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Ashley Iles Butt Chisels - Quality Issue?

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Tony Zaffuto

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AI are probably my favorite new chisel brand, have full size, butt chisels and round back. I suppose a few were skewed, but I gotta sharpen them anyways! The steel is generally great, and of the dozen or so I have, there was only one chisel that gave up its edge. After a few sharpenings, the steel was as good as the others.
 

Max Power

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To call them rubbish because the edge is marginally off square is ridiculous, I would expect to prepare the end of any chisel I bought to my preference, unless it was one of of those £100 Blue Spruce ones, and I'd want that to do the chiselling itself
 

D_W

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in response to chappie above - that may have been the case in the UK (the store offering a range of handles, as the catalogs here offered them, too.). Purchasing of store goods in settled areas here in the states was dominated by mail order in the late 19th century - maybe before then. My sense from someone here who lives in an area where woodworking was done in large amounts back then (just west of philadelphia) is that a lot of craftsmen wanted to make their own handles as it wouldn't cost them anything but time to do it.

As far as the comments about the lands being uneven, I may have something like 75 sheffield made chisels. I looked at about 30 of them next to a set of MKII AI chisels that I also have. The AI chisels don't look like they were done on a CNC machine, but there is only one set among my group of chisels that's consistently better than the MKIIs for even-ness of grind - strangely enough, it's tyzack, and I know nothing about the tyzack brand other than later saws with tubby plates.

For all of the grief that people like to give AI, there are probably 4 people who are buying them and are fine with them. Is there any other remaining brand of cabinetmaker's chisels made in the UK? For anywhere close in price? Tony's comment about edge holding matches mine. They are closer to anything vintage that I have than any other brand (in steel working properties and edge holding -very well matched for oilstones - not soft, not overly hard).

I can think of footprint, stanley, marples as all having been made in England when i first started woodworking. I don't think any of those remain.

...almost forgot about sorby. Sorby charges as much or more than AI for slightly heavier built chisels, but sorby's chisels are really soft. I keep a set of them for novelty to test edge holding.
 

Trevanion

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Cheshirechappie":2nofjtj9 said:
Those AI chisels are made for cabinet work - paring and light tapping with a mallet, for which they are superb - light, balanced and precise. They're not intended for hairy-ars*d joiners whacking the living s*** out of them with 24oz claw hammers.

I like that, although I use a 28oz! :lol:

I do occasionally do finer work! Sometimes... It is mostly "Hit it with a sledge until it looks right" kind of work though 8-[
 

D_W

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Trevanion":2p60bgjn said:
it's all I ask even if you charge more for it...

My father in law says this, and it's standard fare in the guitar industry. "If they just made this a little better, I'd gladly pay the difference in price".

What actually happens is that most people see any increase in price, get offended and shop elsewhere for a lower price. My FIL does it all the time, and of the makers in the USA making guitars, only Gibson and Martin remain stubborn that I'm aware of, putting their main brand only on US made instruments. Gibson has quality problems trying to meet price points people want to pay, though. When they've tried to address them in the past with sweeping price increases, they've lost market share.
 

Cheshirechappie

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Just out of idle curiosity, I looked up Edward Preston's 1909 catalogue. They list 20 different styles of chisel handle, most of which were available in 9 different sizes, ferrules from 1/2" to 1" by 1/16" increments. (The boxwood handles were available in Best Boxwood and in Best Hard Boxwood - not sure how much of a difference there was, except about 10/- a gross!)

That does go some way to explaining one of the advantages of vintage over most modern chisels - better balance because the handles tended to be selected to match the blade size better, rather than all blade sizes being inserted in one size of handle. That tends to be especially noticeable with the smaller blade sizes.

Preston's range;

Round beech or ash
Round beech or ash, Scotch pattern
Round boxwood
Round best hard boxwood
Round boxwood (grooved decoration)
Round boxwood (grooved decoration), Scotch pattern
Round best hard boxwood (grooved decoration)
Octagon boxwood
Octagon best hard boxwood
Octagon centre, ball top, boxwood London pattern
Octagon centre, ball top, best hard boxwood London pattern
Carver's pattern boxwood
Carver's pattern best hard boxwood

All the above available with ferrules 1/2" to 1" by 1/16"

Beech socket
Ash socket hooped top
Ash double hooped
Ash registered double hooped
Ash shipwright's double hooped

All the above available in 7 sizes

Beech mortice
Ladies' carving pattern, assorted hardwoods, 7/16" to 5/8"
 

richarddownunder

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Trevanion":1uluzhrs said:
Don't get me wrong Andy, I'm all for Buy British and can appreciate the skill that goes into it, etc...

Just spend the extra time and effort to make something that much better, it's all I ask even if you charge more for it. I am sure there are ways they can produce a superior product without too much extra hassle. If it were me making them I couldn't live with myself if bevels were that far out of square, the lands on each side weren't equal, the back of the chisel has a 1mm bow in the length, the steel isn't central in the handle and the ferrule is made of brittle pot-metal brass.

I'm afraid they've never left a great impression on me and I won't be in a rush to buy anything off them in the future.

