chinese chisel shock...

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24 Aug 2015
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I suspected as I've gone on making metal things (most of them are better than most commercial offerings, but I cannot better the best commercial offerings) that there's nothing that would prevent a very decent cheap chisel.

Why? Because though I didn't believe it at first, I've come to learn that small amounts of alloying elements (small bits of manganese, chrome and vanadium) actually improve the results in quick heat treat rather than "polluting the steel", and when those bits are not creating large free carbides because there isn't enough of them, other than a slight change in feel, their presence is undetectable (rather, they do seem to improve toughness a bit without getting to stupid levels like I've found in bearing steel - that's too tough and when an edge gets damaged, it won't let go, and that's a problem).

Long story short, I figured I'd buy a set of very cheap chisels here at the local harbor freight both to regrind and re-heat treat. If they're garbage, no problem - they're $12 for 6 of them.

However, after a reground the bevels on them and had proper time to be turned off by the tiny handles (mind you, most "experts" who buy lie nielsen and other chisels and pinch the tips go to euro and chinese retailers and complain about handles sizes that a competent user would like - one who would grip the handle and want to strike the chisel without hitting the web of their thumb), I found that nothing else needed to be changed.


what's the background on thinking that a cheap chisel could be good? The cost of CrV drill rod from alibaba is about $2 a pound. I don't know that there's a full pound in 6 chisels. The additives have made it so that a guy doesn't need to have special quenching oil and pay enormous attention to temperature and method to get good results. This is, however, true on something like white steel or 1095 - the results are highly sensitive to temperature control and an ideal quench. For a foreign company to have one someone clipping off pieces of drill rod and pounding them in a couple of sequential dies to forge them to near shape and then run them almost without human intervention through a fixturing machine - what would you be missing? You'd be missing highly wear resistant elements as well as stainlessness, etc. These are pointless in a chisel. If:
* the steel isn't horribly overheated when it's cut and forged (it's unlikely that someone would spend the time to keep it at super high heat as that would cost money)
* it's struck while still hot
* the hardening line gets it within a reasonble range twice for quench and temper

Nothing else is really required.

How do I also know that this is enough time to get a good result? For a very long time, razors have been made this way. The forging process isn't elaborate - it's a set of progressive dies to get drill rod set into a hollow shape to minimize grinding. It's probably beneficial to remove a bit of the grain direction in the drill rod (the best part of the long grain on the steel - the strongest part - is off the front of a straight razor where the edge *isn't*. The same is true of knives - rolled stock grain direction goes out the end, but it's better to have a knife chip the edge than have it break off at the tip. At any rate, it's possible to get very fine steel this way.

Well, by chance or on purpose, these chisels are at a place where I don't have the heart to reharden and temper them. I'd be gaining nothing unless there's a desire to see if they can be made bonkers hard (but then they wouldn't sharpen well on oilstones and all would be lost).

They abrade easily, aren't too heavy, the steel is exceptionally fine, and drops its wire edge on a washita as well as anything I've sharpened without having to be stupid hard to do that.

They also pass the practical test, which is to pare, then do an interval of chopping maple (not pine or something nice, but maple) briskly and then go back to paring again without showing any or any significant damage (wider than 1/2 inch and after chopping two cubic inches of maple, similar to 4 or 10- half blinds - no damage at all.

But the handles are crude/small and the lands on the side are fat. I have a belt grinder and can freehand them no problem.


this, however, leaves you guys in the dark as HF isn't an english chain. And as we know in the US, enjoy your HF todays, because HF's tomorrows are guaranteed to no-one. The next run could be trash, and the chisels after these if the same style isn't kept could also be junk.The 6 at the top are HFs - I ground the handle off of the one in the middle and put one of Gombeira on it after regrinding the side bevels. The ones on the bottom are blanks of mine et to be made into a more classic style of chisel (They are 26c3 steel, far more exotic, and perhaps won't end up being any better!)


And a look at the grind on the side of one that was unground, as well as one that I have ground quickly - it takes about 10 minutes to fix the factory bevels on these with a ceramic belt, buzz the first 1/8th of the business end off and establish a fresh bevel a little further back. They were nearly dead flat, too.

$2!!!!!!!! The gombeira cost more than the chisel (and is less forgiving).

Having beaten a few of these and ground and sharpened them - what new chisel would I take over them at any price? Nothing. V11 or LN? Absolutely not. It's possible that the latter might fare slightly better if you busted out a honing guide, but in the civilized world, we buff the tip of a chisel and these will sharpen in a tiny fraction of the time of the LN or V11, grind at least twice as fast (either by hand or with a grinder) and with the tip buffed will absolutely wear you out.

