Used chisels

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    I’m wondering about others’ experiences buying used edge tools, especially chisels. I just found a set of four Marples “shamrock” wood-handled firmer chisels at a rummage sale for $10. What a deal. They must have been owned by a painter and the backs are dubbed at the corners. It is going to take some serious work to flatten these. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but other times I really need the chisel to cut all the way out to its corner.

    This has been my experience buying used edge tools, especially chisels, really. There is always a problem that turns out to take hours of lapping to fix, whether it is dubbed corners or pitting. Do others have the same experience?


    Over the last year I have been selectively purchasing chisels and other items (moulding planes, wooden smoothers, etc) off Ebay and at local used tool stores (when I can get a fair deal). Whether I can physically look over the tool in question or not, I always expect to have to invest some time in re-conditioning them to my satisfaction. Some items just need a quick cleaning and honing, but more often than not, I am having to regrind bevels and flatten backs of plane irons & chisels. It’s the trade off of getting a decent, but sometimes neglected tool. I can’t say I mind, as I had invested previously in a white (cool) grinding wheel & a Veritas grinder jig setup that makes quick work of initial sharpening, but I do spend a fair amount of time with a lapping plate & carborundum powder to ensure flat backs on blades.

    I know some members have a love/hate relationship with Ebay – All I can say is that I have been lucky to find decent, upstanding sellers that have what I want at a price I am willing to pay. I have by no means found a deal every time I looked, but regardless of how you come across a vintage tool, you need to expect that you will have to invest the time to “make it yours”. In the end, you are the one using the tool, and if you don’t have the desire or time to restore an otherwise sound item, you can always go the Lee Valley/Rockler route.


    I buy lots of used tools from eBay also. A few months ago I bought a pack of chisels. They were nearly all in fairly good condition from the pictures but the backs needed a LOT of flattening. One of them, the one incher, had a chipped corner and a chipped bit in the middle of the edge. I ground that down on 80 grit sandpaper to remove the majority and get it to a workable edge. Theres still a bit of chipping left on the corner but it’ll come out in time. Originally it was a good 3-4mm big.

    So yes most tools do take a bit of work. Some though need hardly any. When I bought my router plane, plough plane and spokeshave they all came pretty much perfect. A sharpen later and I was ready to go.


    I have no problem with working to “make it yours” and bring it back to condition. I expect to do that. The problem I’m having is that it is often a huge problem. For example, I have a spokeshave (151 Sweetheart) that I’ve lapped for hours on coarse grit on a granite block. The outer 1/2″ on each side isn’t even touching the sandpaper yet. On the Marples, I’m guessing someone cut caulk or something on masonry wearing off the edges of the back. I looked for this when I bought it, and it did not seem to be there, but once you start lapping, things often look different.

    So, I’m not talking about working to make the tool mine. I expect that and have done it many times. But I’d say that about 1/3 of my cutting tools purchased second hand have been so abused that the irons ended up being replaced, usually after I put many hours into lapping them. Others aren’t experiencing this? I enjoy working to make a tool perform again, but I dislike having to chuck the iron or having a half-baked tool. I find myself leaning more towards Salko’s position (I think it’s Salko) of supporting the current tool makers, at least for some kinds of tools like chisels and for planes that must be sharp all the way to the corners (plows, rabbet, etc.).


    Hello Ed,

    Rust, varnish, dried crud, and white paint flecks aside, the secondhand tools I’ve bought are never flat. If the blades are sharp, they’re not square. My plane soles are way-off and the scraper and spokeshaves will take hours to get to what we now call usable.
    I presume in the fifty years they were in someone else’s hands, they never bothered to make them that accurate. They must have just used them as they are. You will have noticed no-one ever softened the sharp corners from plane soles. In Paul’s spokeshave restoration he removes a casting flaw, although it was used for years like that.
    It’s just a thought, but I’m wondering whether with today’s diamond plates, 1500 grits and 0.00001″ tolerance Granite Blocks, perhaps we’re seeking a level of perfection these tools never had before?


    All but 1 of my chisels are used, mostly Wetherby’s, a few Greenlee’s, James Swan and a few Stanley’s. I am not a fan of E – Bay and have been given or bought from a few people on the Woodworking Forum I frequent. My new chisel and it is a great chisel but expensive is a 1″ PMV11 by Veritas.

    I have not had any luck with E – Bay for whatever reason.


    Steve Massie, I live in the great State of Florida, US

    Nathan Brooks

    I have been buying and restoring tools for a few years now and I do have a lot of trouble sharpening them.
    With chisels that are badly chipped I will be a bit harsh and ground down the bevel with a linisher first then sharpen on the diamond stones.
    One handy hint I saw Paul Sellers do to help flatten the back of a plane blade was to strike the blade with a hammer to bow the blade in your favor.
    I also spend most of the time on the course sharpening plate. What I think is maybe the previous owners used oil stones to sharpen which weren’t quite flat unlike our plates and compounds that are used now.
    Think of it as a work out.


    Most of what I have found online and in the junk stores is normally something that somebody used for decoration. I’ve bought a few wooden planes and they always show signes that they have been prettied up to sit on a shelf. It takes some work to get them back in usable condition but most of the time it is worth the effort. The only tools I have bought new are chisels. Maybe a couple of saws..

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    Albert Einstein


    Regarding preparing/restoring the backs, I’ve found Paul’s tip about starting with fairly coarse abrasive paper saves lots of time. If any flattening is needed to reach the cutting edge areas, and it usually is with old chisels, compared to diamond plates 80 grit paper (then 120 etc) makes it much quicker. Move the chisel sideways to avoid the paper rising slightly and not flattening the cutting edge. Also, seems to make sense not to always go for total back flatness right to the edge and corners, often better to grind the bevel side away for the last milliliter or so.

    Steve Giles

    Having bought my first (new) chisel in a local hardware store and subsequently discovered it wouldn’t keep a keen edge for more than five minutes, I have bought several very old chisels off ebay UK (Ward, Colquhoun & Cadman, unbranded ‘cast steel’, etc).

    Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I have been able to get them all functioning with some TLC and elbow grease, and they have all been reasonably priced even including postage costs to Bulgaria.


    Flattening and polishing the back takes me hours most of the time, starting with a coarse diamond plate. With narrow chisels, ( 3/8 or less), I might get a side to side belly if I’m not super careful. I find I have to pay careful attention. A mirror polish on the back of the cutting edge takes a while.

    Also, ‘once achieved you never have to touch it again’ means until the next time you sharpen. I find the back gets a bit scratched during use, and I have to keep touching it up.

    I’m less fussy now. If I get a quarter of an inch of mirror back from the edge, I’m happy. It improves over time.

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