Expensive Chisels

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    Larry Geib

    I use 3M reposition adhesive, normally used to stick paper on paper and not be permanent. I don’t have an issue with the handles falling off, and they can still be broken down (for travel, as an example) with a sharp sideways rap on the handle.

    Hair spray is just thinned lacquer. Reposition adhesive is more like thinned contact or rubber cement, and has more body. Let it dry a bit before you join the handle to the socket and use a mallet.

    Larry Geib

    I’m curious though about the benefits of socket chisels over others? Anyone’s thoughts?

    Socket chisels are a bit more durable for mallet use than tang chisels. They also have the advantage that they can be broken down for storage, and the handles are easily replaced.

    The disadvantage is they can be slightly heavier, but that depends a lot on the actual design of the blades. Socket chisels can come in very fine profiles.

    Stanley made a series of chisels in the Sweetheart era that were called Everlast, and were chisels that had both a socket with a continuous tang that was solid to a metal striking face. They were soon superseded by a plastic handle Stanley called Stanaloid that Stanley pioneered for screw drivers and looked a lot like the familiar amber handles we still see.

    We may view those as inferior handles today, but they actually were listed at a 50% premium over the standard hickory handle on the 750,740, and 720 premium chisels in the 1934 catalogue. I have one Stanaloid chisel from the thirties made in Sheffield.

    But I think the real answer that the English style was tang chisels, at least until Stanley entered the market there, while the new world thought sockets were the premium arrangement.

    Disclaimer: almost all of my bench chisels are Stanley 740,750 (both old and new), and Greeley look-alikes, which are every bit the quality of the old Stanleys, and all my carving chisels are tang chisels of several Euro brands. I can’t say either is more fragile. The socket chisels are a bit easier to replace. I keep a couple spare handles around and there is virtually no downtime, but we are only talking maybe Four handles in 40 years.

    I’d focus more on how they feel in your hand, the ability to hold an edge, and the fit and finish.

    And I look forward to cheaper British tools now that they are looking for new trading partners.

    Richard Guggemos


    Love Larry’s suggestion about reposition adhesive!

    It all comes down to what we want – we justify what matters to us. Just like it always saves money to move HQ closer to the CEO’s home.

    That said, here are a few opinions (or maybe more)…

    One advantage to cheaper chisels is That one can afford more sizes and types (butt, paring, mortice).

    Socket chisels, by design, should better resist damage from the mallet. That’s probably why we don’t see rings on their handles. There isn’t a tang acting like a wedge with each mallet blow, meanwhile the socket compresses the wood fibers together each time the mallet forces them further in. Re-handling is also quicker.

    If you want a set of socket chisels, you might check out the current run (Sheffield made) Stanley 750s. I’ve seen them on eBay with 8 chisels and a leather roll for well under $200. Not Narex cheap, but certainly cheaper than L-N, AI, RS, HIRSCH OR 2 Cherries. And the 4 chisel sets were at similar discounts – cheap enough to experiment and see if you like sockets.

    I have a Hirsch gouge and it was sharp out of the package. Of course, it’s polished all over. That’s my expensive chisel and the limit of my experience in that realm. Beyond that, I have Narex, Aldi, an old plastic handled Swede, some TruTest (an older hardware store brand), one (Sheffield) Stanley 750, and some various older American socket chisels.

    Ed’s comments resonate re. the issue of matching size to type of work. I’ve never handled any of the Brits, but their sizes appear to fit between socketed and Aldi chisel handles – maybe they cover all applications?

    I’ve purchased my Narex on eBay from Taylor Toolworks. They are true imperial sizes and price out at $50 for 4 with shipping. Note, my Narex set doesn’t have quite as fancy a handles as some of their other lines.

    My Narex fill in my eigths sizes between my Aldi. I switch back and forth between the brands without pause – and notice no differences apart from visual. BTW my Aldi chisels haven’t broken yet – which I attribute to the fact that I paid the princely price of $18 for same. 😉

    The Narex came sharp right from the box. After some testing, I did hone them just-in-case so the edges would last a full cycle. But they and the Hirsch are the sharpest chisels I’ve used from new.

    Flat backs is an interesting topic. I was always taught that the leading edge and two outer edges should be on a plane. The rest can have a slight hollow. I haven’t yet purchased a chisel that was otherwise, although I know they exist.

    I can’t tell, most of the time, if people expect a uniform plane across back. I’ve never used such a beast but doubt that it matters. The difference between the edge and the hollow is so very small, and wood is such a highly variable material in comparison, that I can’t see the benefit of a uniformly flat back.

    Re sharpening or holding an edge, I don’t think it matters too much. Ron Hock offers blades from traditional O1 steel and also one of the more modern and durable formulas. According to him, the O1 can be brought to a sharper edge while the other holds its edge longer. Even Ron doesn’t quantify these differences. I don’t buy into the concept that one can have sharper and longer lasting in the same chisel. Different steels and different heat-treat/tempering schedule will lead to sharper or more durable. But I don’t think that these trade-offs are clear enough to inform a decision regarding which chisel to purchase. So I just don’t worry about this debate and I’ve been quite happy with all my chisels.

    If you’ve found any of this of value, great.

