Tried a new steel - 80CrV2

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24 Aug 2015
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This is basically a 0.8-0.85 carbon steel that's sold here sometimes for the same cost as O1, but in reality, it is a much cheaper steel. I made an order for something else and got a small sheet of it and made plane irons out of it, figuring they'd be a little under hard based on the data sheet for the steel, not wear long or who knows what.

A metallurgist in the US said that the steel, which has the often derided name of "chrome vanadium", as do a whole huge number of steels that are relatively plain in composition, is often used for woodworking tools. the only thing I have no clue about is where exactly those woodworking tools are made and who makes them. It has a little bit of a feel like pfeil, is relatively forgiving to heat treat. I don't need forgiving at this point, but it does make it even easier to get accurate consistent results. I can probably get more consistent results by hand than most large batch furnaces will ever come close to.

I haven't made chisels of it, and don't have a great reason to. But I did a planing test and what I like about O1, it does all of those things at least as well and wears about the same number of feet planing.

It takes a little doing to get higher hardness out of the stuff - a fast oil and understanding what will give an extra point of two of hardness beyond that.

I've screwed around making plane irons out of something like 14 different samples of bar stock and 7 different alloys, This is the first one that I think doesn't compromise anything to O1, and the princely sum of the cost of materials for a #7 plane iron is about $7.

Getting O-1 "good" is easier, so I doubt we'll see this in any boutique tools, but I'd bet I could market a LN replacement iron in 1/8th thick stock and sell as many as I could make to the subset of LN buyers who don't like A2.

Sharing what I've found here because the wife is tired of hearing about it.

Here's a factoid picture just for fun - these are carbides at 300x optical. They are about 1 micron in size. The entire picture is less than 1 hundredth of an inch tall in actual pre-magnified height. The pictures are bright because the wear on the edge of a plane iron forces me to either come up with some way to hold things at a variable angle on a metallurgical scope (unlikely to happen) or turn up the light since the edge rounds. the little dots are something like 3 thousandths of an inch in terms of the worn area.

Typically, a blade that keeps planing but that isn't very nice to use (52100 ball bearing steel comes to mind, as does well worn A2) will show some ragged edge. O1 is usually very uniform, but you can see the edge of this stuff is even more uniform.

80crv2 first.


Then O1


Very very sweet in a plane, and very cheap and very easy to drill, grind, etc, to make an iron.

for reference, that bar that says 20mu is 20 microns. about 25 is equal to a thousandth of an inch. the little things you see hear add up to something you can actually feel - the iron in the top picture takes a smoother shaving as it dulls, and the surface of the wood is a little better.

to compare this to an iron that doesn't really wear uniformly, because O1 is really pretty excellent if it isn't tempered too soft, below is a picture of the Revilo High Speed Steel iron edge made by F. Mountford. Note the uneven wear at the edge, and at much less footage planed than the two others, thus no need to turn up the light to see a rounded over area.

These are a curiosity because they're HSS but can be sharpened on oilstones. They start out great, but the uneven edge makes them feel more dull while they're still cutting after a short period of time. No high speed steel other than matrix types would come close to the even wear of 80crV2 (matrix types are lower carbon versions than anything we normally see - something like M2 will wear longer than all of these irons, but not as evenly). mountford HSS carbides.jpg

But the real point remains here - there's a very cheap steel that makes very nice tools and few of us know much of anything about it.
Great to hear!

I'll pm my address - a no3, 4 and 6 please!! 🤣🤣 will only cost $364 to ship a 1-2kg package from the US to the UK.

I suspect if we find out that someone is using 80crV2, they'll prove my excitement wrong by just making it soft out of laziness, too, but most of the european tool companies and other consumer companies in the US stay very far away from providing specs of anything.

Pfeil uses the term "swiss alloy" or something like that.
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it won't titillate folks looking for expensive particle metals or looking at abrasive wear charts ("why can't we get woodworking tools made of CPM Rex-121?")..

....actually I think other than curiosity, this post won't provide much of anything useful for the hobby at all other than a very small group of makers who heat treat their own stuff. Heat treat services in the US are little by little moving away from working with even oil hardening steels, let alone water hardening steels.

Hobbies don't have to provide anything useful, though.
Looks to have a smooth wear pattern, would probably give an overall better surface appearance to the wood than the 01 and would think defo the PMV11 as it gets blunter. But would probably be worse if taking hogging sized stokes. Would you say good to use in a smother rather than a #51/2

that's probably where the flat stock in the US is coming from. Price varies considerably here - most narrow bars are intended for knives, and most large makers probably buy the stock in sheets.

