Tool Lust of the Chisel Persuasion

I do not own any “high-end” tools.  I have quality tools that consist of a mix of old, new and user built.  I have vintage Stanley, vintage Record, a WoodRiver and user built planes.  I have vintage saws, a couple Veritas and a user built saw.  I also have Narex chisels, both bench and mortise in metric.  These tools serve me well and I’m satisfied with them…mostly.

chisels-000Once in a while I find myself in a darkened room surfing the internet and looking at tool porn.  Chisels to be exact.  I admit it, I have a thing for chisels.  Not just any chisels, chisels that will set me back some serious money if I ever actually pull the trigger.  I like my Narex chisels.  They sharpen easily, hold an edge reasonably well.  I do find them a little top-heavy but have improved that by doing a little reshaping of the handles.  So why do I keep trolling catalogs looking at chisels?  I think it’s the lure of unknown.  If a $7 Narex is pretty good then a $70 chisel must be fantastic.  There are two chisels who’s siren song I hear the loudest, Lie-Nielson socket chisels and blacksmith made Japanese chisels.  Both high quality offerings and pricey.  Plus there is the added excuse that I would be supporting artisans in the tool making craft.  Imagine how much my work would improve with a chisel of that quality.

So before I do something reckless, expensive and possibly life threatening (SWMBO), I thought I would solicit some feedback from those of you who are reading this.  What chisels do you have?  Do you own the Lie-Nielson?  What are your thoughts?  Do you own blacksmith made Japanese chisels?  Thoughts?  Should I pull the trigger on new chisels to satisfy my lust? or Should I turn off the internet, sharpen my Narex chisels and get on with woodworking?

Greg Merritt

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17 Responses to Tool Lust of the Chisel Persuasion

  1. Greg says:

    I think that the more expensive chisels feel nicer and use higher end steels that generally hold an edge a little longer than their less expensive steel counterparts, but sharp steel is sharp steel and as long as you keep then sharp, they all tend to cut the same to me. The wood doesn’t seem to know the difference between the old marples set compared to my expensive lee valley a2 steel set. They all cut the same. It’s tough to say because I hear great things about the narex and other than the prep time (flattening backs, honing) I don’t think it justifies in my opinion. But hey, I’m trying to adapt a more minimalist attitude lately and make do with the things I have. I’ve come to the point where the only justifications I can make is if it makes the project easier to complete, faster to complete, or makes it the finished product in some way, then it might be worth it. If the tools just prettier then is it worth it?? Tough decision.

  2. Eddy flynn says:

    sharpen what you have Greg and get on with the work at hand look at the work Mr S does with super market (Aldi) chisels ,i aspire for Narex but my black and yellow stanleys will do the job for now when ive worn them out i’ll buy something else (well thats what i tell her ) you work doesn’t look too shabby considering your choice of chisel keep up the good work Greg

  3. I have 3 sets of chisels. A not so good set I bought over 30 yrs ago. They will take a nice sharp edge but they dull very quickly. Set #2 is a LN socket set in A2. Heavy, well made, takes a good edge and retains it for a while. Set #3 is an Ashley Isles set. Thinner then the LN chisels and O1. Takes a much sharper edge than the LN chisels and holds it as long if not longer.
    Set #1 is used for all the crappy jobs. The LN chisels I only use for heavy work like chopping mortises. Set #3 has become my all around bench chisels. I use this set for everything except for heavy chopping operations. I don’t want to risk bending or breaking them.
    I also have LN L/R 1/2″ skew chisels for dovetailing and a set of Buck paring chisels.
    What have I learned in using these chisels? I’ve learned the limitations of each set and worked within them. I prefer O1 over A2 even though I have to sharpen O1 more then the A2. If I had to choose only one set I would go with the Ashley Isles set. I’ve also found that technique is much more important than the tool.
    I got the LN chisels because I wanted to replace my crappy set and I had road tested them at a couple of tool events I went to so I had an opinion of them already. Other then this, I say buy if that is your desire and get the best you can afford.


