Tools Happen #6: HSS Shaper Cutters: Worthless in the Age of Carbide?

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Blog entry by woodshopnerdery posted 01-07-2022 10:01 PM 563 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Diamond Sharpening Stones System: Moving on From Waterstones Part 6 of Tools Happen series Part 7: Brand New Stanley 4 1/2 Tuning »

I explore the value of the old style three edge shaper cutters made from high speed steel. Should I continue to develop my woodworking skill around these tools or toss them in the trash?

-- Tom, Chicago Suburbs,

2 comments so far

View AlanWS's profile


184 posts in 4899 days

#1 posted 01-08-2022 06:05 PM

I don’t think those are the only two options. Carbide definitely remains sharp longer than high speed steel, but once the bit gets dull it’s a lot easier to sharpen HSS. If you have the profile you want in carbide, use that. The HSS is particularly useful when you don’t have the carbide version, or if you want to modify a profile yourself. Used bits can be very cheap, though you need to watch out for mistreatment as you found.

Depending on your tooling, another place where you can find utility is when you want to profile both edges of a board simultaneously, for instance adding a tongue to one edge and a groove to the other. With the two-bit set and two tools, you may be able to do it. A reversible motor and upside down bit may be helpful to avoid a climb cut on one profile.

-- Alan in Wisconsin

View pintodeluxe's profile


6520 posts in 4154 days

#2 posted 01-13-2022 06:39 PM

I don’t know about shaper cutters, but there are a handful of very small / thin dovetail cutters I use that are still HSS. Supposed to be stronger than carbide, but I break a lot of them because they are so thin at the neck.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

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