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Mid range/budget chisels

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Picalilli

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There's also a caveat on these chisels. There's no guarantee the next time they come around that they're made of the same thing. All of these chisels appear to be die forged out of some type of CR-V steel. This range is enormous, but for practical purposes, it goes from 0.5% carbon steel, which can get to high hardness but won't stay there well, to 1.15% carbon steel rod that's suitable for making files and straight razors. If chisels are made from CR60 or something of the sort, they may be marginal, they may not. If they're made of CR100 or some such designation, they should have a better chance of having good edge strength and sharpness, but there's no guarantee they'll be left at a hard temper.

I have a set sold by another retailer here - exact same chisels, same style, same pack except the printing is different (it was orange and they were called some fictitious americanized brand). Mine are probably about 58 hardness.

I saw reference to another set of aldi chisels that were 62 hardness or so. These numbers seem close together, but they are drastically different in edge holding (58 will not hold a reasonable edge in hardwoods without very heavy buffing on an edge, something most people don't do - the apex itself has little strength and will fold. 61/62 is kind of the sweet spot where a good piece of stock used to make a chisel (like 0.9-1% carbon) will hold up well and not chip if heat treat and everything else didn't break rules.

If one is lucky enough to get a "good" set, and they seem to sharpen about the same as any other good chisel, then that's fairly lucky. When paul said his hold an edge about as well as anything else, it made me squint. When I saw Rc testing results for another set that were much harder than mine, it solved the mystery. They are still long and light chisels, and for the current crop of blade grippers, sort of odd - they're more of a handle gripper's chisel - as in, someone who keeps their non mallet hand on the handle and never moves it during work, dragging the blade of the chisel or walking it to cuts rather than moving hands around).

All that said, I probably know more about steel and chisels than anyone on here as far as what happens when you make chisels with various steels, what happens when they're a given hardness, and how to bail them out. For the $8 that aldi chisels were here (they did come to aldi, too, but I already had my set), sure, worth a try. Even if you get a set on the soft side, you're going to be chiseling something in a doorway or against plaster at some point.

But to make a recommendation of something that will always be good. I'd go with old, but that creates the "can you get it into shape" dynamic if it's needed. What about stanley 5001s and such? I've had a set - one of the five was unhardened. The others were OK (much closer to the 58 hardness). The vintage english chisels are always going to be closer to 61/62 if they are the tang cabinetmaker type because those chisels were sold to professional cabinetmakers, not someone who may open a paint can here or there with a site chisel, too.

What's good in current? Narex are OK - their hardening method can't reach 61/62. The richter type, no experience with them, but they're made like a traditional chisel and can get into that hardness. If someone has both types and there's not something wrong with the richter, it'll be hard not to notice how they take a finer edge off of a given stone and hold it better (but they will not fare as well if someone opens a paint can).

"what can I buy and it'll be great for $100" is always a loaded question. Who knows. I could do all of my work with my softer set of aldi-style chisels, but it took me a lot of experimenting with edge geometry to figure out how to get them to hold up in hardwood (hold up means they don't show edge damage after moderate use vs. just using them at all - you can use any junk and shoot off broken chips from your work and claim that chisels are working well, but you'll have no clue how much that's holding you back from efficient work.

The only guarantee that you can get something good is to get a good set in use from an honest person who just has too much stuff. I don't see that happening often. If you were in the states, I'd put something together, prepped and sent to you, but as I've done a fair bit of that with planes and chisels over the years, I have noticed that whatever I do sometimes gets cast aside quickly after the next chris schwarz blog post.

I'd personally, of the new chisels, rather have three sizes of good chisels than five mediocre, and track down a car boot chisel in the off sizes you don't use much. 3/8, 5/8 and 7/8 would be my choices for the most use. You can pick up a 1/4th chisel anywhere. For joinery, I always liked the AI chisels - they're in the sweet spot, they're honestly made, and they cost half what LN or other prissy chisels cost here (or even less than that vs. the LV type). But you'd be ill advised to make mortises with them.

Not much tolerance from me re: the doomeflangers who chide everyone about spending money on tools. Ever buy wood? Good hardwood stock makes tools look kind of cheap, other than for the prissy tools. If you use hand tools a lot, you'll eventually gravitate toward better stock if you don't start with it. If you're looking mostly to make plant stands and shelves, then it won't matter what chisels you have, nor will you have to buy wonderful wood.
Thanks for the detailed response. Shame I don’t live in the US! 🙂
I might buy one or two mid range from different makers (maybe one kirchen, one Ashley iles etc) and see how I feel with them.
I don’t mind spending a bit more on tools that I think I’ll be using a lot. Although I’m just getting into woodworking I know from general experience that although it’s usually possible to do a job with a cheap tool, it’s often much easier and more enjoyable with something better made. As this is a hobby purchase I don’t want to put myself off starting with something cheaply made that might frustrate me. That’s not to say I don’t think the cheap Tesco chisels wouldn’t serve me well ( I may get something similar anyway for the more heavy tasks like mortises - or hope to get lucky second hand at flea markets or boot sales on some older marples ones)
 

D_W

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That's a very reasonable step - getting one or two and seeing what they're like.

I have now probably made 75 chisels, but before I did, I think perhaps I've had several hundred (I just don't know how many hundred). Some new, some old. When you make things (i'm making excuses), learning all of these bits and trying things seems excusable - you can make exactly what you think you want, then figure out what you did wrong with it and so on, but have a good idea of feel and proportion.

