This article discusses a few types of steel that many wood lathe chisels are made from. There are many different types of steel alloys with a variety of hardness and strength. The internet has a huge amount of information on steel, alloys, and their use, a little research will always lead to a better understanding of the tools you want to buy or make.
What is a tool steel and what makes it different that other types of steel? Tool Steel is a specific type of high-quality steel made specifically for the production of tools and tooling components. Tool steels are produced in electric melt furnaces and stringent quality standards are upheld to produce the necessary quality. Tool steels are formulated to withstand high pressures and abrasive materials. Typically tool steels are used for shearing, cutting, stamping, and forming metals and plastics.
There are 3 different tool sheets of steel that you will most commonly see associated with woodturning tools, they are 01 steel, M2 steel, and PM steel.
O1 tool steel is a low alloy cold work tool steel that must be oil-quenched in heat treatment to create the required hardness. O1 contains small amounts of manganese, tungsten, and chromium, giving O1 adequate toughness for normal tool & die uses. 01 steel is a steel that wood turners can use to make and shape their tools and then temper the steel to a hardness that will hold a good edge somewhere between 60 to 65 HRC.
M2 is a higher carbon version of the M1 tool steel (Molybdenum High-Speed Tool Steel). The M2 alloy has somewhat better wear resistance than M1. Applications are primarily used for cutting tools and shaping.
PM (Powder metallurgy) is a term covering a wide range of ways in which materials or components are made from metal powders Powder metallurgy is also used to make unique materials impossible to melt or form in other ways. PM Wood Lathe tools are very hard and hold a fine edge usually somewhere between 67 to 69 HRC. Files will not work on tools of this hardness. HRC is an abbreviation for Rockwell Hardness measured on the C scale.
If you are turning wood regularly you probably have 30 to 40 tools that you use. I Counted the Wood Turning Tools in my collection and there are currently 43, I am ordering some 01 steel to make Scrapers that I can use to shape long even sides of a turning. The 01 steel allows you the ability to make your tools, especially tools that fit a specialty turning that only you are doing. It is always good to have a friend who is a metal worker and understands how to machine and temper metals.
There are many ways to acquire wood lathe tools. Buying tool supplies is the best way to start wood-turning. With a little experience, you will know what to look for when acquiring tools. Aside from buying from a tool supplier, watch garage sales, estate sales, and some social sites like Craigslist.
Woodturning is fun and even more so when you can make your tools.