If I remember rightly, when I bought my AI chisels some 15 or more years ago, one or two were not perfectly square at the pointy end. After honing them a few times, they are as square as my technique allows. The backs were good, they hold a good edge, they have a nice balance and are, for me, a pleasure to use. I suppose if AI read this, they could perhaps consider making a second tier of more expensive chisels that meet the requirements of the OP - 'bench chisels premium' that are sold at the same price as other premium tools. Why not write to them and suggest it rather than the rather public airing of dislike, which wont do anything for their business? I don't suppose they will perform any better in the long run but may have the aesthetic level required and work without any preparation from new.

I seem to remember this being a topic raised by some of the same folk some time ago, however, it seems the vast majority are perfectly happy - more than happy in fact, with their AI tools, I'm one of them.

Cheers
Richard
 

Sheffield Tony

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I don't have experience of AI, but these remaining traditional manufacturers are usually pretty good if you give them a ring. I had some Crown chisels of which I didn't like 2 - one had a hairline crack, the other the face had quite a belly on it - they swapped them for 'good uns' with no quibble. Thomas Flinn have always been pretty good too. I'm sure they'd rather take them back and regrind them for you (isn't that part of the deal with AI ?), or swap them for hand selected perfect specimens, than have you dissing them on the internet !
 

Max Power

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D_W":1ygvko8c said:
I can think of footprint, stanley, marples as all having been made in England when i first started woodworking. I don't think any of those remain.
As far as I'm aware Henry Taylor still make bench chisels
 

D_W

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richarddownunder":1h0j93id said:
I seem to remember this being a topic raised by some of the same folk some time ago, however, it seems the vast majority are perfectly happy - more than happy in fact, with their AI tools, I'm one of them.

Cheers
Richard

It's like a slow merry-go-round. The last time, the criticism was pretty much that the hand ground bevels don't look like CNC machine bevels and weren't perfectly even.

To my eye, that's a plus, but I realize that most people have been conditioned otherwise. I'd expect that as long as they are building straightforward chisels with no wasted time in them, we'll see this from time to time.
 

Cheshirechappie

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Max Power":2yfdun9k said:
D_W":2yfdun9k said:
I can think of footprint, stanley, marples as all having been made in England when i first started woodworking. I don't think any of those remain.
As far as I'm aware Henry Taylor still make bench chisels

They do indeed;

https://www.henrytaylortools.co.uk/wwchisel.html

- along with a lot of turning tools.

Robert Sorby also manufacture a range;

https://www.robert-sorby.co.uk/woodworking.html

- also along with a large range of turning tools.

Both firms have a long history. Henry Taylor started out as Aaron Hildick (Diamic brand, which Henry Taylor still use), who absorbed Charles Taylor, John Jennion and Henry Taylor (Acorn brand), then traded as Hery Taylor before officially renaming the parent company in the mid 1970s. They're still trading independently, as far as I can tell.

Robert Sorby - trading since about 1828, and grew to be one of Sheffield's larger edge tool firms, with a large export business to Australia, hence the name of their Kangaroo works, and their trade mark. Now part of the Spear and Jackson portfolio of companies.

I don't know how many other makers are still operating in the UK. Andy Cole ( https://www.portlandworks.co.uk/ourmake ... ole-tools/ ) still makes tools the old Sheffield way, but whether that includes wood chisels I do not know.

Edit to add; it seems that Stanley wood chisels (the Stanley registered design and 750 ranges, at any rate) are 'manufactured in Sheffield, England'. Whether that means made from scratch including forging, heat treatment, grinding and handle-making, or imported parts assembled, I do not know.

https://www.stanleytools.co.uk/products ... el/STANLEY®+Wood+Chisels

https://www.stanleytools.co.uk/products ... el/STANLEY®+Sweet+Heart+Socket+Chisel
 

dannyr

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I'm surprised to see the sweetheart socket chisel still advertised on their site -- these were launched alongside a couple of planes under the Stanley Sweetheart label about ten (??) years ago and I do believe all the blades were Sheffield made (the body castings for the planes were made in their Mexican plant, and the chisel handles came from Sheffield or French Stanley, I heard). I would guess they're still selling from the large first batches made back then.
Very thick plane blades, well made chisel blades if you like them shortish.
 

Sheffield Tony

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Cheshirechappie":10za8ldb said:
Max Power":10za8ldb said:
D_W":10za8ldb said:
I can think of footprint, stanley, marples as all having been made in England when i first started woodworking. I don't think any of those remain.
As far as I'm aware Henry Taylor still make bench chisels

They do indeed;

https://www.henrytaylortools.co.uk/wwchisel.html

- along with a lot of turning tools.

Henry Taylor bought Hamlet Craft tools not all that long ago. As well as turning tools - some sporting the Diamic badge of Henry Taylor, there are still mortice chisels and bench chisels made/sold under the Hamlet brand. Both share the same contact address on Livesey Street, Sheffield .