For relevant comparison here, what about vs. the old blue handled marples and the stanley 5000 series? These are better than those by a fairly large margin.

(top/right, factory fat bevels - bottom/left, my correction. For a $2 chisel, I didn't think it worth the time to wipe off the mill marks on the small lands, though it could be done in about 30 seconds on a second grinder that I have set up with a flat platen and tight belt - that being the grinder that I generally use to set the side of my chisels to width before finishing hand filing. ).

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Haven't seen anyone grind a chisel in the fashion of old screwdrivers,
I like it
Curious to see what appears to be a fairly untouched top side of the chisel,
I might not have been able to resist polishing it a bit, just to ensure bevel will be spot on forever more.

Not sure what you mean. When I make my own chisels, I hand finish them (block of wood and loose grit) so that they're more crisp.

Since these are $2, I just put them to the contact wheel on the belt grinder with my special cheesy no-guide freehand method (I think the side lands look pretty good! - progressive and sweeping like that is preferable) in about 10 minutes with a dip here or there to the water bucket.

How sharp are they after the buff? You can hang a hair on them. Hanging a hair meaning sharp enough that you can lay a hair on the edge, pull it, it will catch and then sever. (admittedly, it takes a minute or two of more careful edge treating to get this in most cases - in this case, a loaded balsa strop and then removal of the burr just on the corner of the buffing wheel).

These bevels will be hollow ground later - they are freehand ground on the belt grinder (which has a ceramic belt that grinds cool). I do most maintenance grinding as a hollow grind, but the contact wheel on the belt grinder with a ceramic belt offers the opportunity to do this freehand as it's very high speed and forgiving (about 4800 feet per second) - little pressure means you don't need a rest of any kind, you can just lay the chisel against it.

That same grinder is what allows cool grinding of hardened steel to bring the bevels down. If I continue to use them, they'll eventually get finished. It's also possible to make these into complete fraud by tempering the bolster area back and filing it off to look like a vintage chisel, and filing an integral octagonal bolster into it. Maybe another time. The steel is good enough to actually make a good chisel out of such a thing.

Hanging a hair like this is a bit of a trick - if you're good at it, the hair will catch and sever and not split any length - it'll just settle on the edge and pop across severing cleanly along its width.

(I do grind screwdrivers sometimes and hammer a little burr onto their tips, though - this is just way different - mass metal removal from the side bevels).
One last picture - my means test as mentioned above - mallet in something hard (this will test your sharpening mettle, also - not just for sharp, but for your ability to accommodate your chisel in a way that it won't fail) ..

...well, pare, mallet, pare. And not on something overly friendly. you should be able to pare something cleanly with no lines (good clean edges), then mallet under some control, but briskly, and then go back and pare more. I pared the maple leaning on it. If there are edge defects, you'll see lines along the length of the pare. None.

Ah I see, you did grind some material off the top of the chisels.
One or two of mine were a bit uneven, that must have been not long after this piccy was taken, so I just lapped the few cheapies I use, upside down with a winding stick to even the grind.

This might explain what I mean.
Might be handy to register against the wooden impliment, but more so, to get an even hone.
Haven't needed to do any refining of any bevels for dovetailing, as I have this wee vintage one for that.

The older ones that were hand ground can be a bit uneven, and sorby's new chisels are uneven (I don't know why).

I'd guess that a lot of the better older chisels were hand ground freehand and then maybe glazed against a rest - not sure.

IT's not uncommon for the hand ground chisels to also be thicker (not just the bevel, but the entire chisel) on one side or another. Making chisels by hand, it's fairly easy to see how this could happen (the job grinder would end up causing it unintentionally).
Well, I haven't handled too many vintage chisels, but gather from what you're saying, it seems like the mass produced chisels of today have kept on to at least one age old tradition... of keeping those lands uneven :)

I think if you handled several hundred vintage chisels, even of the same make from different eras, you'd come to the conclusion of ...


Some are made neatly, some not, some of the old ones are made neatly, and some not.

Some of the later chisels are made neatly in some ways, and other ways not, and the neatness often belies the ability of the chisel itself. One of the best chisels I"ve used is a later ward tang chisel. IT's got nice proportions, but it doesn't look like the really old well finished ones. You'd perhaps assume looking at it that it may be an underperformer, but it's one that I cannot match yet making my own chisels (that's frustrating!!).

