The aim of this assessment was to determine the ease of initial preparation, ease of sharpening, and durability of edge of a Chinese-made laminated blade that is about to be launched on the market by Galoot Tools, who are under the helm of Chris Scholz.
has obtained the services of a Chinese master blacksmith to
manufacture handplane blades for Stanley-type and woodie pattern
planes. His website describes these as follows:
Our blades are made of forge welded sword steel with a laminated piece of tool steel. The steel for our blades is hand-folded and hand-hammered for hours to achieve unparalleled crystallographic structure and to drive out all impurities that reduce the performance of the blade. All critical process steps are performed by master craftsmen with many years of experience in high-end blade making. In contrast to other manufacturers that claim to hand forge blades our blades are forges in charcoal forges using hand hammers.
Our design is similar to top of the line Japanese plane blades; in contrast to Japanese plane blades our blades are made to fit Western Stanley-Bailey type planes (currently #4 smoothing plane and #5 Jack plane). Our blades have the same thickness as other premium replacement blades (i.e. 3/32 inches, 2.4mm) and fit most most bench planes without modification.
Advantages our our blades are
* superior vibration dampening as compared to blades made of a single piece of steel
* easy to sharpen with conventional water-stones or oil-stones
* superior durability comparable to A2 cryogenic steel
extreme hardness (HRC62)
* superior crystallographic structure
Chris sent me one of his blades in November 2006 with a request to try it out. I spent a couple of months using it and wrote up a review in January 2007. This article is essentially a replication of what I wrote, warts and all. The results of the evaluation will, obviously, be the prime focus for most, but others may also find some interest in the testing process I followed.
The blade for evaluation was a beta version of what has since become the middle of a three-blade range, the “Performance Series Bench Plane Blade”.
Galoot-Tools handmade (hand hammered, hand polished to 1200 grit) blade for Stanley Bailey #4 Smoothing.
Blade is 2" wide and 3/32" thick.
Blade is made of tool steel laminated to forge welded (Damascus) steel.
Blade is hardened to HRC62.
For comparison, the Chinese blade was compared with a #4 sized Lie Nielsen (LN) “Stanley Replacement” blade (A2 steel) and a full length standard Stanley (made in USA) blade of a Type 16-18 vintage (High Carbon Steel – HCS). The same plane was used for each blade, a tuned circa 1930 Stanley Bedrock. The same lever cap was used on each blade, a current LN.
I would have liked to have included my “Smoothcut” laminated Japanese blade in this assessment but, unfortunately, it was not a comparable size, being used in a Stanley #7. I have used this particular blade for about 5 years and been very impressed with its overall performance.
The first step involved flattening the back of the blades. The Stanley had not been used before, while the LN was about 2 years old. All the blades were treated the same and prepared from scratch as if new.
The procedure for this involved lapping each blade on a series of grits on sandpaper. This began with 80 grit, then passed through 120, 240, 360, 600, 1200, and then concluded on Veritas green rouge (.5 microns). The sandpaper was glued to 10mm glass, which in turn was fixed to 3 layers of ¾” MDF. This rested on my workbench.
Before each blade was lapped, the area behind the bevel was coated with a blue magic marker to aid in determining the high and low areas.
All the blades were easy to lap. The LN was the easiest and flattest, but this was to be expected as it had already gone through this process two years before.
The Stanley lapped easily but it was evident that there were some areas of wear or pitting that could not be removed. Fortunately they were well away from the business end.
The Chinese blade lapped as easily as the others, but there was a problem in that one corner behind the mouth was dubbed (on the one side only). This might have been lapped out if I was sure that this process did not endanger the lamination (I did redo the lapping on coarser grits to remove this area, but stopped when I did not make sufficient inroads here). As a result I was forced to leave an area about 2 mm wide unflattened. I should point out that this area would probably have been removed if I had cambered the blades, which I left straight for this assessment.
Chinese (note the left side for “blue”), Stanley (note the dark areas), LN
Here is a shot of two of the finished blade backs (.5 microns).
And one for fun ..
By this stage if was not possible to determine which blade was which from the surface reflection.
All the blades received a 30° flat grind and a single bevel on King waterstones in the progression 800, 1200 and 8000 using a LV Honing Guide Mk II, followed with each blade being stropped on a horse butt leather.
The reason I went with a single bevel was that these are not thick blades. They range between approximately 2.5mm for the LN, to 2.0mm for the Stanley. The Chinese blade was about 2.25mm thick.
I could not detect any significant difference in difficulty in honing these blades. Surprisingly, the Stanley was subjectively the hardest of the three to hone. The LN and the Chinese blades ranked equal.
Since the aim was to determine the durability of these blades, each was given the same practical test. This involved counting the number of shaving made by each blade when planing the same board.
To do this, each was set up with the identical setting on the cap iron (1mm back from the edge) , with the same mouth size (adjusted for each on the Bedrock). Before each blade was used on the target wood, test shavings were made on a length of construction-grade pine.
Here are pictures of shaving from each of the blades on pine:
Each of these planes left the surface of the pine board smooth as silk and with a shine that anyone would be happy to have as a finishing surface.
The target wood was a board of an unknown gum (eucalypt) that I knew to be hard and possessing considerable interlinked grain. I believed that this would provide the blades with a stern test of durability.
The aim was to plane with each blade until it no longer produced any shavings.
In order of greatest to least durability, the Chinese laminated blade completed 188 shavings, the LN blade completed 179 shavings, and the Stanley blade completed 108 shavings.
At the 80th count, the Chinese blade produced shavings like these:
By the 188th count, shavings were like this:
The LN produced these shavings at the count of 80:
and by the 179th it was down to this:
Finally, for reference, the Stanley blade produced these shavings at the count of 108:
The Chinese laminated blade and the LN blade are considered to be essentially on a par. Both were somewhat better than the Stanley blade.
The only concern raised about the Chinese-made blade was the slightly dubbed edge as the rear of one corner. I am aware that this is not a production blade and that production blades are likely to be fully lapped (they will need to be to compete with the blades being produced by LN and, especially, by LV). In actual use, I would have cambered the blade, and this would likely have eliminated the tiny dubbed area.
To conclude then, the Chinese laminated blade turns in a performance (honing and durability) that is at least the equal of a LN blade.