Crown hand tools sell a range of chisels too; the sharp eyed will notice many of the Crown products look quite similar to other makers. I'm fairly confident that the saws are from Thomas Flinn. I heard said - only rumour of course - that neither Crown and Henry Taylor bench chisels are forged by themselves, but that both assemble from steel & handles from the same subcontractors, so only differ in the grinding, assembly and finishing.

Footprint still exist, but sell mostly building tools - plastering, cold chisels etc. They do have some woodworking hand tools, their saws also look very like Thomas Flinn made them. And Joseph Marples still exists of course, but only make measurement/marking tools.
 

D_W

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Thanks for reminding me of these brands. I'd forgotten about them.

They're not "it" brands over here in the sense that the personalities don't really carry them. I guess because they're made in the western world, the markup isn't as great as it probably is on "trend lapping fluid" and china made diamond plates for over $100.

At one point, the local store (rockler) did carry a lot of crown goods and I saw a nice looking rosewood handled set of bench chisels but at the time was worried based on their buffed look that they may share some commonality with the american tools of the same look (alloyed tools that started on the wrong foot in the 1950s or so here - soft, fold over).

I was probably wrong about that, but rockler has moved to half an hour away now straight though the city traffic across the rivers - a large penalty to go pay more than it would cost to buy the same items from home, and to look at a bunch of plastic beginners crutches. Their chisels are probably chinese irwin at this point.

Hamlet, etc, were also available here through a gray market source (as well as LN at a discount, etc). A couple of retailers complained about gray market and that was the end of that. The manufacturers passed it off to us as a need to "make sure we get good customer service, since gray market can't guarantee that", but it was nothing more than a price control money grab. Nobody here could remember getting poor service from gray marketers as they tended to be more responsive than retailers.

Anyway, I will consider buying some of these brands that remain in sheffield if it's an A vs. B and that's the determining factor. There's not much straightforward left in the states here other than buck and boutique. buck bros chisels are OK in the stuff intended for woodworking, but suffer the same lack of hardness as robt sorby does now. I can fix that without issue.
 

fasterbyelan

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Thank you for the replies.

I was never going to return the chisels just surprised at the degree of skew present (and wanted feedback from those with more experience). If they are going to be ground I suppose I would have expected then to be reasonably square.

So I sorted them out firstly restoring the cutting edge to 90 degrees via 180 Wet and Dry on a granite base which did not take too long. I started on the wider chisels first so it got quicker as I worked through them! An advantage of these chisels is the ground backs so not a lot of work was required to get such to a mirror finish. Incidentally, these chisel’s have a 30 degree bevel from the manufacture so I set the second bevel to 35 degree. As they will be used on hard wood I don’t see this as an issue.

They are a pleasure to use and well worth their price. They take a razor sharp edge which after cutting a few dovetail joints is still retained. They are clearly a step up from my Marples Boxwood Bevel Edge chisels I have been using. Hopefully the quality of my work will increase accordingly! And I will be buying more AI tools.

Regards,

Karl
 

D_W

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excellent conclusion, Karl. Agree on the edge holding and taking - they're better than any modern marples chisles I've had (including a couple of nice sets of boxwood handled tang chisels - one of those had about 2/3rds of the chisels unhardened to any practical level - not sure what happened there, but I've rehardened them).

I'm fairly sure they're grinding them completely freehand or close to it. I haven't worked in a factory in 20+ years, but do remember working in a commercial cabinet factory before that - once you're on the 300th tool in a row, you start to lose focus a little bit unless someone makes you focus.

Everything we see that's commercially made and not made as old school goes into a holder that runs a chisel through a grinding process. The result can be kind of robotic looking, but it's consistent.

In order to find better edge holding (in my experience - making some chisels and having had several hundred), you'd have to go harder than AI, and then chipping of corners becomes a potential problem. Several clicks less is where chisels like current sorby and older marples and stanley chisels (plastic handled) resided, and the AI are sort of in the sweet spot - just below the nominal hardness of the particles in an oilstone, and not by much.
 

Dovetaildave

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[/quote]
Those AI chisels are made for cabinet work - paring and light tapping with a mallet, for which they are superb - light, balanced and precise. They're not intended for hairy-ars*d joiners whacking the living s*** out of them with 24oz claw hammers.[/quote]

I was very pleasantly surprised and impressed by a recent phone call to the lovely lady at Ashley Isles.

I explained that some of our carving gouges 's Ferrules were split (Some of my secondary students are a bit heavy handed sometimes, learning through exploration I like to think) and did they sell them?

She then told me Ashley isles will replace them for free, (1st class padded envelope arrived two days later) now THAT'S CUSTOMER SERVICE, they'll always have my custom for that alone Hooray for Ashley Isles =D> =D> =D>
 

Trevanion

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I acquired a bunch of AI carving chisels in a job lot and quite a few had split ferrules despite still having the wax on the end and being brand new. I'm not sure what brass they use for the ferrules but it ain't good in my opinion, I bought one new when I was at Yandles as they had buckets full of the bloody things for 50p each and gave it a hammer test and it shattered rather than flatten out as regular brass extrusion would. They're obviously very brittle and it almost has a sintered texture to it.
 
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