What I do know about chisels is if there's a good core quality tool there, you can grind it to whatever you'd like and it'll be fine. It doesn't take too long then to refine the surface with a finer belt and then finish by hand.
Are you planning to acquire a set of these Ward chisels, or can wee see a piccy.
Curious to know what it has, that you feel isn't up to scratch on yours.

I can match them aesthetically - when it really comes to beating them, they hold up a little better after damage starts.

This isn't a practical issue (the chisels that I make from files or file like steels, you wouldn't do this to - but the ward chisels that I have are undeniably slightly better at abuse).

I'll get a picture in the next day or so. The ones that I have that are superb are sort of in limbo between when they were octagonal bolster, but suddenly not as nicely finished. However, they're prior to the point that the chisels had round bolsters.

I can make a good chisel, though - I just want to make a great chisel (it's a sort of a toolmaker's thing, not a matter of practical - I want to solve the difference between mine and ward - why their chisels take half the damage in the same task).
Just for giggles, I had to run out and get cheese for the mrs. this morning for something she's making this afternoon. HF is a right turn from my development's edge - the chisels are now $9.99 here.

I bought two more sets to experiment with - not for any serious reason, just for giggles. I'll put one aside to remove the handles and reharden to see what comes of the tools at higher hardness (I suspect they won't tolerate it, but we'll see). The other, I took the 3/4th chisel out to compare - I am guessing the process of making these is automated and they should be consistent (if it were less automated, it would actually cost more). Not surprisingly, it's much like the other pack's chisels - not overly hard, but hard enough, and very good sharpenability. Baffling. Roughly $1.67 a chisel now (add 7% sales tax here).
The wards mentioned.



I'll make a follow up comment about these getting a little sloppy. They are neatly made to me, but someone who only buys LN tools that come out of a CNC might not like that the bevels are very close to even but if you look close enough, you can tell they were done by hand, and some of the work up toward the tang is a bit chunky, and the bolsters are ground a little sloppy. I have never seen an original set of bevel edge ward chisels like this from an earlier era that's complete. These weren't expensive -I think I got them from the UK with shipping for about $100, which is a steal for all four. They are light without being short and the steel is wonderful. The last aspect (to me) would be glaze and aesthetics and that's the only place these come up a little short of the old ones - and I consider that no loss at all.
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No Horror Fright here and nothing comparable. Would you be opposed to buying a couple sets and mailing them to me next time you need dairy products? Happy to pay you for them and the postage, probably a little more that the chisels. Can never have enough inexpensive tools. 😉

They look simalar to Aldi ones regarded by Paul Sellars?

Cheers James

Yes, they do. The real grab bag on these chisels (it looks like someone sold a machine that makes the blade style automatically, as they're all over the place on alibaba from different regions) is what drill rod they use (most are cr60v which can probably make an OK chisel when helped by the buffer - these may be that). Once in a while, I see CrV100 (which would be 1% drill rod) advertised as being in chisels, but two things:
1) they're always overpriced
2) I don't trust them that they're actually 1% drill rod

Cr100V should make (not sure of the order of the letters and numbers) should make an ideal chisel - Cr adds some hardenability, vanadium pins grain size small and increases peak hardness, and 1% carbon would make for good fine edge holding.

If someone sets these machines right, they should make consistent chisels (them being, my guess, two induction heating stages and a splash after each. Chromium (and maybe vanadium) aid in allowing good hardness with something less than a huge full quench.

Aldi's chisels are also variable. I've seen claims that some are over 60 hardness, and some are definitely not.

But there's nothing in a chisel that really adds cost aside from expensive stock (A2 isn't cheap and V11 is, at least from what's probably the original company, extremely expensive) and milling/finishing costs. V11 commercially heat treated would spend some furnace time, but so does A2. In my opinion, A2 is a bad choice for chisels, and it will lose chunks out of the edge to some stones. V11 is pretty good, but what it has over a carbon steel is a negative for chisels unless some of you folks can't keep your chisels from rusting.
No Horror Fright here and nothing comparable. Would you be opposed to buying a couple sets and mailing them to me next time you need dairy products? Happy to pay you for them and the postage, probably a little more that the chisels. Can never have enough inexpensive tools. 😉


Princess auto or canadian tire might carry similar items. I'm not sure that these are worth the exorbitant cost of shipping across the border. Any ideas? If you're in sask, do you ever go over the border and come back or has covid ruined that?

If you'd really like them, anyway, I can, of course, get a couple of sets for you.

