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I need to purchase a set of brad point bits (all I own are split point). I see some that are High Speed Steel (HSS) and others made of Chrome Vanadium (Cr-V), and I'm not sure how much the steel should factor into my purchasing decision.

I know it's not just a matter of "cheap ones are HSS and expensive ones are Cr-V" (or vice-versa) - I see that a highly rated brand has individuals and sets in both materials and the prices are similar for similar sized bits.

I did find this handy description but it focuses on drilling in metals, not wood, and is, therefore, off topic here. I'm sure some of it translates to wood working, but I'm not sure exactly how. At this link, they state:

High-Speed Steel (HSS) is a popular material good for drilling into soft steels as well as wood and plastic. It’s an economical solution for most maintenance drilling applications.

However, they have nothing to say about Cr-V, so I don't know if Cr-V, while apparently a popular material for wood-boring bits, is considered a more or a less economical choice, and whether it's better suited for wood drilling than HSS

I'd imagine that one is better for some purposes, while the other is better for other purposes.

  • What are the advantages of each material and when would one prefer one material over the other?
  • Is there enough difference to have sets of both (at some point down the line) and make a selection based on the type of hole/material one is making?
  • Is there enough differentiation between the two materials to really factor it into the decision making?
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  • Sorry to deliberately take this out of context.... "I know it's not just a matter of "cheap ones are HSS and expensive ones are CV" " Um yeah, since HSS is better than Cr-V, or at least it should be. Problem is that HSS is a class of alloys, not a specific alloy and as such the metal can and does vary just based on that. But vagaries of manufacturing make this go way way beyond this since these days it's quite possible to find bits that are made from decent steel that have their tips ground poorly, just like it's possible to buy chisels and rasps that haven't been heat treated properly.
    – Graphus
    Feb 17 at 22:00
  • @Graphus I did say, "(or vice-versa)" - wasn't sure which was better than which. Again, these are a brand of bits that have been highly rated by a number of youtubers that I've started following. I realize that doesn't guarantee anything, but, I've seen demos of the holes drilled with them and they do leave nice crisp edges, etc.. i.e., they ain't Harbor Freight specials! ;)
    – FreeMan
    Feb 17 at 23:15
  • "I did say, "(or vice-versa)" " Oh yes I know, that's why I apologised for deliberately taking it out of context. I just wanted to get out that HSS is a superior alloy to Cr-V (probably across the board, for anything other than junk 'Chinesium' which may not actually be HSS despite it being claimed that it is) so any intimation that Cr-V is superior I'd find a bit dubious TBH.
    – Graphus
    Feb 18 at 10:41
  • I have some Cr-V here and it's a decent enough alloy for chisels. The now very Internet-famous Aldi chisels that Paul Sellers championed are Cr-V and they are quite decent. But honestly from what I can see the main thing this alloy has going for it seems to be a slight improvement in resistance to rusting over plain carbon steel. And I do mean slight! Other than that I think the chief thing it has going for it is that it's made in quantity in some anonymous steel mill in China, so it's inexpensive on the open market!
    – Graphus
    Feb 18 at 10:46
  • I've updated the question a bit in order to try to hone in on what I'm asking. What I'm getting, though, is that Cr-V is a lower end metal, generally aimed at lower end products designed to be cheap, not quality.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 18 at 12:09
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AS already mentioned above, HSS should be a better material for making drill bits out of because it should be harder. I have owned bits with HSS stamped on them that were definitely not great bits.

For brad point bits, the design and quality of production process are more important than the material when it comes to the quality of the hole. The quality of the material (given the same design) would contribute to the lifespan between sharpenings. Lifespan can also be dictated by the material you drill and the number of holes you drill(obviously).

If you will be drilling a few holes in soft/hard woods then don't worry too much about the bit material. If someone has shown you that they drill nice clean holes then go for it. If you are planning to drill thousands of holes in wood, MDF or plastics (plastics tend to generate more heat when drilling) then go for HSS (or if you're planning on living for a long time without buying more drill bits). You certainly don't need two sets of the same drill sizes in different steels.

I have that same set of Fisch bits linked above but in HSS and they are brilliant.

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  • Good to mention sharpening. I was going to ask the rhetorical "Does anyone...?" but instead, I'll wonder out loud what proportion of users touch up their brad-point bits.
    – Graphus
    Feb 20 at 9:25
  • Sharpening brad point bits is beyond me and so the OP may consider that the HSS bits are a better investment in the long run, unless they're a sharpening guru. Out of centre points and uneven spurs are all I end up with.
    – Tim Nixon
    Feb 21 at 22:20
  • Yeah I know what you mean! I can just about do it on the larger bits (not fooling myself that I'm getting them as good as they were to begin with!) but the smaller sizes are just too small to practically sharpen. Apart from my rapidly failing close vision ^_^ you just can't get a needle file in there! So once they become blunt blunt they'd be discarded unless I have a current need for raw material for marking gauge pins, awls or something like that.
    – Graphus
    Feb 22 at 8:50
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You are comparing "apples to oranges". They are dramatically different ; HSS will cut steel while red hot ( in a dark room , 1100 F), and contains roughly 20 % alloys. Cr , V is a low alloy tool steel ( like grade L-2) and contains less than 3 % alloys . The V carbides will hold an edge longer than other low alloy tool steels , but not to a degree that a craftsman could notice. An indirect comparison is that HSS is hardened by oil quenching from about 2200 F and tempered at about 1100 F. Cr, V is hardened by quenching from 1600 F into oil and tempering at about 350 F ; I understand this info is no value to the user but it indicates these are significantly different alloys. If you are drilling wood , the Cr, V are fine . I you want to drill more than a couple holes in steel ,pay for the HSS.

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  • +1 but personally I would not countenance anything other than HSS for a brad-point bit that I wanted to last because wood, and wood products, can be surprisingly dulling to edges at high speed. A good illustration of just how dulling basic hardwoods can be is that HSS turning tools (which in their day were a revelation, over what came before) have become virtually obsolete these days due to the need for constant resharpening, even with quality HSS alloys like M2.
    – Graphus
    Feb 21 at 19:31

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