Those of us in between can find something like a 5.5x24inch sheet of .094" anywhere from $32.50 to more than double that.

it looks like it would be somewhat cheaper yet in europe, but at $7 a plane iron, I've got no objections. I think I pay about double that for good O1 stock, but O1 is generally domestic source and then precision ground or something close, adding to the cost, but valuable to machinists and others looking for tighter spec.

The bar stock that I get is just rolled annealed stock with the mill layer still on the outside, but just the amount needed to flatten the back is enough that I don't notice any decarb (that will be meaningful to folks who expect several thousandths of decarb layer.

At any rate, wonderful stuff.

Of that series, I would also love to try 115CrV3, "silver steel" of the european variety, but it's not to be had here at retail.

26c3 is at least as good for chisels (will land at high hardness with ease and without suffering toughness problems or brittleness), but not so great for plane irons (it wears really fast).

A lot of the spec sheets talk about hardening it to about 59/60. I have subjectively (but my guesses for hardness have been deadly accurate because of a range of stones that sort of communicate it) hardened mine to about 61/62. I do some things quenching that increase hardness a little bit over book schedule and that may not be practical industrially, or at least not profitable.

Point i'm getting toward is it would be a pretty mediocre iron at 58/59 due to lack of hardness, but could be used especially if you're willing to buff the tip (suddenly, hardness as it pertains to preventing the edge from getting dented or deflected - much less important).

At 61/62, it would make a wonderful block plane iron. The fine grain and tiny carbides, as well as lack if excess carbon in the lattice translates to a steel that is very resistant to brittleness, so it may tolerate surprisingly high hardnesses (I'll check that later - it's new territory for me). In that case, it would make a really great block plane iron - just one that even at high hardness wouldn't outlast A2. it would be far sweeter in use.

Those details (excess carbon, etc) aren't that important - what they imply - ability to function well without being as far into the tempering schedule is the important part. that can create the unexpected result of a lower terminal hardness steel (out of the quench) holding up at a higher hardness than one that comes out of the quench harder. Both 01 and 1095 don't have toughness to spare, and if you look at the edge of something like a hock iron, you'll see that the initial edge has to be worn off a little bit before it settles down - in anything other than ideal work.

The euro page mentioning 56/57 hardness or whatever it was makes me a little suspicious. Consumer knives are often wildly underhardened, which leaves them with a weak apex and a persistent burr, but they're marketed to people where the first goal of the manufacturer is to make the knives as hard as possible to break cleanly. Steels like Buck's 420HC and low hardness 80crV2 would probably bend almost to 90 degrees before they'd break. All that's lost is a nice working knife -and there are some custom makers who do use 80crV2 and push hardness much higher.

The edge with excess carbide feels more crisp - this doesn't have excess carbide. Something like a straight razor or a file does. If I were independently wealthy, I'd start hand making all kinds of stuff, and one of the things would be various temper levels of the same irons for the cork sniffers who just have to have something very specific.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, a TL-DR version of this is that I could make a wonderful block plane iron out of this, how hard I could push it is yet to be determined, but I will experiment some. I wouldn't trust anyone other than a well established upper-level company like Pfeil to use something like this and put it out at 60 hardness or higher, though.
Looks to have a smooth wear pattern, would probably give an overall better surface appearance to the wood than the 01 and would think defo the PMV11 as it gets blunter. But would probably be worse if taking hogging sized stokes. Would you say good to use in a smother rather than a #51/2

This is an interesting concept, and I don't have a universal answer for it.

What I can tell you for sure is that V11 will actually abrade (wear) half as fast as something like similar hardness 80crV2 or O1. I can tell you for sure also that I cannot get that kind of life interval out of O1 if the planing is anything other than perfectly clean nice wood. As in, if you're using a 5 1/2 for heavy work or using a jointer to joint edges or prepare faces, it won't come close to the 2 to 1 interval.

it's full of chromium carbides, relatively high hardness (WBW had one done on versitron and it tested 63, which is why it feels like it sharpens crisply - it does, almost as crisp feeling as high carbon steel but with a slightly more obnxious burr).

the fact that it abrades half as fast means that it will take you twice as long to sharpen a certain length, or put a different way, if you can get it to last twice as long in the cut, you will spend about twice as much physical effort honing the wear off (or more if you use ineffective stones). Even on diamonds, if it's not twice as many strokes, it's close. diamonds cut the carbides, but they don't cut them as deeply.

here's the riddle - V11 if you can keep it from taking on nicks feels as sharp and easy through a smoother cut, and leaves as bright of a surface as anythign I've found. here's what the carbides look like in it after the lattice is worn away a little bit by planing.