  4. Keith Peters says:

    I don’t have much to offer here other than empathy. I have a crappy set of Marples bought at Lowes a few years back when I was a mere homeowner, no thoughts of doing craftsman quality work. And a newer set of Narex premium chisels. Is there a life-changing difference? The jury is out. Maybe the Marples weren’t that bad. Or maybe I need to try a high end chisel to see what I’m missing. But yeah, I spend plenty of time trolling through eBay listings of all kinds of stuff I don’t really need. Chisels are off the list for a little while, since my Narex are pretty new, but I’m sure I’ll be lusting after better ones before long.

  5. billlattpa says:

    I use Stanley Sweethearts (the new ones) which I think are the best deal on the market. I have Narex skew chisels which hone nicely, but have bulky handles. I’ve heard some people say that chisels can be balanced, and others argue that they cannot, and that those who say they are really don’t know what they’re talking about-in particular socket chisels
    I believe that chisels absolutely can have a balanced feel to them. My first chisels were MHG and always felt tippy. The Narex handles always feel bulky and back heavy. Socket chisels get their balance at the socket, which always corresponds to the chisel size, even though the handles remain the same size despite the chisel iron. I’m sure you’ve held a Lie Nielsen or a Stanley, they feel better in the hand than any other chisel I’ve used.
    If I were you I would stick with the Narex. Despite my misgivings with the MHG set it was a nice tool and worked fine. I only purchased the Stanley’s because they had a one day only sale on Amazon for $73.99 and I had about $25 in reward points. I love the Lie Nielsen set but cannot see dropping $300 for 4 chisels. Good luck!

  6. Boyce says:

    Greg, I have a box of random hardware store cheap chisels. Mostly I clean glue lines with them. Next is a set of Sears 60 chisels. I bought them at estate sale to learn chopping dovetails. Sadly, I have learned that 4 of the 5 in the set have bowed backs. A couple have sever bowed backs. I could not pare very well with them. Then I got a LN set. They are perfect. I learned how to handle them. They are my honed set to do finish work with. The other chisels are for whacking. I don’t think about the money now, I like them so well. I would say, hurt yourself and get the best of what you want. In the long run it will cheaper than getting a lesser set, and having a lot of lesser sets on the way to the best……


  7. Randy Allen says:

    Greg- I’ve got a set of blue handled Marples that I bought 25 years ago because someone told me they were a good deal. Never used them much til recently and I am surprised and pleased how well they work and how long they stay sharp. I think I’ll stay with them and learn to use them. That said, I’ve also got a box of orphans (all socket chisels) that I got really cheap, here and there, made handles for them, and am using them when it works best. I don’t think that they hold an edge quite as well but it’s hard to measure. Also have a couple of old English style mortise chisels that work well for that but since Paul has shown us that mortises can be cut with ordinary chisels, I probably wouldn’t have bought them again.
    One last thought, Chris Schwartz recently blogged about really only needing 2-3 sizes of chisels to do most of the work we do and advocated not buying a whole set. Following that logic, one could rationalize purchasing expensive chisels but limiting it to only a couple of sizes. I am often afflicted with the urge to buy more or better tools but I think Paul has shown us that it’s not necessary. I really doubt that a new LN chisel can do anything better then one of my Marples – If I do my part.

  8. Simon says:

    I have the Ashley, Narex and Veritas PMV11 (just one). The Narex are my go to chisels and the Ashley and Veritas for fine work or paring tasks. The Narex are the workhorse tools and unless you get the high end chisels as a gift or as something to really try out, I think they do not offer much more or improve your skills. If you have some money to spare, go ahead; otherwise, they will just be a chisel too many.


  9. Mike says:

    The first set of chisels I bought were a set of Wood River butt chisels. It’s a very nice set but I find myself reaching for my second hand pre WW2 era, Stanley, Greenlee, unnamed, etc chisels.

