Q: I know there are two types of burrs (also spelt burs) which can be mounted in a flexible shaft for removing metal: high-speed steel and vanadium steel. What is the difference?
A: Actually, both types of burrs have a good place on the bench. They have different tooth structures, with the vanadium steel burrs being much finer. This makes them cut smoother in some instances, and also makes them a bit easier to control. I, and some other setters I know, much prefer them, especially in the small sizes. The coarse teeth on high-speed burrs may cut faster, but they also are much more likely to catch and bend a prong instead of cutting into it, or run away from you, or something equally disastrous.
In large sizes, I prefer the high-speed steel burrs for their cutting speed. Also, a lot depends on shape. The standard setting burr is better in high-speed steel in all sizes. I get only the larger-size hart burrs in high-speed steel. And if I’m setting or cutting right next to existing diamonds, as when seating closely spaced pave’ set stones, or other cases where there may be a chance of accidentally running the burr against the adjacent diamond, there is less chance of damage to the diamond with the vanadium burrs. (Since the burr is badly damaged in such an encounter, I’d rather it not be my expensive high-speed burrs).
As to which high-speed burrs to get, I don’t know about brands other than the Dedeco goldies, which I like a lot. The gold TiN coating does make them last longer, especially if you are setting in platinum. One other thing to look for in high speed burrs: some burr manufacturers make their burrs with the teeth running straight up and down, and others give the teeth a spiral around the burr. The straight up and down style is more likely to chatter, giving you a misshapen cut. In general, I’d suggest the spiral-tooth type, but it’s not available on all shapes. But in standard setting burs, and for bud burrs, it’s worth looking for. You rarely see spiral teeth on any of the vanadium burrs, or I’d advise it in choosing them as well.
by Peter W. Rowe M.F.A., G.G.