6 February 2020 at 1:28 pm #647901
Hi all, this is my first post here.
I am looking at upgrading my Japanese chisels (ori nomi) for a larger western set for heavier work such as carpentry and timber framing, as well as heavy joinery on doors and industrial furniture. As such, I have come to the conclusion that most bevel edged “bench chisels” are just too light and the timber handles have very poor quality, ferrules and hoops ie either thin pressed or spun steel. However the classic English registered firmer chisel (ship chisel handle) really ticks all the boxes as it has a solid striking hoop and solid steel ferrule on a strong handle shape not to mention a blade design that is perfect for heavy stock removal and large joints. Like bridle, lap and housing joints, even light morticing.
The question I have been pondering is: do Robert Sorby, Henry Taylor or Crown (cryo range 174KR) perform well?
I have head many reviews say they are softer than desired and as an Australian cabinet maker based in Vienna, using harder European timbers this is not what I want to hear. I have owned and used a vintage Ward and Payne as well as a my trusted Charles Taylor firmer both of which are top quality chisels.
I’m wondering if the new ones match the quality of vintage ones in regards to English makers like Robert Sorby, Henry Taylor and Crown? I am well aware of the differences of modern tool steels vs vintage carbon steels however with modern steels and heat treating methods and controls this should give us a better quality tool, am I right?
While considering my options I also looked at Henry Taylor socket chisels (beveled edge and plain firmer) as well, but are they worth the money?
Other options I am very much considering are the Stubai, Kirschen and MHG Heavy carpenters chisels all of which seem solid as a rock. The Stubai’s carpenters chisels are harder to get than their bench chisels though.
As a last option I would consider Narex but that would mean making new handles which is not ideal. I would rather spend the money and get what I need in the first place. Or just buy one of each and give them a test and review. This said pimping up a set of Narex could be a fun project.
Thoughts and experiences welcome!
regards Kate6 February 2020 at 10:00 pm #647959Sven-Olof JanssonParticipant
This is more on the Robert Sorby and Henry Taylor chisels in general. Based on my experience with quite a few Robert Sorby products and some from Henry Taylor, I’d say they make good chisels; as long as one is prepared to spend time (occasionally a lot of time) on flattening, and “absolute” accuracy and precision aren’t required. Nothing to remark on sharpness or edge retention, and as can be seen in some of the earlier WWMC videos, the Robert Sorby chisels withstand quite the beating.
London, UK; Boston, MA7 February 2020 at 10:52 am #648025
It would seem that other people have had the same experience regarding the flatness of Robert Sorby chisels so I will make a note of that as for some smaller tasks “absolute” precision in needed. Interestingly enough the Henry Taylor socket chisels they are listed as using a EN31 high carbon tool steel so they would be much harder to flatten simply due to the high abrasion resistance of the steel however this would make a very tough chisel that could take a beating. I will be sure to check out the WWMC videos on Robert Sorby chisels as I am aware Paul Sellers speaks highly of them.7 February 2020 at 11:27 pm #648113Sven-Olof JanssonParticipant
Good very early morning (CET-zone),
Perhaps the comparison is unfair, but when putting my Robert Sorby Gilt Edge Chisels against Henry Taylor paring chisels and swan-necks, the latter flattened with less effort on my behalf. In addition, a couple of years ago I posted a message on comparing the time it took to get chisels flat. After adjusting for variations in the widths of the chisels, the Robert Sorby ones fared rather less than well; which is sad because I like them otherwise. Those from Lie-Nielsen – needless to say – came out flat, accurate, precise.
As Mr. P. Sellers makes no reference to the R. Sorby chisels, please allow me to point out that they are recognisable by their very red handles.
London, UK; Boston, MA8 February 2020 at 2:45 pm #648175SandyParticipant
I’ve often wondered why Chisels don’t come flat. They are ground on the back but they appear to be hollow ground. Is that by design? What would the purpose be knowing that most craftsmen spend a lot of time working on a new set of chisels getting them flat….
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein8 February 2020 at 4:40 pm #648196
Chisels come as flat as the need to be, after all they are not planes and modern chisels are ground from a billet of steel.
In reality, if you are only using the chisel for chopping mortises and slicing, then you only need to have the last 1/8 to 1/4 inch flat and polished because it is one side of your cutting edge. The rest of it plays a supporting role, so to speak.