    It started out because I didn’t have a chisel hammer and didn’t want to beat up the nice ones. However, now that I do have a dedicated mallet, I still reach for the oldies. Maybe it’s nostalgia. I really don’t know. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t buy the new ones. Nothing wrong with them, but there is something that appeals to me using tools that have been around longer than I have.

    The reality is any chisel will work fine so long as it’s maintained. More expensive tools won’t make you a better woodworker. Only practice and skill building will do that. I’d say save your money for project wood and get back to woodworking.

  10. bloksav says:

    I have a lot of old E.A Berg chisels, and some various sizes of various brands.
    I don’t know if new chisels are better or worse, I just like to stick to one set and really get to know it well.
    If a chisel is sharp and you know how to use it, you can do nice work even if it is some crappy looking no name chisel.
    Personally I like to use old chisels because they have a nice feel to them, and some history too. You could try to put one LN chisel on your wishing list for Christmas and birthday every year. It might not look impressive to other, but never mind that.
    Mike has a really good point in the part about using tools that have been here longer than us.
    I sometime think about that I am fortunate to be able to use a tool just for fun/hobby, but for the first owner of the tool, it was a matter of making a living.

  11. deniseg says:

    I have Narex chisels and one LN 1/2 inch chisel. It is the chisel I reach for first when 1/2 inch will do the job. It is mostly the weight and balance of the chisel I like the most. Like you, I can get the work done with the Narex, but the LN is better balanced, slightly shorter, and easier to use. The edge of the LN while better, is not the key benefit from my experience.

    • gman3555 says:

      Dang it Denise! I just managed to get myself calmed down and here you are getting me all spun up again. LOL
      The Narex get the job done,but…every time I have extended time in the shop I really notice how top heavy they feel. So you have the direct comparison that I’m after. You answered the “feel” portion of my issue. Now, does the LN sharpen up as well or better than the Narex?


      • deniseg says:

        Greg, my experience is that the LN maintains its edge slightly better than my Narex. The bevel angle is also greater, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

        I got the idea to purchase just ONE premium chisel from a Schwarz blog advocating the 1/2 inch as the go to chisel.

  12. Mike says:

    There are 2 trains of thought: the first being that it is primarily a tool and with this approach, the wisest approach would be to spend the least amount necessary to be able to complete the job satisfactorily. This is the approach of most especially for those where woodworking is a profession. The 2nd approach is that it is about the enjoyment of using a well designed and beautifully crafted tool. This approach is more suited to the hobby woodworker where profit does not dictate his decisions. If I were to put it into motor vehicle analogy, the Narex is a Toyota whereas the Lie Nielsen is a Ferrari. Both will get you from point A to B, and the Toyota may even be more reliable, more fuel-efficient and easier to use, but you will get more joy from the Ferrari and that is impossible to quantify. The question you have to ask yourself is which approach applies to you. The fact that you lust after the Lie Nielsen tells me that you’re the latter, so if the finances allow it, pull the trigger. You only live once…..

    • Greg Merritt says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Mike. It’s true that, as a hobbiest, I have the luxury of contemplating the pluses and minuses of different chisel options. I do believe though that even the professional can benefit from having a chisel that is well balanced, easy to sharpen and holds an edge.
      I ended up purchasing middle of the road production Japanese chisels. I’m really happy with the way they feel in my hand. Nice balance for the way I work and the steel is very, very nice.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I been inspired by the Japanese plane and have put a few into my collection and they are my go to tool. Making shavings is sometimes more fun than actually wood working. I have set of Stanley chisels which were factory sharped. I have a sharpening fetish so have got them to a really good edge. On a trip to Japan I picked up a Japanese mortising chisel and a small and standard chisel at a flea market. I also acquired a couple of Japanese whetstone. The Japanese chisel hold a much keener and robust edge and are far faster to sharpen than the Stanley chisels. The edge bevel is also sharpened in the process. My only regret is not buying more chisels at the flea market.

If you don't comment this is just a fancy way for me to talk to myself.

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