My lathe journeys. #23: .... DIY carbide lathe tools ... I shoulda done this sooner :-)

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Blog entry by JoeinGa posted 03-19-2015 11:46 PM 4628 reads 7 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 22: ... Tupelo gum w/ natural edge. This stuff was nice to turn. Part 23 of My lathe journeys. series Part 24: ... Crime scene pix, not for the squemish! »

After reading a LOT of threads here about folks making their own carbide turning tools, I thought I’d give it a go. So last week I ordered some square cutters from Capt Eddie and dug thru my metal pile and found a few pieces of 5/8” square 2024 aluminum sticks left over from some long ago project.

While waiting for the cutters to come in I started doing the rough shaping on my 12” disc sander, using 120 grit paper.


According to an Internet search I did, the 2024 aluminum is about the strongest of the most common choices in bar-stock. So making sure to not overheat it as I grounded the shape, I kept the water bath nearby, and used it often.

After getting the basic shape and size pretty close, I wet-sanded it by hand with 320 grit paper. Then the next step was on to my polishing wheel with some jeweler’s rouge.


After a bit of finish polishing by hand (Using some excellent metal polish I have left over from the motorcycle) this stuff polishes out like chrome.

Once the cutters arrived I used hand files to cut the seat, then tapped the 10/24 threaded hole.

Here’s the basic progression from rough stock to polished tool.

Rather than make a wood handle I decided to use some athletic wrap that I found at Wally World. This is the same stuff I used to put grips on the smooth handles of my Jorgy clamps. I wrapped 4 layers of the tape on and it’s quite comfortable to hold.


For my first “trial run” I mounted a 3” chunk of pecan on a faceplate and gave it a whirl. This thing cuts like a razor! If I did this same thing with my cheap steel tools, the wood “steps” would be full of tearout and shreddings!

This morning it was raining cats-N-dogs here and I couldn’t get any yard work done, so I decided to make another one for a friend at church who has given me quite a few nice hunks of wood to turn. I took a bit more care in the finish and polish with his than I did with my original prototype. Here’s a few side-by-side comparison shots.



As you can see in those last 2 photos, the aluminum bar does get beat up a bit when riding it back and forth on the lathe tool rest. If it gets too bad I may slice off about 2” along the bottom and JB Weld a piece of hardened steel as a “foot” that wont get eaten away with use.
This evening I ordered a pack of the round cutters from Capt Eddie’s web site. Soon as they get here I’ll make another one to hold the round ones. I see some of you have made the diamond shaped ones also. Do you like them? Or does the pointy end tend to grab too much?
Usual disclaimer. Comments, critiques and complaints welcomed. Thanks for looking.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

19 comments so far

View Jerry's profile


3397 posts in 2451 days

#1 posted 03-20-2015 12:44 AM

Joe, this is brilliant. I’ve often thought about doing the same thing given the ridiculous cost of these tools when you buy the whole thing. The heads are another matter, very affordable. This is innovative and you did a great job.

-- There are good ships and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be.

View doubleDD's profile


9532 posts in 2846 days

#2 posted 03-20-2015 03:17 AM

Wow! What a great mirror finish. Nice job on the taper too. Great job Joe. Maybe I could have you shine mine up a bit.
Glad to see you take the plunge. It must give you a great feeling knowing they work well and how much money was saved.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View rhybeka's profile


4868 posts in 3924 days

#3 posted 03-20-2015 11:18 AM

Neat Joe! I may just have to follow in your footsteps some day :D

-- Beka/Becky - aspiring jill of all trades, still learning to not read the directions.

View poospleasures's profile


857 posts in 3287 days

#4 posted 03-20-2015 01:05 PM

Good looking tools Joe. I made a few of these myself and some friends. I like you tried to finish the friend ones a little better. However your finish job is way far superior to mine. I keep looking at your posts and you are advancing in your turning abilities very fast. Thanks for posting.

-- I,ve had amnesia for as long as I can remember. Vernon

View Julian's profile


1591 posts in 3493 days

#5 posted 03-20-2015 02:14 PM

Making these carbide cutting tools is so much cheaper than paying $130 for one. I made a couple but used steel bars which adds some weight and will wear longer. The aluminum finishes very nice but may wear out quickly. Let us know how it lasts. I also need to order the diamond tipped cutter from Capt. Eddie. One way to make a quick and easy handle is to use a steal pipe and then a rubber/plastic hose over the pipe.

-- Julian

View ratchet's profile


1391 posts in 4589 days

#6 posted 03-20-2015 03:19 PM

Nicely done and documented. Thanks

View Woodknack's profile


13439 posts in 3183 days

#7 posted 03-20-2015 07:30 PM

Looks good Joe. You confirmed my worries about the tool rest wearing out aluminum. Attaching a steel wear strip sounds like a good fix.

-- Rick M,

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2810 days

#8 posted 03-20-2015 07:34 PM

Thanks for the nice comments. I’m still a long way off to being any “good” at turning, but I just keep plugging along with practice.

I’ll give y’all an update on how the aluminum bar wears against the tool rest.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Carl W Richardson's profile

Carl W Richardson

79 posts in 3297 days

#9 posted 03-21-2015 01:00 PM

Be careful sanding aluminum because alum dust can cause a flash fire.. Hate to see you burn down your new shop..

-- Carl W Richardson, Tennessee Woodworker

View Arlin Eastman's profile

Arlin Eastman

4447 posts in 3364 days

#10 posted 03-22-2015 01:06 AM


That looks like the same Air craft aluminum I used in the Air Force. besides 2024-T3 there is also 2024-T6 and something even harder is 7074-T6.

You did a great job on the polishing up the metal and getting it to work right too. I always wanted to get the Round carbide for finish cuts.

A wooden handle would take a lot of the vibration from the hand.

-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

View Mauricio's profile


7165 posts in 3954 days

#11 posted 03-23-2015 08:33 PM

I will be trying this soon. I got the square cutters from Eddie and the rounds off of ebay. I was also able to find 1/2” steel bars on ebay already at 18” which is perfect for setting into a handle.

Looking forward to trying them out!

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View Mark Wilson's profile

Mark Wilson

2841 posts in 1866 days

#12 posted 07-28-2015 09:03 AM

Thanks for the nice comments. I m still a long way off to being any “good” at turning, but I just keep plugging along with practice.

I ll give y all an update on how the aluminum bar wears against the tool rest.

- JoeinGa

Oh, stop. Progress in spades. There must come a point when you realize that it’s not immodest to recognize that you’ve mastered a thing or two. I spent 4 years in High School Metal Shop and never used a wood lathe til 3 or 4 years ago when I got my Shopsmith. And yet, I’m intimidated about making something out of metal.

-- Mark

View BrentH's profile


76 posts in 1842 days

#13 posted 03-17-2016 11:16 PM

Thanks, Joe. Actually, I wondered the same thing when I saw that you had used aluminum, so I appreciate your follow up post to let us know how it has worked for you. Glad to hear it has worked well.

-- Brent H. --"This retirement stuff is hard work. I need to go get a job so I can get some rest!"

View htl's profile


5166 posts in 1962 days

#14 posted 03-27-2016 05:07 PM

Great posts this is the stuff I need to know to make my own tools, way cool.

-- An Index Of My Model making Blogs

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3669 days

#15 posted 03-27-2016 05:34 PM

This is a very interesting post. Thanks

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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