For chisels that are used for paring, then again, providing that the edge and a few registered points along the backs are mainly flat, then that’s good enough. When all is said and done, we don’t need engineering tolerances in wood. The blade will flex in use and render close tolerances useless.
Paradoxically, Japanese chisels and plane blades intentionally have a hollow section along the centre of the back; only the back 1/4 inch or so of the bevel and a section up each side is flattened. Their reasoning is that it is less effort to maintain a small amount of flat metal at the important points of contact than the whole surface.
A little bit of work on polishing the backs progressing down the grits each time you sharpen will, in time, give you a true, flat back, if that’s what you wish.
In the most recent videos, Paul Sellers is intentionally using inexpensive chisels bought from a supermarket – new, grind marks and all to begin with. He’s been using them for a couple of years or so and if you stop the vid and look carefully you’ll see that he’s polished the business end, but further back the grind marks are visible although beginning to fade away. Come back in a couple of years and they’ll have mostly disappeared.
Good luck.9 February 2020 at 10:45 am #648268Colin ScowenParticipant
There’s also probably a fair chunk of the market that will buy chisels who are not craftsmen. Those guys will buy a cheap and cheerful, or big box own brand and it is good enough for what they want to use it for. There are manufacturers who are making tools for craftsmen, and the extra effort they take shows in the price.
Mr Sellers shows how it is possible to take some of these OPP chisels and get them to the required level for the work he is showing us how to do.
One of the chaps at work started his working life apprenticed to a cabinetmaker, who would always buy the cheaper chisels, because they were made of a lower end steel, which would let him get a really sharp edge. It didn’t last as long as the edge on a better steel might, but it was easier and quicker to sharpen (apparently).
Colin, Czech Rep.9 February 2020 at 11:52 am #648275
Agreed. the economics of tools is a complex subject.
Journeymen workers in times past (my Gt-Grandfather was one) worked mostly on piece-rate, had to provide their own tools which were prone to damage or loss – hence their name stamps. Apart from the cost, tools were an expendable item.
I was given a new set of Lie-Nielsen Stanley750 copies once; They are very nice, work OK ……. but don’t ‘feel’ right. One day I’ll sell ’em on.
My own preference in chisels is usually toward second-hand pre-war forged chisels, usually by Marples or Sorby. Even so, the quality of some of these well-regarded makers can vary, so you take a risk and in time build up a good selection that work well. I’m always able and willing to make and replace damaged handles with a replica. If it’s a good one, I’ll put my name-stamp on it and keep it, otherwise I sell it on.
The crucial part as far as I’m concerned is the quality of the back. I don’t care if it’s dirty – I can clean it. Likewise a colouring of rust – I can get that off. Damaged edges can be re-ground. Busted and split handles can be re-made as the original. However If I see corrosion or pitting on the back within an inch of the tip I’ll leave it alone. Any pitting more than an inch back is a problem for the next generation of owners, not me and it’ll probably get flattened-out by then with repeat sharpening.
The hardness of the steel is a double edged sword, so to speak. Some of the modern, high quality hard steels can be a pain in the neck, literally, to sharpen, so that the time expended getting an edge weighs against the effort. Alternatively, too soft and it does not cut well and you’ll spend more time at the stones getting your edge back.
