By Christoper Schwarz
I’ve long been suspicious of the so-called “super steels” that promise long edge life between sharpenings. That has always meant that you have to spend a long time sharpening the tool on your stones or – even worse – you have to buy fancy equipment to even get a serviceable edge.
Plus, no new steel I’ve tried has ever had the feel of old-fashioned high-carbon steel. Until now.
Veritas is using a powdered steel (a closely guarded formula) that seems to defy many of the normal laws of high-carbon and alloy steels. Powdered metal is nothing new in woodworking. During the last decade, I’ve tried out several plane irons and chisels that were made using the sintering process.
In a nutshell, powdered metals are where you take your raw materials, combine them in liquid form and then atomize them to form a powder. The powder is sifted through a screen for consistency, put into a mould and then heated to form a solid billet. This sintering process allows you to make materials with remarkable consistency that can have properties that would be impossible to make by smelting.
For most of 2012, I’ve been testing a sample of Veritas’s new metal, which is called PM-V11. I’ve been using it side-by-side with a Veritas A2 iron, swapping the irons back and forth in the same tool. Both irons were set up from scratch in my shop.
Both PM-V11 and A2 sharpen readily on waterstones and sandpaper. And the first surprise was how easy the PM-V11 was to polish. It polished up much faster than the A2 iron (and all other A2 irons I’ve used on waterstones).
In use, the PM-V11 held its edge longer than the A2. How long exactly I cannot say. I’ve been working in mahogany and oak exclusively since January, and it was obvious that I was getting more work from the PM-V11 iron between sharpenings.
But to be candid, edge life doesn’t impress me terribly. As long as I’m not sharpening the tool every hour, I’m OK. What I really care about is sharpenability – how easy the tool is to sharpen – and how keen an edge it takes. On this front, the PM-V11 is a real champ.
In fact, the biggest surprise came when I tried sharpening the PM-V11 on my oilstones. It was exactly like sharpening high-carbon steel. The soft Arkansas bit right into the cutter and turned a burr with ease. The hard and translucent Arkansas stones did their jobs quickly and easily. Honestly, if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn I was sharpening high-carbon steel.
The development of PM-V11 has required thousands of laboratory and real-world tests and more than $250,000 in development costs for Veritas, according to Robin Lee, president of Lee Valley Tools and Veritas. The company plans to offer it in many Veritas tools, plus replacement irons for Stanley blades. Blades using PM-V11 should cost about 30 percent more than an A2 or O1 blade, on average, Lee said.
PM-V11 is a big deal for traditional woodworkers like myself. It allows you to sharpen it with almost any medium – quickly – and enjoy a long time between sharpenings. It is the best of the old world and the new.
From the October 2012 issue #199
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