best in terms of removing a volume of wood for a given amount of effort - and without undue risk. The things that you figure out also coincide with amount of work done per sharpening cycle.
* it will cause you to want to be able to sharpen relatively quickly when you do sharpen, because it's just not pleasant to work up a sweat, then stop for 8 minutes and then start again, the same way it's not pleasant to run for 15 minutes, stop for 8 and then go back into a high impact run again.

Just my thoughts. Disorganized, maybe (apologies for that - I'm tired).

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