Woodworker’s Guide to Steel
An understanding of the basics can help when it comes time to buy
Synopsis: The strength of steel and its ability to retain a sharp edge are largely dependent on its microstructure. Woodworking cutting tools present a special challenge, and steel expert and woodworker George Walker explains the types of steel available, steel grading systems, and which kinds are used in different tools.
From Fine Woodworking #169
Steel is a logical choice for cutting tools because it offers good strength and resistance to fracture. Plus, it’s durable, resists wear, and is relatively economical, as materials go.
However, not all steel is created equal. I learned this 30 years ago as an apprentice in a tool-hardening shop hoisting chunks of hot steel in and out of furnaces. I shadowed a journeyman toolmaker who kept notebooks full of recipes: Cook steel one way to make a spring; use another recipe to make a knife. At the time, it looked like voodoo to me. Gradually, though,…