I broke my chisel – why did this happen?

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  • #628643
    Waldo Nell
    Participant

    I have a new 6mm Veritas bench chisel, and am using my brass mallet (https://www.leevalley.com/en-ca/shop/tools/hand-tools/mallets/30263-veritas-journeymans-brass-mallet) to chop mortises in oak. I have completed about 20 mortises when one hit of the mallet cause the handle to split in two. This chisel does not have a hoop at the end, but as far as I understand it a chisel does not need to have one to be usable with a mallet. What did I do wrong? I did not hit it hard – I go at most 3mm into the wood with each pass when chopping mortises.

    #628658
    Larry Geib
    Participant

    It’s possible that any handle can split, and hafting new handles is a part of woodworking.

    But maybe you are pushing what can be expected of a bench chisel.

    Brass mallets were developed for people using steel chisels and gravers, not really for people using wood handled tools. The brass gives softer percussion than a steel hammer would give so it wouldn’t mar a stone carver’s chisel, for instance, but rather be the tool that gets dinged up. It is MUCH harder than your wood handle. I know it’s nice to have the small tool in your hand, but there is increased risk.

    Veritas, for example, says in their description that the tool is for people doing work FINER THAN MORTICING

    I don’t see morticing as an intended use. I think they mean detail carving and sculpting.
    so you didn’t use the tool as they intended. I suggest you try a wood mallet or a nylon headed mallet like Paul uses on your expensive tools.

    Below find Veritas’ and a second description from a hammer and mallet purveyor. on the use of a brass mallet.

    Or you can get a mallet with a metal core (steel, brass, or lead) and a nylon surface that is almost as small as your brass tool I see them when I go to buy leather. They seem popular with those craftsmen.i have one which was drilled and filled with low temp tin.

    #628670
    Waldo Nell
    Participant

    I took the part about it being for finer work than mortising to mean it is gentler than a mallet you would use for mortising, so maybe less ideal but less hard on your chisel. In any case it was what a sales rep recommended, I guess he was not well versed with hand tools…

    I also have this mallet so I will give it a try… https://www.leevalley.com/en-ca/shop/tools/hand-tools/mallets/50229-veritas-cabinetmakers-mallet

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by Waldo Nell.
    #628676
    Larry Geib
    Participant

    That’s a nice tool and is more suited if you are using a bench chisel for mortising. It has the mass of bronze with a softer face.

    I suggest that a brass mallet is not gentler if it is used for the same purpose and intended percussive effect as a more resilient alternative. It is rather harder on a handle since it is less resilient and thus transfers more of the impact to the handle. It is only gentler if you use it more gently.
    It’s the same concept that drove the switch from hardwood to titanium drivers in golf. More of the impact force is transferred to the ball in a shorter time, for more force and speed.

    Save your brass tool for those times you want to precisely direct small impact for fine detail. Dovetails usually take less force.

    And if you are doing a lot of mortise work, you might want to explore the advantages of a purpose made chisel, like a pig sticker

    The only tradition I’m aware of that promotes hitting wood handle chisels with metal is the Japanese, and they always have steel rings around the handles, generally sharpen more finely on chisels that have very hard steel backed by soft iron, and use relatively small steel hammers (13 oz or so, as opposed to your 20 oz tool).
    Occasionally somebody will pipe up that a lump hammer works great. Maybe so, but he isn’t paying for your handles.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by Larry Geib.
    #628699
    YrHenSaer
    Participant

    I agree with what’s been said.

    I should also add that you are very fortunate that it’s only the handle that is broken. They can snap off the blade an inch or so below the socket and hey-presto, you’ve got a stubby Butt-Chisel!

    The peened-over edge of the handle shows how much punishment it took. If you have such a tenacious piece of Oak to require that much clout, then a full sized pig-sticker is for you.

    However, the reality is that ultimately, however glamourous chisel handles are, they are a disposable commodity and will wear/split with normal use of their lifetime. Personally I prefer to use repeated short taps with a wooden mallet – you have much more control over the cut.

    Going back to the origins of socket chisels, they were large tools forged for heavy duty carpentry framing or ship work. Cabinet chisels used a tapering tang – much more economical for a tool-maker to produce – cheaper, too. Handles for those very old hand-made sockets rarely survive because they were disposable, split… replaced… split again. Often knocked out by journeymen for economical storage as they moved from job to job. The older chisel sockets from the 19th C were swaged to shape when forged are no two sockets were the same. The carpenter whittled his own handles to suit from scrap wood. Moving on in time to the Stanley era when the socket chisels were made that the Veritas/Lie-Nielsen type is based on and the socket was refined by being machine-bored. The advantage is that each one is now interchangeable in a set.

    However, it’s not all doom-and-gloom; It’s only a new handle. Take the old one out and if you slice it down the middle, preserving the socket-end, you’ll have a template-shape to make the new one and subsequent handles, both long and short. A sharp tap on the socket usually releases the bond and you may make short, stubby handles for tapping with a mallet or longer ones for accurate paring work.
    It’s possible to whittle the socket shape by hand, alternatively a complete new handle is less than 10 minutes on a lathe, finished and polished.

    Select some straight-grained wood; traditionally chisel handles were made of Box, Ash, Beech (in that order of quality), however many years ago I laid in a stock of apple from an ancient tree that came down in the Great Storm of 1987 and I can vouch for good, straight Apple wood for handles – that tree was brilliant.

    good luck

    #628710
    Greg Jones
    Participant

    As others have mentioned, wrong mallet for the task and ideally I’d pick a mortise chisel to chop mortises, but I know that Paul does use a bench chisel to chop mortises.

