The Hydra and the Router

The hydra is a mythical beast, with multiple heads, and when one is lost, another grows in its place.  I’ve never imagined I’d speak of the creature, the hydra, and router bits in the same sentence, but there you go.

In the past, router bits are a solid unit, with the sharp edge (tungsten carbide commonly these days) brazed to the body of the router bit.  The science behind the brazing can be quite profound, allowing the brittle tungsten carbide survive significant abuse.  These router bits can be resharpened, but you need to get them done professionally to achieve the best result.  Tungsten carbide on cheap bits is dull, often even painted to disguise the (lack of) quality.  I have also been told in the past that tungsten carbide is tungsten carbide, so cheap bits are the equal of the “overpriced other ones”  Bullsh*t! Sorry, but I have been told that on more than one occasion, and I really wish those who don’t know (or don’t care) wouldn’t continue to spout such crap.  It is like saying all diamonds are the same, and we know that is not true either.

Oh – bit of an aside – you may well ask, if carbide is so wonderful, why are there not diamond router bits?  Might surprise you, but there are!  There is diamond embedded in steel router bits, used to rout glass – such as putting a chamfer on glass.  Even more recently, in the Amana Tool catalogue, there are polycrystalline diamond router bits, with an edge that lasts up to 200 times longer than tungsten carbide.  Not sure why, but for CNC machines only.  The Amana Tool catalogue is scary – sooooo many awesome router bits.  Drool.

Ok, so we have established that some router bits (the most common) are all machined and brazed together.  The cost of replacing the edge requires the replacement of the entire bit.

The next approach has been detachable carbide, held onto the bit with one or two (hex) bolts.  Larger pieces of carbide is often used, thicker, and they can also use harder (and more brittle) pieces due to the thicker section, giving longer edge life.  If something goes wrong, and the carbide breaks (or dulls from use), it is a very cheap replacement.

A few of my bits have replaceable tips, such as my surfacing bits.  The two that have replaceable tips can be rotated to present 4 edges in total, providing significant life expectancy, and the tips are cheap even when they all do wear out.

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Now the point of all this is there is another option. Replace the head!  Its the hydra model for router bits!

It is a fascinating model, and there are some distinct advantages.  I’d never heard of them before, but the guys at Toolstoday.com recommended them, and they haven’t steered me wrong yet 🙂

The tungsten carbide is brazed to the head, so the body of the head does not need to be as ‘chunky’ to support a threaded section to hold the tips on.  The head can be machined so each tip is accurate, and the whole assembly becomes rather cost effective when you start running through the consumables.  Not sure how much it matters, but exchanging the consumables is faster than replaceable carbides, as you don’t have to do each tip individually. They are called the EZ-Change Replacement Head router bits, and you can change the head while it is still attached, and set up in the router.  This is particularly useful if running large jobs and you don’t want to have to recalibrate the setup because you’ve had to change router bits to get a sharp edge again.

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There are two types here – whether you require the bearing to be below or above the cutters.  The spare packs come with 3 replacement heads.  The cost won’t kill a budget either – $US18 for the router bit (including a head), and a 3 pack of heads is $27 – less than $10/head.

What will they think of next?!

Aftermath

I didn’t grab many photos from the show – was a bit preoccupied funnily enough.

The MagSwitch Display

The MagSwitch Display

Saw a lot of that corner of the Carbatec stand!

Some of the timber on offer

Some of the timber on offer

Slabbing with a chainsaw on the Stihl stand

Slabbing with a chainsaw on the Stihl stand

The very large bladed Lucas Mill

The very large bladed Lucas Mill

The final photo is a really interesting upgrade for a planer or thicknesser (if you can afford the price tag)

Spiral Cutter

Spiral Cutter

It is one impressive upgrade however.  One day for my machine perhaps.  The traditional blade layout means they chip away at the surface.  Lots and lots of chips, and if the timber has any tendency to tearout, it will.

Instead, if the blades were in a spiral pattern, it means the angle of attack is a slicing action which will produce a very clean, smooth finish. In addition, and as you can see this cutter head is not made up of 2, 3 or 4 knives, but instead consists of over 60 mini knives of tungsten carbide.  It should, as an aside, make for a much easier dust extraction as there will be a much smaller, finer shaving for the DC to remove.

The beauty of the individual knives is that if you do encounter a nail or similar, or you do so much work that the blades begin to dull, you simply rotate the affected ones through 90 degrees and keep on going.  With 4 cutting edges available on each blade, the original set will really last!

Scraping with Scrapers

These are not cabinet scrapers (which are a skill all of their own), but instead for scraping when you need to remove a surface – such as paint, varnish, stripper etc.

I have had an opportunity to put the Linbide range through some initial trials, and as much as I normally wait until I’ve had a chance to build up a real opinion on a tool, these had me sold straight out of the box (or packaging to be precise).

Linbide Scrapers

Linbide Scrapers

From right to left, are a straight (or flat) scraper, a corner scraper, a profile scraper, and a cutter.  All are sporting Tungsten Carbide blades which makes a lot of difference to the performance of the blade (and the durability of the sharp edge)

They are very utilitarian in their look, but that does not detract from their performance, and the handles are surprisingly comfortable and provide a good grip.  The blades are replaceable (and with the straight and corner scrapers, the blades are reversable).

I took one to my front windows (external) which are increasingly desparate for a repaint.  I had a mind to a couple of years back, but after trying with some sandpaper, decided that job was too big.  I then tried a heat gun, with no success (it might have worked elsewhere, but not on a paint designed to survive the Australian sun).  So I tried a waterblaster, and that stripped the wood apart faster than it did the paint.

So it was with interest that I gave the scrapers a crack at the task, and we had a winner!  Paint came away with ease, and the wood was undamaged.  I don’t need to remove all the paint, just that which is too loose to paint over.  Damn, now I have even less excuses not to paint the house!

To get into corners, and over the different profiles around the windows, we have the profiled scrapers.

Radiused and Corner Scrapers

Radiused and Corner Scrapers

All Tungsten Carbide blades.

Now speaking of Tungsten Carbide, the final tool is called a laminate score and snap knife.  It sports two carbide tips, and is designed to score laminates, and can be used quite successfully as a glass and tile cutter, and will make short work of drywall.  Given its design, it will be easy for it to follow a straight edge.

Not having had a decent scraper before (the last one I had came from a $2 shop), it is quite enlightening to see what difference a quality blade can make!

These scrapers are imported in Australia by the Woodworking Warehouse: www.wwwh.com.au and cost around $20 each.  You can get them from their store in Braeside, or order over the phone 03 9587 3999, or via email sales@wwwh.com.au

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