Because we make tools, I hesitate to criticize other toolmakers. Today I am making an exception because the manufacturer is Irwin Industrial Tools, which is owned by Stanley Black & Decker, a company that is worth $28.4 billion (that’s with a “b”).
So no toolmaker is going to go hungry because of this blog entry.
For 18 years I’ve used Irwin Speedbor spade bits in my chairmaking. They are inexpensive, they cut fast, they don’t clog and they are perfectly fine for chairs.
In the 2000s, lots of Irwin’s competitors started making crappier spade bits. They ruined the cutting geometry, didn’t surface-grind the cutting face or they added a screw tip, making them almost worthless for furniture making. But Irwin kept making good bits, and you could get them everywhere.
About two years ago, however, Irwin “improved” its Speedbors by removing the cutting teeth at the rim, replacing them with little chamfers.
These new Speedbors are supposed to last twice as long and cut twice as fast.
My first experience with the new bits was terrible. They cut slow and tended to leave a rough entry and exit hole.
I talked to my supplier at the hardware store about it. She said many of her customers also disliked the new bits and had the same experience I did.
I slapped together a rant about the bits and almost posted it. Then I thought: Maybe I should wait and use the bits some more. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. Maybe the bits can be improved with a little filing. Maybe I just got some bad bits, and the manufacturing will improve in time.
So for the last two years I stuck with the bits. And I can honestly say they still stink. I’m sure Irwin has some science that backs up its claims, but it doesn’t apply to working in hardwoods. Perhaps they did the test in Styrofoam.
I’ve searched for another brand available in the U.S. as a replacement, but I haven’t had much luck. I’ve tried four other brands, and none are as good as the old Speedbors. If you have a recommendation of a spade bit brand you use and adore, please post it in the comments. (Please spare us the “I’ve heard good things about Beaver Bits.” Or “Saul Pellers says spade bits are for punters.”)
Until I find a replacement brand, I’m sharpening my old Speedbor bits. This works great until you file the rim teeth away (I get about three filings before this happens). I’ve also purchased a two-year supply of NOS (new old stock) Speedbor bits from eBay. So I have a couple years to solve this problem.
As anyone who makes chairs will tell you, life is a never-ending search for decent or better bits.
— Christopher Schwarz