If you find a micrograph of CTS-XHP, you'll see what's going on here. There's little carbides from 2-5 microns in balls (I made this iron, but someone in the US posted on another forum that an XRF analysis showed the steel to be CTS-XHP. It could be a custom melt and different in some meaningless way. I sent a relatively high hardness iron to several experienced woodworkers here thinking I'd make it a point or two softer than the V11 irons, but all of them said they couldn't tell any difference.

So if I still had a V11 iron, you would see this. the edge wear is even, and the size of the carbides leaves indiscernible differences and maybe somehow actually leaves a shinier surface.

If anything, I'd say choose the temperamental iron for a smoother, one with relatively high hardness, and put a tougher and easier to sharpen iron in everything else because you'll be taking thicker shavings with that stuff.

Personally, I would pick 80CrV2 over V11 for anything in a plane and chisels I don't know (26c3 over V11 - easily). here's why - the ideals in these pictures and planing tests are nice. they show potential. In real life, with a smoother you will periodically want the edge to be in perfect shape, even if it's not brand new sharp. the more often you sharpen, the better the chance you have of not having damage in the edge. If V11 can plane twice as far, it will accumulate twice the exposure to damage in a simplified case, and it will take twice as long when you go to hone the damage out. it also nicks at least as easily as 80crv2 and is only a fraction as tough at similar hardness, so maybe some things that would cause minor distortion in 80crV2 will cause a nick to break out in V11, sending you back to the stones.

what most people like is simple reasoning that doesn't rely on experience. In my experience, as long as an iron isn't butter soft, I really like to be abrading away only wear and at a rate at least as fast as is needed to eliminate any gradually occurring nicking. I have found a sweetly tempered o1 iron and now this one to ultimately be less work. the bulk of the work done mostly with planes is heavier shavings - if not using power tools, and even 80crV2 will have you wishing to sharpen just to get a break. The smoothing ends up being done in a sniff because middle planing leaves very little to do.

I think this also explains why high wear steels with less edge stability never really made it into hand tools until the amateur era, and most people running to V11 or M2 HSS or something hoping to solve their issues with sharpening would be far better off if they found a faster way to sharpen instead.

But, all that said, the crisp sharpness of V11 through the wear cycle is there if you can avoid nicking. It doesn't have the same problem as the mountford or 52100 irons shown above where the surface actually starts to feel rough before the plane stops cutting. it (V11) is legit. But I think 100 years ago, very few people would've used it for daily work planing had it been available.

Nobody would've used A2.
Damn David, this means that besides the 26c3 irons, I will also need to make a batch of 80CrV2 ones too! I keep falling behind.
If anyone made it through that above, maybe I should be polite and summarize further:
1) any decent steel planes fine. Some are nice to use, and the more you plane, the more you'll notice it
2) edge pictures can show uniformity. i've never seen excellent uniformity and thin look (as in the very tip doesn't look really rounded over as 52100 does a little, it looks more blunt, no matter how hard I leave it) and not had very nice predictable planing.
3) there are some types of differences at the edge that don't match what you see. the XHP looks coarse (substitute V11 here even if it's not identical) because of the carbide volume, but it doesn't lack for cut smoothness, and perceived resistance is low. I don't know why.
4) There is a component of this that needs to be done by feel - I do that first, look at pictures second.
5) If something is to be gained choosing something for a smoother, a good iron with hardness a little higher, and for rougher planes, the extra hardness won't prove to be of much use.

Everyone here would feel the things that I mention feeling, they're not that subtle. Both in how easy a plane stays in a cut and how rough a surface feels.
Damn David, this means that besides the 26c3 irons, I will also need to make a batch of 80CrV2 ones too! I keep falling behind.

Here's a picture of 26c3 for the folks above the equator:

26c3 carbide 300x.jpg

it has so much surplus carbon that it makes visible iron carbides around 2-3 microns on average.

the uniformity of the wedge with wear suffers nothing that 52100 and the mountford iron do (sorry I don't have A2 for anyone curious about it - I think i don't. If i find an old one floating around here, I'll do this same thing). Or put differently, the iron carbides seem to wear more similarly to the lattice around them and to my surprise, the iron wears less long than something that is the same composition with less carbon.

But this stuff is apparently marketed for straight razor making, or at least designed for it, and it makes a great chisel. The wear interval is probably 75-80% that of 80crv, which isn't really a detriment to me, but there would be no market for it.
I love this but it makes my brain boggle.....

Yes, it's sort of a half data dump. the gist is this:
1) it's cheap
2) it's tougher than O1
3) it wears about as long as O1, at least for practical purposes
4) the old adage about chrome vanadium being coarse grained rubbery stuff is probably based on items intentionally made soft so that you couldn't break them in half prying open a paint can and then return them claiming a chisel or whatever else was defective

and then a whole bunch of stuff from the heat treatment standpoint and I think if I start talking about shrinking grain and manipulating carbides on the cheap, nobody is going to follow.