    Rick G


    I agree with all that Ed said. If you use the chisels occasionally, any of the brands mentioned will do. But there are definite differences which make using a quality chisel more of a joy and less of a chore, especially if used frequently and extensively. These include the ergonomics-the balance in your hand when making fine paring cuts, the balance when held like a pencil to chop dovetail waste, the fine lands on the sides which allow the chisel to reach the acute angles of dovetails. How often and how easily they sharpen, etc. I have a set of Robert Sorby chisels I have used over 30 years, but over the last 3-4 years my favorites have been the Ashley Iles chisels. More expensive than Aldi but less so than Lie-Nielsen, but as good as any chisels I’ve used, and better than most. Roy Underhill once said concerning tools “Life is both too long and too short to spend with any tools but the best you can afford.” Also-we enjoy vintage tools and bemoan the state of toolmaking today. But the only way we’ll see a return to quality toolmaking is if we buy it. Craftsmen who used their tools all day every day would never have settled for much of the crap sold today, and we shouldn’t either. Planes, rasps, saws, etc all have suffered because consumers voted with their dollars for cheap poorly made tools. When you buy a new tool you are either endorsing this status quo or encouraging a new age of quality. Your vote counts!

    Steve Giles

    I forgot about buying expensive new chisels after I bought a job-lot of old Sheffield chisels off ebay. I have Ward, Colquhoun & Cadman and unbranded ‘cast steel’ chisels and there’s something ‘right’ about the feel, look and sharpening qualities of them. They weren’t expensive though, so maybe this post is off-topic (-:


    There can be a difference between expensive and quality

    Thomas Bittner

    I saved my money and bought a set of Lie neilsen socket chisels. I always thought the handles should naturally lock in because of the taper but they didn’t The backs were flat and the chisels were pretty but i had to grind quite a bit off the tips to get to good steel. They kept chipping on me and i thought i was doing something wrong. Then i found out it was because of the way they were hardened. This came from lie Nielsen themselves, something about carbonization. The handles are to small for me. Overall i am disappointed in them and I think I will sell them on EBAY and get some of my money back, people get all hyped up about this brand so i should do quite well.
    I bought Narex Paring Chisels, the price was right and the steel is excellent. Lie Nielsen doesnt make these lengths partly because of the difficultly hardening the steel in such lengths. Yes, the handles are crummy but i knew that when i bought them. When i get a lathe i will turn my own handles to my liking. Everyone is different i look at this as fitting the tools to my preference.
    I have a set of Crown chisels, a lot of people dont like these but they are my favorite bench chisels. The handles fit me perfectly and i will use that as a model when i redo the Narex Chisels. I like the polish, some people say they aren’t flat but i never noticed a problem making joinery with them and the edges hold up just fine.
    I also have a set of Craftsman chisels from when i was a young boy. These have held up well for over 40 years and have taken a beating from a novice (that would be me). I think i will remove the plastic handles someday and make some really nice short butt chisels with them.
    Bottom line is don’t believe the hype, what fits your hand and what seems balanced to one person doesn’t mean it will fit you. As far as what holds an edge depends on what your cutting and how much silica or other minerals are in the wood dulling your edges. How you use the chisels makes a big difference to edge life and what type of edge your grinding to make them sharp makes a difference as well.
    I am not knocking nor promoting any brands, I have just grown skeptical of over hyped over priced tools. As i use my hand tools more and more i tune them to fit me when i find the time. To me thats what makes it my favorite tool, the one that you won’t loan out to anybody. You become so familiar with the feel and balance and you remember how well it the tool works for you and that establishes a connection.

    James Savage

    I’m with you on this one Steve. I started with a set of Aldi chisels which I still use and have found excellent, never had one break. I was lucky to win a bid on a job lot of chisels on Ebay ( including Sorby, James Howarth and other Sheffield makes) for less than £1.00 per chisel, I bid on them because I wanted more selection of sizes rather than just the four in the Aldi set. A lot of the handles are split, rusty steel, covered in paint etc but after some tlc the steel has cleaned up and sharpened beautifully and I am slowly making and fitting new handles. I have given my Dad some and am getting a set together for my son who is six at the moment but loves doing woodwork. I love these chisels to bits, maybe because of the work i’ve put into restoring them but they are also a joy to use. I just don’t have the money to spend on new, expensive brands but I really can’t see how they would be any better than what I’ve got now.

    Jim - Derbyshire.



    Flat backs is an interesting topic. I was always taught that the leading edge and two outer edges should be on a plane. The rest can have a slight hollow. I haven’t yet purchased a chisel that was otherwise, although I know they exist.

    I can’t tell, most of the time, if people expect a uniform plane across back. I’ve never used such a beast but doubt that it matters. The difference between the edge and the hollow is so very small, and wood is such a highly variable material in comparison, that I can’t see the benefit of a uniformly flat back.

    It’s not that they want a flat plane over a hollow grind, but that most of the cheaper chisels are not properly ground to begin with. They come with a slightly convex back that will push the chisel off the path and create inaccuracy in the work. Most Japanese chisels and some quality, expensive chisels are hollow ground. Hollow ground is preferred due to the very low coefficient of friction, but if you lack the funds to purchase hollow ground chisels or the tools to create the hollow grind yourself, then flattening the back lets you create a more precise tool. Most individuals can flatten a chisel with a piece of MDF and some sandpaper.

Viewing 9 posts - 16 through 24 (of 24 total)
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