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Chisels & chiselling - questions, questions

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Togalosh

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Hello Gents,

The time has come to get some decent chisels & I am almost sure to go for Sorby's (because they are English & I've read good things about them although I've not got my hands on 1 & that they are not as good today as the olduns- the American ones I handled at Axi seem very light & almost too delicate, although I've read glowing reports of them too). I need flat edged ones as I'm not ready for expensive turning ones just yet..but I'm stumped with the choice of blade & handle & would like your opinions please. So far the most I chop up to 25 w x 65 d mortices in oak as well the smaller joints. What would you recommend?

The main stumbling block is the choice of handle -how did you choose which handle to go for ? The 2 main choices are a boxwood carvers or an octagonal. The octagonal has double hoops - does this mean the carver type is much less robust & only fit for light malleting?..but is the octagonal 1 comfortable?

Then what style blade for mortice chisels- registered, sash mortice? Why don't they do small bevel edge mortice blades - just big ones ?? Then these handles are Ash in a 3rd design which look better than the other 2. Do you hold the chisel so differently for different jobs?

Paring chisels?.. All my paring (as I understand it) can be done with normal chisels- so why need a long chisel?. Why are paring blades so long? Joints aren't that deep & surely a plane will do a better job over that distance - or am I missing something?

Then if having a heavy mallet is better for acuracy & muscle strain why are wide faced mallets so light? I like the weight of the nylon Thor but it's face is narrow. Do you make or modify your own mallet ?

Thanks
 

Mike Wingate

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I use long paring chisels for the accurate cutting of recesses in the glued fan bracing of acoustic guitars and ukuleles. You can turn the chisel upside down, but a flat pairing chisel ensures a flat, level cut. The handle is off the soundboard or back and the hand can control the tool.
 

James-1986

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If you like English chisels may I suggest having a look at the ashley isles range. I have one of their 1 1/4 firmer chisels and its fupping marvelous, If I didn't have so many chisels already I'd probably get kitted out!
 

Cheshirechappie

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There is a broad range of chisel types because there's a broad range of chisel duties.

In general, heavy chopping (for mortices, framing or the heavier aspects of shipwrighting, for example) demand a heavily-built chisel able to withstand battery by a heavy mallet. That's why heavy-duty chisels often have double-hooped handles. For hand morticing in hardwoods, the old fashioned 'pigsticker' type have no equal (lots on Ebay, and Ray Isles makes new probably the best ever made). Sash mortice chisels were originally for morticing softwoods when making sash windows, and are quite serviceable as long as ultra-heavy duty is not expected of them. For general duties in heavier woodworking such as ship work and framing, registered firmers (heavy rectangular section blades and double-hooped handles) are good, solid, tough all-rounders.

Lighter and more delicate work, such as cabinetmaking and luthery, demand a lighter, more nimble and balanced chisel, capable of being used with a mallet (usually a lighter one), or pushed by hand for paring duties. Usually bevel-edged to allow the cutting of dovetail joints, and with handles in carver, octagonal or decorative patterns. (I have some vintage ones - superb - and some modern Ashley Isles ones aquired recently, with which I am very impressed so far. Look for ones with very fine edges - many modern so-called bevelled edged chisels are not much more than rectangular section ones with the top corners knocked off.)

The long, thin paring chisels were originally developed for engineering patternmakers, for very precise and controlled paring by hand - no mallets. Patternmakers work to very close dimensional limits, but mostly in very mild, easy-working timbers, and the chisels are ideal for that. Of course, other trades have found uses for them, but not as the 'stock' tool. (I have a couple of modern Robert Sorby paring chisels, and I love 'em - they are beautifully light and controllable. Older ones - except the really old mid-19th century ones - tend to be thicker and a bit heavier.)

Handle pattern is really a matter of personal taste. Heavy chopping chisels usually have ash or beech handles, finer ones turned beech or boxwood. (Continental makers used hornbeam, American practice favours hickory - both tough, resilient woods readily available in those areas). Paring chisels can have handles in more brittle woods such as rosewood, since they are not used with mallets.

Most craftsmen end up with a variety of types. A cabinetmaker may have eight or ten bevel-edged bench chisels for general work, a few mortice chisels, a few paring chisels, and maybe one or two heavier chisels for occasional chopping jobs. Site carpenters would have fewer (less to carry around), and favour stronger, plastic-handled chisels (they'll take abuse that no wooden handle would stand), and may have a few finer chisels kept for 'posh' work.

Probably the best thing is to buy a small range of sizes of the type of chisel that best suits the work you expect to do most of. Then, as most of us do, add others one at a time as work arising dictates.

Be warned, though - chisels breed in storage. You'll look in a few years time, and wonder where 50 chisels came from.....
 

jimi43

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FIFTY!!!! Only FIFTY!