I think I may have deleted it from above, or maybe I left it. I went to a knife forum full of glee about heat treating by hand and eye and getting consistent results, and they banned me referring to arguing that it can be done and telling people who said it can't to please stop bothering me if you're having trouble grasping this as "poor behavior and suspicion of prior troll". Of course that is false. I like people to know who I am so that if they can prove me wrong, they can tell me and I can put another brick in the foundation, so to speak.

they absolutely don't care much about hardness when toughness is in question. As woodworkers, the reason that O1 hangs with this steel in the first place is because we don't care that much about toughness if hardness is too variable.

I could teach someone to heat treat this stuff or O1 in about 10 minutes plus a little repetition, though. and better than most commercial offerings of either, which is kind of a shame if you think about it.
Does the type if wood have a bearing on the types steel required?

Softwood - pine compared with hardwood oak or teak etc...?!!
Does the type if wood have a bearing on the types steel required?

Softwood - pine compared with hardwood oak or teak etc...?!!

no. hardness helps to some extent, so steels that can't attain hardness around 60 or more might be undesirable in a smoother in general, but geometry is far more important than alloy when it comes to planing something nasty. This was a surprise to me when I came upon it buffing the tip of the apex off on a plane iron and then finding it could blast through silica filled cocobolo.

we've all kind of been into this idea that harder steels are "tough" (they're really stronger, but not tough) and that they will sustain less damage in nasty woods, but they generally will get damaged just a little more slowly. getting rid of the very apex of an edge without having to go to really steep angles will make a difference of a factor of who knows what 10?

It makes searching for "better steels" unnecessary.

All that said, to shoot for higher hardness definitely provides a reward of edge crispness related to edge strength and in some cases, abrasion depth from a stone. I'll spare you guys the pictures, but the difference can be pretty drastic. People usually report getting really sharp edges on high hardness tools that let go of their burr - both the burr leaving on its own and the shallower depth help along with the fact that a harder edge is stronger.

Strong meaning how much force it takes to deform it - if it's strong but brittle it can crack and let go. if it's very tough but not strong, it will just deform and deflect, but not let go. This is also no good.

I would choose in an ideal world to have ascending hardness from jack (true jack, cambered) to smoother. The jack plane is going to encounter a lot of filth and interrupted cuts. Something like V11 for that would be toxic - you want to be able to get it refreshed and get back to work.

try plane could be as hard as the smoother, but doesn't need to be, and the smoother is just a little bit more sweet if you can keep enough toughness but venture into a little higher hardness. Just not so hard that sharpening slows down or the iron becomes chippy.
If I ever seen someone directly asking this question at the time, I'll provide instructions. It's shocking to take a cheap plane iron and plane literally right through wood with visible silica in it and not see lines on the wood.

The notion is this - a plane will ultimately be cutting with a rounded apex almost right away. The more dull, the more round.

Early on - right after sharpness, the steel comes to a point and can be deflected or dented by silica or anything nasty (dirt in old knots, etc).

You can engineer the tip of the tool pretty easily to not be so rounded as to be dull, but to be rounded enough that silica can't dent it. You give up about 30% of the edge life.

If you're planing silica and you can't get 10% of the edge life to start up with, then getting 70% is just fine, and having to hone off a thousandth of wear instead of 4 thousandths of dents is far better. Honing 4 thousandths of steel off of an edge, especially on something like V11, is not easy. Honing off a thousandth is just about normal and if you come up a little short and the edge isn't damaged in the first place...

.....well, that's exactly what people used to do with straight razors because really fine abrasive at a consumer level wasn't there - so you honed the razors to keep the edge from getting to fat, but didn't dare hone it far enough to remove the tip.
Great to hear!

I'll pm my address - a no3, 4 and 6 please!! 🤣🤣 will only cost $364 to ship a 1-2kg package from the US to the UK.

I suspect if we find out that someone is using 80crV2, they'll prove my excitement wrong by just making it soft out of laziness, too, but most of the european tool companies and other consumer companies in the US stay very far away from providing specs of anything.

Pfeil uses the term "swiss alloy" or something like that.
We (UK based) all chip in for a batch order and split the shipping??? :)

Thanks @D_W the information and your explanations are very valuable. We woodworkers do tend to get ripped off by these tool salesmen / makers who make unsubstantiated claims about how great their steels are! You have proven this not to be the case and there is the proof a decent steel is out there for ALL budgets to benefit from. Thank you sir and well done!

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