I have been wanting to get this post done since i first got Carols book. Yeah i know you guys must be tired of me plugging that book by now but its had such dramatic impact on my woodworking life i cannot say enough about it.
Well i have some quirky traits when it comes to buying certain things and i cannot help being cheap that is until i see the value in changing my ways.
Trouble is I dont trust the retail establishment anymore. So i have to either hear it from a trusted friend or do the research and get the experience the hard way. And so it was for me and router bits until i read Carols intro to bits.
This again is a topic the experienced pros among us will go to sleep reading. But for a weekend warrior like me i hope it saves someone else the time, money and pain ( from damage of your projects).
When you read about router bits you get to see people say well dont by HSS bits. Fine that is easy to see and tell the difference and really i aint seen any so far. So they say carbide. But carbide we learn comes in all sorts of grades. Then you find when you take a bit out of your router that it can burn your hands. That gets you to thinking about heat dissapation and so it is when someone says buy 1/2 shanks you now know why.
But thats not the whole story. When you see the "junk" in the store at what looks like a good price and all clean and dandy, you think its not bad and buy it. But you really need to examine it closely if you going to buy what essentially amounts to a no name brand. You will find they thin on detail when it comes to voicing info about specs and carbide and heck how do you really tell.
This subject is a little like spinny stuff. You get to buy the lathe but then find out that the accesories you need to enjoy yourself on that lathe cost as much as the lathe itself. No one tells you that at the store though.
Same with router bits.
So i took some pictures to try and explain some of my learning and what to watch for.
So first here is the selection i have chosen. Its a Lee Valley bit in green 3/4 inch , a freud in red 1/2 inch and a blue tornado (busy bee) in blue. They are all 1/2 inch shanks. On the right hand side of the picture you will see the 1/4 inch straight cut blue tornado 1/2 inch shank and the "Crappy tire" 1/4 inch straight cut and 1/4 inch shank.
So what to look for. Some would say its obvious and yes after you know it is.
My revelation started when i decided to splash out on a new 3/4 bit to use in routing the groove for my mortising jig. I decided the one company i could reasonably trust was Lee Valley. Boy was i right. You get one of their bits and it comes in a little white plastic box to protect both the bit and the user from it. Take it out and the bit is in a plastic bag with oil film all over. Take it out of that and the sharp edges are coated with what i last saw when i was a youngster and my dad unwrapped a belly brace bit. Its kinda like rubber varnish the bit has been dipped in. Now you think this is over kill but it also comes with a bit holder loose in the little box.
Well take the rubber stuff off and boy you can seriously cut yourself on that blade. As if you were dealing with a properly sharpened plane blade.
I have never had that experience from any other company yet. When i set the bit in the router and cut, i could not believe the difference and i never had a doubt after that about what i paid for it. $19 Canadian.
Now by comparison i had bought a set of useless bits the 1/4 inch 1/4 shank is one of the set, with a whole bunch of bits and paid somewhere around $40 bucks for must be at least 20 bits. Hey what a bargain, $2 bucks a bit. Yeah right.
Take a closer look at these bits, see the thickness of the carbide. Now i know this will vary depending on the diameter but compare the freud to the blue tornado.
Attachment 49343 now look at them from a different angle
Attachment 49346 See just how much carbide is in there?
Then take a closer look at the Freud
Attachment 49347Attachment 49348 See how its been sharpened after the carbide has been mounted to make sure its true and accurate. But the Freud 1/2 inch here cost around $25 Canadian at HD. The Blue Tornado costs $17 by comparison. But when i first got these two the freud sharpness was similar to the LV experience and has lasted. I cannot in all honesty say the same for the Blue Tornado. The blue tornado also came in a nice protective box. I think more designed to delude you with fancy packaging than a indication of quality. So again you need to have a reference to look deeper than the packaging or the price. Now look up the equivalent 1/2 inch shank and straight bit at LV and you will be pleasantly surprized its only $11.20. If you were shopping on price you would give Lee Valley a pass and that is what i had been doing.
Take a good look at the LV 3/4 bit and check out that carbide and edge.
Attachment 49349 Attachment 49345 When i add the protection it came in etc there is no comparison inmho. This cost $19 but the freud closest equivalent 1/4 inch shorter cut is $34 at HD.
So you really need to be able to examine the bits. Take a careful look if its a no name brand at the brazing of the carbide into the bit see what clues mine had to offer if i had known.
Then take a look at two 1/4 inch bits from the top. One might say well they 1/4 inch. Yeah but one is a 1/2 inch shank the other my crappy tire 1/4 inch shank that i saved from the garbage can specially to do these pictures.
First note even the blue Tornado is not out the woods. See what happened to the paint surface. It shows the diameter of the shaft plus paint was equal to the cutting edge. Where do you think the paint went.
Now check out the top view
Hard to see but see how much carbide there is on the cheap one. How much cutting edge is there with that thickness of carbide. Where does the heat go? How long do you think this thing cuts for. Its a toy I would not even give it to my teenager. It ruins your woodworking experience and gives you a bad taste in your mouth. And whats more its no use asking the guys at the store about them, they know less than your left pinky finger.
Ok now i know this is a long post and sounds a bit like a extended rant on a soapbox. Its not meant to be.
Cynthia i hope you get to see this. While we all get dazzled by lifts etc, just like so many other facets of our lovely hobby, a sharp decent cutting edge makes the world of difference. Simply putting more power behind junky bits dont make em cut better.
I was amazed by the difference in my experience after i bought a decent bit.
Then one other thing that Carol got me to do. I bought my first spiral cutter 1/4 inch. Boy cutting slots in 3/4 baltic birch was a breeze by comparison to using a dual fluted tornado 1/4 inch bit with 1/2 inch shank.
I would be delighted if some of the more experienced here would add and throw their 5 cents in and comment or critique anything i have said here. I am still learning.
So in summary
Buy 1/2 shank bits as a rule.
If the router you gonna buy dont have a half inch collet as well as a 1/4 inch then think again because its suspect unless its available as an accesory.
Buy good bits after you have examined them and not by price or brand alone.
Buy yourself a spiral cutting bit, dont wait like me for years to experience what others have already forgotten.
Dont let packaging fool you.
And in Carols words dont buy sets. Buy as you need what you need and you will be amazed.
One more thing i was about to do (yeah the cheapo in me nearly got me again) dont by multi combination do it all in one bits. ( Could write a book on this topic but Carol already has so buy it).