You need to get out to a bootfair more often CC! :mrgreen:

I was going to post something on this thread but CC has just about said almost everything you need to know...

But I will just add my three favourite words....WARD, SORBY, ADDIS.....

Oh...Ok...four favourites....Ashley Iles.... :mrgreen:

I have a huge WARD firmer which I am convinced pixies come out at night and sharpen.... :mrgreen:

Jim
 

No skills

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This is probably the best summary of chisels I have seen on here.


Cheshirechappie":3fndg15u said:
There is a broad range of chisel types because there's a broad range of chisel duties.

In general, heavy chopping (for mortices, framing or the heavier aspects of shipwrighting, for example) demand a heavily-built chisel able to withstand battery by a heavy mallet. That's why heavy-duty chisels often have double-hooped handles. For hand morticing in hardwoods, the old fashioned 'pigsticker' type have no equal (lots on Ebay, and Ray Isles makes new probably the best ever made). Sash mortice chisels were originally for morticing softwoods when making sash windows, and are quite serviceable as long as ultra-heavy duty is not expected of them. For general duties in heavier woodworking such as ship work and framing, registered firmers (heavy rectangular section blades and double-hooped handles) are good, solid, tough all-rounders.

Lighter and more delicate work, such as cabinetmaking and luthery, demand a lighter, more nimble and balanced chisel, capable of being used with a mallet (usually a lighter one), or pushed by hand for paring duties. Usually bevel-edged to allow the cutting of dovetail joints, and with handles in carver, octagonal or decorative patterns. (I have some vintage ones - superb - and some modern Ashley Isles ones aquired recently, with which I am very impressed so far. Look for ones with very fine edges - many modern so-called bevelled edged chisels are not much more than rectangular section ones with the top corners knocked off.)

The long, thin paring chisels were originally developed for engineering patternmakers, for very precise and controlled paring by hand - no mallets. Patternmakers work to very close dimensional limits, but mostly in very mild, easy-working timbers, and the chisels are ideal for that. Of course, other trades have found uses for them, but not as the 'stock' tool. (I have a couple of modern Robert Sorby paring chisels, and I love 'em - they are beautifully light and controllable. Older ones - except the really old mid-19th century ones - tend to be thicker and a bit heavier.)

Handle pattern is really a matter of personal taste. Heavy chopping chisels usually have ash or beech handles, finer ones turned beech or boxwood. (Continental makers used hornbeam, American practice favours hickory - both tough, resilient woods readily available in those areas). Paring chisels can have handles in more brittle woods such as rosewood, since they are not used with mallets.

Most craftsmen end up with a variety of types. A cabinetmaker may have eight or ten bevel-edged bench chisels for general work, a few mortice chisels, a few paring chisels, and maybe one or two heavier chisels for occasional chopping jobs. Site carpenters would have fewer (less to carry around), and favour stronger, plastic-handled chisels (they'll take abuse that no wooden handle would stand), and may have a few finer chisels kept for 'posh' work.

Probably the best thing is to buy a small range of sizes of the type of chisel that best suits the work you expect to do most of. Then, as most of us do, add others one at a time as work arising dictates.

Be warned, though - chisels breed in storage. You'll look in a few years time, and wonder where 50 chisels came from.....
 

AndyT

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Hard to add anything to that excellent summary - except that one reason why a paring chisel can be so long is that the extra length allows you to use your shoulder to help push. One hand holds the handle, keeping it nestled in place on the shoulder, the other guides the cutting edge. It's the sort of technique a plane maker would use to cut the central sloping mortice on a wooden plane.

I expect Sherlock Holmes would immediately spot a planemaker by his asymmetrical shoulders!
 

Togalosh

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Thanks guys, that's great - esp CC.

I'm still stuck for handle choice tho - is there a place that I can go to to get my hands on Sorby's & Isles? There is a woodwork fair in Somerset that I thought might be worth going to (I'll take cash & leave plastic at home!) but not sure - a lot of sites etc seem focussed on tuning & carving (understandably).

I've seen old chisels online at what seem like good prices (with a real mix of handles) - are these worth going for do you think? How much of a gamble are they?
 

Pete Maddex

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Hi,

I have bought loads of chisels from carboots and Ebay and never had a dud one.

Non matching handles have never been a problem for me, I would like all London pattern boxwood ones if I had to choose one style.

Pete
 

AndyT

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Like the others said - anything marked as made in Sheffield will be worth having. Everyone needs some "second best" chisels as well as the good ones, to use when you might hit a nail etc, so don't worry about acquiring a few duds. In general, the state of the handle will be a good indicator of the quality of the blade; but even what look like junk can often be redeemed with a bit of work.
Best tip for eBay bargains is to look for mixed lots which are collection only but near you.
 