    That blade has a tang with a socket ferrule, so making a replacement handle is not going to be as simple as would be the case with a pure socket chisel such as the Lie-Nielsen. Probably would be best to contact Lee Valley, and also let them know which of their salespeople recommended that mallet for mortising.

    #628719
    YrHenSaer
    Participant

    Apologies…… it appears to be a straight-forward socket chisel a la Stanley/L-N from the picture.

    I’m trying to visualise a combination socket and tang on a chisel that size. Any chance of a picture showing the marriage before assembly?

    I’d guess that the whole thing is CNC-made….. even so, lathes are versatile pieces of kit – all turners are problem solvers.
    I would venture that Veritas would be able to help. I’ve always found them good in that respect.

    I think that Paul Sellers’ technique using bevel-edged chisels is to tap with that nylon hammer, removing small chips, getting progressively deeper. I admit to wincing slightly when he levers with that chisel, but the modern ones he uses have a much thicker cross-section in the blade. I wouldn’t risk that with my lovely, old all-forged pre-war Marples, which are quite thin about the shank in comparison.

    Good luck….. please let us know how you get on.

    #628724
    Greg Jones
    Participant

    Here is a link to the Veritas page that shows a cross-section of the chisel. Linked here

    #628737
    YrHenSaer
    Participant

    Thank you, Greg.
    As I see it, the socket recess in the chisel has a central, cylindrical tang that penetrates the handle, while the root of the handle is retained in the socket. A complicated thing to manufacture, if I ever saw one.
    The L-N version, although it appears the same, mimics the pre-war Stanley 700 series, which is what I thought that it was.
    A lot of manufacturers over the years used a shoulder design that looks like a socket, though was in fact a flat shoulder with a tang.

    The Stanley 5001 series came out in the 1960s/70s and used something similar but minus the deep socket.

    Well I hope that Veritas are sympathetic. As a consolation, if you are in the UK, I could probably make a new handle on the lathe, though I’d need the chisel to do it.

    good luck

    #628789
    Waldo Nell
    Participant

    Thanks – that explanation makes a lot of sense.

    #628794
    Waldo Nell
    Participant

    I think that Paul Sellers’ technique using bevel-edged chisels is to tap with that nylon hammer, removing small chips, getting progressively deeper. I admit to wincing slightly when he levers with that chisel, but the modern ones he uses have a much thicker cross-section in the blade. I wouldn’t risk that with my lovely, old all-forged pre-war Marples, which are quite thin about the shank in comparison.

    As I stated, I chopped even softer than what Paul does. I go deeper no more than 1 – 3mm on each pass through the mortise hole – depending on how soft the wood is. The mushrooming on the handle is slight and is from me hitting it off center sometimes. I never lever like Paul does as I am uncomfortable doing so at my skill level, so I just pull it up. I do not feel I hit any harder than the bare minimum to get the mortise chopped, and my chisels are very sharp as Paul always recommend. It takes me about 20 minutes to chop one 2″ wide and 1/4″ thick and 3/4″ deep mortise hole, so I am going slowly. But I agree the brass mallet might be too much for this chisel.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by Waldo Nell.
    #628875
    Waldo Nell
    Participant

    So Lee Valley was kind enough to exchange my chisel for a new one. Another question – can I use the brass mallet on a chisel with a hoop like my japanese dovetail chisels or the Veritas mortise chisels with the hoop at the end?

    #628897
    Sven-Olof Jansson
    Participant

    Having watched Mr. David Charlesworth’s videos, I believe in reserving the little Veritas brass mallet for the very final chop on the gauge line.

    There are advantages with mortice chisels, I think. One can take thicker bites and chop deeper, and their flat sides are easier to keep along a mortice guide. The ones from Lie-Nielsen are very accurate and precise, as is my 1/8″ Veritas; and they do retain a sharp edge for a long time. Their only negative aspect, which they by construction share with all mortice chisels, is that they are awkward for short mortices less than 25 mm).

    My right index finger does not take kindly towards being mauled between the chisel and the wood when I’m clearing the waste. So, I prefer a swan neck chisel, which also reduces the risk of damage to the mortice edge.

    The attached photo of two mortice chisels and one bevelled chisel will, hopefully, show that the 1/4″ to the right is quite robust.

    Sven-Olof Jansson
    London, UK; Boston, MA

    #629056
    Benoît Van Noten
    Participant

    One has to listen to the sound: tap tap … tap thud.
    Stop beating when the sound changes.
    We don’t want to nail the chisel into the wood.
    Paul has an excellent video where he makes two mortises behind a glass.
    (look for “Cutting a Mortise – Mortise chisel vs bevel edge chisel”)
    Very very instructive.
    He is never levering much wood, only what correspond to the (single) thud sound.

    #629081
    Waldo Nell
    Participant

    I did view that video. But please – I have stated this more than two times already here, I did NOT chop hard. It takes me 20 – 30 minutes to chop a small mortise – Paul does 8 in 17 minutes. I never chop deeper than 2 – 3 mm. I never lever. I did not hit the chisel hard. I have made perhaps 30 mortises before with this chisel with no problem, the 31th or so it broke. I did *not* hit it hard.

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