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Choosing chisels

formão's picture

Choosing chisels (post #179927)


I'm starting out in woodworking at the tender age of 51. It's something I've always wanted to do but never had the space. My main interest is in building stringed musical instruments but I'm also keen to build furniture in the future. I'm at the stage of buying some basic tools and doing a lot of reading. I've ordered a very old Stanley #3 plane (ideal for the small instruments I want to build), a sharpening jig and I'm currently looking at a basic chisel set. From my research, I've decided to buy a small set of chisels between 1/4" and an inch in width. I live in Brazil where the costs of quality tools are high. Here, a fair price for Sheffield steel makes such as Footprint or Marpel with plastic handles is a little under R$100 per tool (US$28). Very high for you in the States or the UK but that's the reality here. To import via Ebay is much more expensive beecause of astronomical taxes.

Industrially-made Brazilian made tools have a pretty bad rap generally here, but I'd thought I'd investigate hand made tools. The south of the country is well known for knife makers. I contacted a maker who forges knives and tools in 5160 steel and other metals. He does some nice work. He can produce brute forged chisels (5160) with ground bevels and wooden handles (brazilian rosewood, various choices) for R$150 per tool. He said they have a hardness rating of 58 to 60 HRC. He can also copy whatever design I want.

I wonder if you think the added expense would be worth it? I'm prepared to pay a little more if the quality is good. How would it compare to the Sheffield models?

I've ordered a whittling knife from him which I plan to use to shape instrument necks. This will help me assess the quality.

Here is a link to the maker's site:

The first grey panel has links to various examples ranging from rustic to finer work with Damascus steel.

It'd be interesting to hear your thoughts.

All the best!

Leander1's picture

Choice of chisels: I like PM-V11 (post #179927, reply #1 of 1)

Hi Formaio,

I am also somewhat of a beginner, although perhaps a little further along.  I have been woodworking for about 3 years, and am taking woodworking classes at an excellent school in southern California.  I am currently in a Handtool Joinery class.

The key to answering your question is:  Can you predict what kind of woodworking you want to do and how often you will be sharpening?  The essential decision is how much is your time worth when you are resharpening instead of cutting wood.

I cannot answer your question directly, because I do not know how to compare Brazilian steels to the European/American ones I know.  My general argument here is that more expensive is worth it if you will be using the tool a lot.

I started out with a single 3/4" Narex bench chisel which I bought through the school for $8. in 2013.  Looks like they are about $13. now from Lee Valley (They also sell in metric sizes).   The steel is chrome-manganese, and I cannot find Rockwell hardness described for this steel.  This was perfectly adequate for occasional use. When chopping repeated dovetails in hard maple, however, I found the edge disappeared quickly, and my experience was much poorer than the now well-known Fine Woodworking review of 2008:

I was discouraged that I was spending a high percentage of my time resharpening chisels.   I decided to go big.  I bought two Lie-Nielsen socket bench chisels made of A2 steel, and two Lee Valley Veritas chisels made of PM-V11 steel.

I am using bench chisels for alternating chopping, then paring in hard maple and cherry.  I am using a steep angle of 35 degrees for my microbevel, and sharpening on waterstones to 8000.  I think my sharpening skills have gotten quite good.

So I now have a  mixed set of about 7 bench chisels Narex, Lie-Nielsen, and Veritas.  I use them all about equally because my daily work is cutting dovetails of multiple dimensions.

My daily routine includes chopping, sharpening, and paring every day.  I find I need to sharpen most of the chisels after chopping if I want excellent performance for subtle paring.

After more than a month of this routine, I think there is a clear hierarchy in how long a chisel edge stays sharp.  The Veritas clearly lasts longer than the other two, by a lot.  The Narex lasts the shortest.  The Lie-Nielsen is in the middle.  Importantly, I think the edge wears almost as quickly as the Narex, and is distinctly poorer than the Veritas PM-V11.

I don't find any important difference in the quality of the 3 manufacturers.  The Narex took longer to true initially, but that was long ago and forgotten.  My sense at this point is that the key is:  What steel is it made of?

PM-V11 was not available when that 2008 review was written.

As others have said, I have never found a noticeable difference in sharpening time, either initially or when re-sharpening.

Although very expensive, I find PM-V11 just great.  I wish Veritas would make PM-V11 plane blades for my Lie-Nielsen plane.  I get my money's worth every day when I resharpen the Narex and Lie-Nielsen, but find the Veritas PM-V11 doesn't need it yet.

You must get very good at sharpening.

I have never owned,or even tried, a Japanese chisel.

I would rather have two good chisels than 7 mediocre chisels.  No need to buy a whole set starting out.