Togalosh

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Hi Pete,

They look in good nick n nice & solid ..but I see they do not have a ferrule /hoop on the impact end of handle yet show no sign of damage. (This might show up my lack of experience but) I'd expect the wider ones to be used for harder joinery & therefore would've recieved harder blows.. does this mean that double hoops are for people using hammers instead of mallets or do you think that these chisels had lighter use?

What makes you prefer the London Pattern handle ?

If I was confident in my ability to spot a good chisel I might look on Ebay & I'd love to have the luxury of time to go mooching about car boot sales & rummaging through old tools but time is like money....

A set of 6 Sorby's are £42 online which seems good to me..but I bet you get yours for peanuts.
 

Togalosh

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AndyT":2ogo5fls said:
Like the others said - anything marked as made in Sheffield will be worth having. Everyone needs some "second best" chisels as well as the good ones, to use when you might hit a nail etc, so don't worry about acquiring a few duds. In general, the state of the handle will be a good indicator of the quality of the blade; but even what look like junk can often be redeemed with a bit of work.
Best tip for eBay bargains is to look for mixed lots which are collection only but near you.

Thanks Andy - you make good sense...yet Ebay has a way of taking hours out my day in the blink of an eye & can become stressful..as well as obsessional.
 

Pete Maddex

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Hi, Togalosh

I use a mallet on all my chisels and they are fine even doing big mortices, some of them have 3 users names on so they must be 100 + years old.
I don't think a hammer should be used on a chisel it does damage and seems wrong to me, I know japinese chisels are made to be struck with one but it still seems wrong, and I have seen lots of abused chisels on car boots (I usualy have to rescue them)
Some of them where 20p some where £15 big ones are very expensive usualy, apart from the 2" Sorby one I got for £2 :D

I just love the look of the London pattern ones, no other reason, they all feel good in your hand its just down to looks.

Pete
 

Togalosh

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Pete Maddex said:
Hi, Togalosh

I use a mallet on all my chisels and they are fine even doing big mortices,


For these bigger jobs do you use registered & firmer chisels or do your bevel edge chisels cope well enough?
 

Cheshirechappie

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The double-hooped handle registered firmers are really intended for jobs like building wooden pit headgears, railway wagon building, the repair of medieval church rooves, installing factory line-shafting, shipbuilding - that sort of 'heavy' woodwork. The upper hoops actually knock hell out of mallets, leading some to use hammers, which knock hell out of the hoops and handle ends...

For cabinetmaking and bench joinery, the larger bevelled-edge chisels with plain, unhooped handles are actually quite strongly built, and provided you don't lever excessively with them, or use hammers on them, they'll absorb all the punishment a mallet can dish out to them. The smaller chisels (say, 1/2" and below) are obviously more delicate and don't take kindly to being levered, but can still be malleted without fear. For mortices like 1/4" and 5/16", the chopping of which does involve a fair bit of levering out of waste, a 'proper' mortice chisel is best, but for dovetails and general bench chores bevelled-edged chisels are fine for about 95% of jobs.
 

Pete Maddex

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Hi, Togalosh

Yep big mallet and bevel edge chisel, or the mortising machine and a cleanup :D

You need to make a couple of mallets of different sizes including a BFO one (Big F##k Off)
I use Hawthorn for the heads it sees to stand up very well to some serious abuse.

If you want a mallet sized piece let me know, you can have it for the postage.

Pete
 

Togalosh

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Hi Pete,

I'd love to start making my own tools..& a mallet is a good place to start. By BFOO do you mean both in size & weight?

I've not heard of Hawthorn being used for anything before..& if it's the thing to use I'd gladly take you up on your kind offer. How much would the P&P be?

What would you recommend for the handle?
 

kirkpoore1

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No skills":3tv9fb1f said:
This is probably the best summary of chisels I have seen on here.
Yes--great summary. I have two things to add:

1. Handle shape: Round ones can roll around--and off--your bench. Octagonal handles don't do that as much.
2. I keep a couple of old plastic handled beater chisels around with the corners rounded off. Held vertically, they're good for scraping rough spots that are hard to get into any other way, such as recesses in relief carvings. You can also grind them down if you need to get into a narrow spot.

Kirk
 

Pete Maddex

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Hi, Togalosh


I will post you a mallet sized lump and let you know how much, PM me your address.

Beech or Ash will be good for a handle.
I have made several different ones some with a round hole for a wedged handle, and some others with a tapered mortice and matching handle, much more difficult to make but if you get it right it looks good.

Pete
 

Togalosh

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Hi Pete,

That's great & really kind of you.

I've PM'd you my address - PM me your bank details & I'll do an online payment.

A tapered mortice is the way to go..lets see if I can manage that... I might have some ash left over. I haven't found a good timber supplier for Ash in Brum (I cannot bear going into the 2 timber merchants who do supply it due to their intolerant attitude)...but I can at least practice with Oak.

Thanks again !
 

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