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Which chisels to choose

seanbensafed's picture

Which chisels to choose (post #170610)

New to woodworking.  Which chisels should I be looking at to purchase as my first set.  I want good quality without taking out a 2nd mortgage.

mvflaim's picture

Stanley (post #170610, reply #1 of 11)

If there is a Menards around you they sell a set of Sanley chisels that are nice and will work for years.

RalphBarker's picture

Quality and Intended Use (post #170610, reply #2 of 11)

Confused by the number of brands and styles available? You're supposed to be.  ;-)

As a "new" woodworker, perhaps your best bet would be to start with an "affordable" set of "bench" chisels intended for use by carpenters. Stanley is a reasonable choice, as would be Irwin (both are available through Amazon). Initially, you probably don't need to worry about what steel is used. As you work with them more, your needs will become more clearly defined, leading you to different styles and better brands. So, you'll eventually end up with severals sets, each preferred for particular tasks.

If you do a search on "chisels" you'll find numerous discussions of the fine points (edges, really) of chisels. Time spent reading those threads will be useful, but shouldn't preclude you from buying a beginner set for $50-$70.

VAM's picture

Before you buy any (post #170610, reply #3 of 11)

Why not get the Rob Cosman video on sharpening (on YouTube?).  My experience was what he said - a few good quality chisels that you'll be able to get sharp enough so you won't be frustrated when using them.  You'll need to know how to sharpen them because most don't come sharpened well enough for use.

RalphBarker's picture

Sharpening (post #170610, reply #4 of 11)

Yep, ya gotta know how to sharpen. For a newcomer, sharpening supplies can be as confusing as the array of tool brands, steels and styles. There's wet/dry sandpaper, oil stones, water stones, diamond stones, ceramic stones and all of the accessories that go with them. Not to mention the cults that surround the use of each type of stone.

Opinions on Rob Cosman vary. Some consider him to be a "woodworking personality" - a showman, if you will - rather than a real woodworker.

Personally, I like Thomas Lie Nielsen's book on sharpening:

roc's picture

Your very best value is real (post #170610, reply #5 of 11)

Your very best value is real Japanese made and japanese style chisels.  The junk is made in China and look the same.  Sort of.

You need to be sure they are sharpened to a steeper angle if you are using them on the harder of the hard woods.  I have had five hundred dollar chisel edges look like they were not hard enough or as if they "chipped" when using too shallow of a secondary bevel.  This was on purple heart and bubinga.  As soon as I experimented with steeper angles and found one just steep enough I found the edge to last a good long time and no "chipping".

The inexpensive Japanese chisels are not low cost compared to the inexpensive western style sets but for the best economy in the long haul if you are going to be woodworking for decades etc. and not a casual thing then I can recommend them.

If you have large hands be sure to handle them in a local store before buying ( then buy from that local store even if a bit higher cost their advice and convenience is worth something ).  Japanese chisels have small handles.  Doesn't mean you can't put your own handles on them but learn how from a book.  It is good learning practice.  I do not have large hands.  The stock Japanese handles work just fine for me.

I have many many modern western style chisels purchased from the local woodworking stores near to me and some older ones that were basic and cheep back in the day.  I don't like them, the steel is not near as hard.  If you buy inexpensive western style the Marples with the blue handles are good in my limited experience.  I have no experience with the Stanleys they sell at Menards first mentioned they may be just great.

My two cents.


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

RalphBarker's picture

Which Japanese Maker? (post #170610, reply #6 of 11)

Tasai? Matsumura? Kunikei?

I'm waiting for someone to buy the Tasai $2,700 set of 10 for me.


roc's picture

Aren't those gorgeous ? ! (post #170610, reply #7 of 11)

They cost less than many women's diamond rings.  Probably can't even get your Harley painted for that much.

Tell you what I'm gonna do . . .

I will buy them for you !

(hey aaaah . . . Ralph . . . . could I have three thousand dollars ?  I need it to buy a gift for some one )


For the OP I can say the basic, basic Japanese made chisels from Woodcraft etc are really darn good.  Hard steel and quite usable.  Fifty or sixty dollars apeice but then so is a basic spare blade for his Lie-Nielsen hand plane and less effort goes into making the plane blade.


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

RalphBarker's picture

Diamonds for your lady (post #170610, reply #8 of 11)

The jewelry store guy always says that diamonds are an investment. Hogwash. I say they are more like sandpaper - a "consumable" expense. Why? Once the ceremony is over, the diamond ring doesn't seem to retain any negotiating value, particularly with respect to buying a new tool for the shop. It's like water, or in this case, diamonds under the proverbial bridge. ;-)

G5Flyr's picture

All Credit To Chris Schwarz For The Following: (post #170610, reply #9 of 11)

Chris Schwarz has a dvd entitled Mastering Hand Tools.  I highly recommend it.  There is an entire chapter on chisels and sharpening.  In a nut shell Schwarz recommends 3 chisels for newbies.  2 bench chisels (1/4" and 3/4") and a long paring chisel 1-1/4" minimum.  Schwarz says to buy some inexpensive chisels at a home center or hardware store, learn how to sharpen them and keep them sharp and then go for a premium or semi premium brand.  The advice re; the Stanley's is sound and logical.  My first chisels were Buck Bros. (plastic handles) from the big orange box store.  The Craftsman Studio (online) sells a wooden handled variety of Buck Bros. for a couple of $ more than the plastic handles.  I'm still kind of new to the craft but I bought some of the wooden handles from Craftsman Studio.  If you've got the $ and you feel confident enough not to ruin them go for the Lie Nielsen socket chisels.  I've seen them at a show, held them in my hands and actually used them for a few minutes.  They are VERY nice.  I don't have the money or the confidence yet.  Good luck and may the Schwarz be with you!  Sorry.

blopar's picture

Narex (post #170610, reply #10 of 11)

I've owned a set of narex chisels for the past 8-9 years and have been very pleased. Out of the box all needed work to one degree or another, I would guess a solid day to flatten and polish the backs and establish the bevel. I used sandpaper on glass then and have since switched to waterstones, I'm sure I would have reduced that time dramatically with waterstones. I hollow ground and used a honing guide to set the initial bevel, then touch up free hand until they need hollow grinding again. These are my daily users, I reach for these before I go for my Two Cherries, which I love.

I believe the set of 8 back then was around $140 now they come in a set of 10 for under $120. I've heard the fit and finish out of the box has been improved requiring a lot less work to get them into service. Either way at that price I don't think you'll find any better bang for your buck.

montee's picture

first chisels (post #170610, reply #11 of 11)

You won't go wrong with the MK 2 Ashley Iles set from Joel at TFWW. Great quality.

I started with these and added some specialty chisles after.