HSS and carbide: Difference

What are the difference between HSS and carbide?

HSS and carbide are two different types of materials commonly used for cutting tools such as drills, end mills, and turning tools.

HSS (High-Speed Steel) is a type of steel that contains high levels of carbon and other elements such as tungsten, molybdenum, and chromium. HSS is a popular choice for cutting tools because it can maintain its hardness and cutting ability at high temperatures, making it ideal for high-speed machining operations. HSS is also relatively affordable and can be sharpened easily.

Carbide, on the other hand, is a composite material made up of tungsten carbide particles held together by a metallic binder, usually cobalt. Carbide is much harder and more wear-resistant than HSS, which means it can maintain its cutting ability for longer periods of time, even in high-speed or high-heat machining operations. Carbide is also more brittle than HSS, which means it can chip or break more easily if it encounters too much stress or shock.

In general, HSS is a good choice for general-purpose machining operations, while carbide is often used for more specialized applications where extreme hardness and wear resistance are required, such as machining hard metals or composites. Carbide tools are often more expensive than HSS tools, but they can offer longer tool life and lower overall tooling costs over time.

Some additional differences between HSS and carbide:

Cutting speed:

HSS tools can generally be used at higher cutting speeds than carbide tools, especially in softer materials. This is because HSS can withstand higher temperatures before losing its hardness, while carbide can become too brittle if it gets too hot. However, in harder materials or high-speed machining applications, carbide tools can often be used at much higher cutting speeds than HSS.

Surface finish:

Carbide tools are often used when a very smooth surface finish is required, as they can maintain their sharp cutting edges for longer than HSS tools. HSS tools can sometimes leave a rougher surface finish, especially after repeated use.

Tool life:

Carbide tools generally have a longer tool life than HSS tools, especially in hard or abrasive materials. This is because carbide is much harder and more wear-resistant than HSS, and can maintain its cutting ability for longer periods of time.


Carbide tools are generally more expensive than HSS tools, due to the higher cost of the raw materials and the more complex manufacturing process. However, as mentioned above, carbide tools can often offer lower overall tooling costs over time, as they can last longer and require fewer replacements.

In summary, the choice between HSS and carbide tools depends on a variety of factors, including the material being machined, the desired surface finish, the cutting speed, and the cost. In many cases, a combination of HSS and carbide tools may be used for different stages of the machining process, depending on the specific requirements of the job.

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