(I could turn ads on on my youtube channel so that youtube actually promotes a video - something I don't want - and make a video setting one of these up and create a run. I won't do that for now!!).
Princess auto or canadian tire might carry similar items. I'm not sure that these are worth the exorbitant cost of shipping across the border. Any ideas? If you're in sask, do you ever go over the border and come back or has covid ruined that?

If you'd really like them, anyway, I can, of course, get a couple of sets for you.

(I could turn ads on on my youtube channel so that youtube actually promotes a video - something I don't want - and make a video setting one of these up and create a run. I won't do that for now!!).

I checked Trash and Can (Canadian Tire) and Princess Auto and neither have anything even close for less than 5 or more times the price. Well Princess did have a 1/2" plastic handled chisel for $4.00 but no set or other sizes. I also checked Amazon and KMS tools and they have nothing close so it is your HF or not at all. For a few bucks a chisel there is nothing painful about modifying some into skew chisels or for other special needs.

I looked at the USPS app and using Penn State's postal code a 2lb package to me is about $22 and a 3lb is $33 for first class packages. A medium flat rate is $54 for any weight 20lb and under. It would make sense for me to get a medium box and fill it to the brim as long as the weight was under 20lb. I can flog the extras to members of the woodworkers guild for what it ends up costing. What does a set weigh?

The border is 1000K/600miles from here and it is more or less closed unless you have a residence in the US. Kind of far to go to HF. When I lived on the west coast I was only 4 miles away.

So I'm game if you are.
Steel quality aside, using a chisel for joinery generally places the emphasis on the flatness of the back and the angle (or absence) of lands. The latter is especially relevant when chopping or paring dovetails. Often, even with more expensive bench chisels, the lands are large or square.

A little while ago I posted a simple method for re-shaping the sides of bench chisels. The link takes you to the article on my website as a reference:

Simply, use a belt sander, and add a table to the platform, in my case, one which matches the 1:6 ratio ….


Now run the side of the blade along the table …


This is a Koyamaichi dovetail chisel, with improved lands ..


.. and finished with oxide …


I even did this with my Kyohisa bench chisels. Now they can also work inside dovetails!


The mods are very difficult to detect.

Regards from Perth

These chisels (and probably almost all modern chisels) are flat top and bottom (though tapered) and would be fine with the side of a belt sander. I like the lands to have a bit of a perpendicular side (except for one chisel that I keep for half blinds) and then shallow rather than the ouchi style (that's what I'd call it, but it's on lots of japanese chisels - around 1/8 or so angle), which could be a trapping problem against a rest on a belt.
I handled three more of these today, but with found old cut up planes (like if a plane was a basket case but some of the wood front or back was sound, I'd saved a few of those over the years. Wish I'd saved more as the really old planes have really nice beech in them. That's only one of these, though. The two narrower beech handles are actually a transitional bottom. I kept a couple of transitionals for years that were OK, and I think I tried to sell one at one point for $25 on ebay - a #32 or something. I parted it out later, got a few nice long screws for wooden planes, a thin (but usable) transitional iron, and enough beech out of the sole to make a few handles. That's worth more than the plane itself was.

The first handle (the dark one) was gombeira, but that seemed too ritzy for this task.


Fair chance that the average person who sharpens everything to 30 degrees or with a guide to something like that (And takes a while) may not love these as they're middling hardness, but with the unicorn, they work wonderfully and I can't get over how easily they sharpen and grind. Usually, the cheaper lower carbon CV steels or treatment (like narex) make for a really chewy wire edge that's persistent, but these chisels have such good behavior for their hardness level that it's uncanny.

They dropped from $12 to $10 and then yesterday, HF sent me a coupon for $1 with no limit on sets (to be purchased before the end of tomorrow). I've got three sets now, so I think It'll just let the whole thing rest. It does cost about 50-75 cents for the brass ferrule as in order to get something that's not just a really cheap thin piece of tube brass, I have to order from industrial supply (mcmaster carr here), but it's nice to have that kind of stuff on hand in different sizes if you're going to try to make tools.

I did not in any way try to coordinate making the handles at one time, so they're not exactly sized proportionately like they would've been if I hadn't been so lazy, but trying to turn these into perfection, given that the total cost is about $18 seemed very undude.

I'll tidy up the metalwork a little further at a later date. They are a skilled user's treat (Someone who doesn't rely on a chisel being just perfect hardness and super this or that to be able to accommodate them, but I guarantee I could easily make these outperform any premium chisel in a beginner or near beginner's hands, and they are pretty easy to work up to hanging hair sharp if a party trick is needed - and without anything expensive.