There is a happy medium and for me it is the old fashioned forged steel that is getting hard to find nowadays.9 February 2020 at 4:18 pm #648312
I suspect that the difference between the two chisels comes down to a few factors one the steel alloy used second the hardening and tempering temps used and the quality of machining and manufacture which is a whole topic in an of its self. As you say the Lie Nielsen came out perfectly flat. as one would expect from a tool company that individually checks each product by hand.9 February 2020 at 4:19 pm #648313
I suspect that the difference between the two chisels comes down to a few factors one the steel alloy used second the hardening and tempering temps used and the quality of machining and manufacture which is a whole topic in an of its self. As you say the Lie Nielsen came out perfectly flat. as one would expect from a tool company that individually checks each product by hand.9 February 2020 at 4:34 pm #648316
Ok if you are referring to Japanese Chisels they have a hollow grind in the back so one does not have to flatten the whole back as a result the cutting edge which is flat is a lot more responsive and they are my preferred fine joinery chisels. As for western chisels not being ground dead flat it all comes down to cost and market demand the difference between a $24 chisel and $60 (pound if in the UK or Euro) chisel is quite a lot when you look at over all quality and finish not just flatness. I personally don’t mind doing the fine tuning on a chisels as I it allows me get it to the standard I need for any particular task.9 February 2020 at 4:59 pm #648320
You have a very interesting point when you say that people who are not craftsmen are buying chisels. This is true and the market for them is much larger than for the folks who want high end chisels for fine furniture or heavy carpentry work. This said may people who buy chisels for “general woodwork” or renovation work would not even know the difference between a bevel edged chisel and a firmer chisels let alone a registered firmer or parring chisel. Oddly enough in most cases a heavy registered firmer would be better suit for the tasks they are using for like renovation or carpentry work. However when all that is on offer is cheap bevel edged chisels that’s what you buy in a big box store and so the manufactures keep producing. So education is the key here knowledge is power I am planing on writing an article or even a You Tube video with my thoughts on the topic at some point in the hope to educate others.9 February 2020 at 5:44 pm #648324
I think you have come from the same school of thought as I do. As when it comes to specific chisels I am a fan of older chisels and have also learnt my lesson from not being more fussy about the backs as there have been quite a few that I have sold on due to the backs being far to pitted and rounded to spend the time flattening. I myself only have a medium quality set of chisels (blue handled Marples pre Iwin) as one cost was a factor and well as my experience level as I believe there not point having the worlds best chisels if they are blunt or poorly sharpened. I have seen plenty of those when I used to make office furniture with that said those chisels did all the work I needed them to do and held a good edge.
The types of steels used in modern chisels and vintage chisels is a very interesting topic as I used to work for a company that sold knife making and tools steels for blacksmithing. From what I can tell is a lot of wood workers don’t fully understand of the difference between a high wear steel, high toughness and a high hardness steels and not to mention the variable effects of heat treatment on different alloys. We will always prefer vintage chisels because they are high harness high carbon steels such as 01, 1095, 52100 and similar as compared to high wear alloys like A2, W2 and CRV steels. Japanese chisels are still made of high hardness high carbon steels which is how they get scary on water stones. Cheaper tools companies will go for CRV steels as they are high toughness which is why they are often hard to flatten on stones however they are cheap and can makes up for the lower hardness level that one expects to find in the heat treating of cheaper mass produced chisels.
So I have come conclusion I will most likely end up hunting down some good vintage registered firmer chisels as you say handles can be re made edges reground and rust cleaned off but it quality forged blades they are hard to find in today’s mass market.9 February 2020 at 6:23 pm #648329
Looking at your original post, it suggests that you are working in larger timber and heavier framing.
Two things spring to mind; firstly if you are doing it for a living, why not look for a mortise machine? I know that ‘machine’ can be a dirty word, but when it comes to earning money we sometimes have to get dirty. Second, heavier framing work needs a heavier chisel than a firmer … typically a pig-sticker. Bigger tools were all iron, but they are very rare, mostly in museums.
Now, these chisels are still available in reasonable numbers second-hand and because there’s less of a market, tend to be a bit cheaper. Because they are heavy duty, the aesthetics are less important.
Some of the modern makers are making these, but the new ones are best avoided. Most are unusable. The main problem regarding old, damaged Pig-stickers is replacing a damaged handle: Where you can use a square, tapered tang on a conventional chisel to form its own path in a replacement handle, Pig-stickers use a tapered tang with a rectangular section which means that the hole has to be carefully cut by hand.
Hwyl fawr10 February 2020 at 1:41 am #648378Larry GeibParticipant
A mortiseing machine can be a hand (or foot) tool as well. Barnes, Stanley, and others made them and I used one in my first job in a sash shop.
For timber framing, a tool of choice was a beam auger, which you sat on and cranked away like a two handed egg beater. I got to use one of these helping my Amish neighbors raise a barn. You worked up a sweat.
An older hand methods was the two handed auger, sometimes called a gimlet. The secret of these was to address the tool cross handed, so you could get a full Revolution with each twist.
With either of these the drilled holes were cleaned up with a large wide pairing chisel called a slick, which how I learned it, or with a twybil, which the French called a bisaigue. This was a long bar with cutters at each end and a handle in the middle. I never used one of these, but Juliette Caron, the first female companion du charpentier in France (journeyman Carpenter) is shown below with her bisaigue.
In her pocket is also a bevel gauge and a pair of dividers.
When small portable generators became affordable in the 70’s, these all went away. Now powered hand drills and chain mortisers ( cross between a beam auger and a chain saw) have replaced them.
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