But what I've learned is that there's no real magic secrets with chisels - they don't need to be abrasion resistant, they don't need to be 66 hardness, and they don't need to be stupid expensive to be really good. The trick is getting someone who is making them inexpensively to do it consistently and communicate what they have.

For example, the amount of steel in a die forged chisel is probably a dollar or two, even when it's good quality steel rod. If said chisel is heat treated properly, it will match just about anything you can make at any price (I would expect that matching LV's $110 chisel wouldn't be that difficult with an O1 spec in a similar hardness range, or 52100 - it could be done in eastern europe with attention to detail for $20 and maybe with a more classic shape).

Even further down than that, if someone in China wanted to make really good quality chisels, they could probably do it consistently for $3 a chisel.

But getting something like LV's consistency, the crisp make for someone who likes that style and in hard stainless (like V11), well - then you pay - especially if it's done in the western world.

Then there's the separate discussion of what do you need to get the work done - one decent set of chisels, and maybe with some luck, they could be china made and $30 for the set.

The last I saw the butt chisels above on alibaba, they were about $16-$20 a set for a buyer, including freight to port. I'm sure that bobs up and down a little bit, but the bulk of what we pay when we buy chinese-made goods is mark-up after the fact because retailing and post-sale service costs money (as does eating the batch here and there that's no good to begin with).

I'm enamored with the idea of spec on inexpensive DIN rod and doing the heat treat right rather than fast, but since there's zero chance that I'll ever die forge anything, enamored is it.

If someone ran 1% carbon din rod through a couple of dies and then ground off the nastiness and heat treated it and those chisels in some cases matched LV"s $110 for $5 each, it's not out of the question.
 

D_W

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(the 52100 spec stanley sweetheart chisels is interesting because 52100 isn't often used for chisels - it's not that stable which leads to a lot of follow up grinding, and though you can just heat it and quench and temper and get a decent result, if it's forged and then high detail heat treatment is done, the result can be spectacular. I have my doubts about the long thermal cycles being done on $20 consumer chisels, though, as well as with commodity knives).
 

Robbo60

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I bought these when I started woodworking again a few years ago and really like them. In your budget
 

Ollie78

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I have a nice set of German ones, wooden handles with hoops, nice quality steel. Cost me about £100 for ten about 5 years ago.
Called MHG. Can't remember where I bought them now but they are excellent value.
They are my on site chisels so have taken a beating but held up well.

Ollie
 

Picalilli

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I have a nice set of German ones, wooden handles with hoops, nice quality steel. Cost me about £100 for ten about 5 years ago.
Called MHG. Can't remember where I bought them now but they are excellent value.
They are my on site chisels so have taken a beating but held up well.

Ollie
Thanks - not heard of those before but they do look nice and pretty reasonable on here:
 

Ollie78

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That's the ones. Mine are the regular handle ones lower down the page.
You certainly can't complain about the value.

Ollie
 

D_W

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That's the ones. Mine are the regular handle ones lower down the page.
You certainly can't complain about the value.

Ollie
long ago, I got a set of their giant two-cherries sized mortise chisels. They definitely didn't meet their hardness spec (or anywhere close -they were actually unusable at a 40 degree bevel, so I sent them back). I'm sure there was something off about that set and they weren't the norm.

Based on the design, they meet what I mentioned above - if they are heat treated properly (i'm sure they're die forged - there's no other way to get things to shape quickly from inexpensive stock without a whole bunch of waste), they could be as good as anything. The grinding is done in some kind of automatic machine (evidenced by the little step up at the tang), which keeps the costs down. The only question is what's the steel, but that question is less important than "how do people find them in use"?
 

Ollie78

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They are vanadium steel aparently.
I would say it is pretty good, it is not as hard as the cutting edge of my japanese chisels by quite a lot but this is no bad thing in practice.
They compare favourably with the chisels I replaced which where Bahco ergo ones (another good budget option), I think they sharpen a touch easier but they hold the edge equally well.
I like the handles too, they are properly sized for each size and comfortable in use, the hoops have prevented splitting even though I always use a steel hammer on them.

Another small note on chisels my mate had the stanley fat max ones with the metal striking cap, those were just horrible the noise they make when using them is nasty as is the quality of the finishing, they were "polished" to about 100 grit or so. Just horrible.

Maybe these will ba a good starter set.


Ollie
 
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Picalilli

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They are vanadium steel aparently.
I would say it is pretty good, it is not as hard as the cutting edge of my japanese chisels by quite a lot but this is no bad thing in practice.
They compare favourably with the chisels I replaced which where Bahco ergo ones (another good budget option), I think they sharpen a touch easier but they hold the edge equally well.
I like the handles too, they are properly sized for each size and comfortable in use, the hoops have prevented splitting even though I always use a steel hammer on them.

Another small note on chisels my mate had the stanley fat max ones with the metal striking cap, those were just horrible the noise they make when using them is nasty as is the quality of the finishing, they were "polished" to about 100 grit or so. Just horrible.

Maybe these will ba a good starter set.


Ollie
That looks like a good deal actually. Not heard much about bahco chisels but know they’re a reputable brand generally. Good that the set comes with a stone too (although I have a diamond stone now so not essential).
 

Ollie78

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Picalilli, I had a similar set many years ago but gradually lost and damaged them so only have a couple left now.

Bahco is part of Sandvik who actually make their own steel, they do a lot of industrial tooling stuff as well.

Ollie
 

D_W

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They are vanadium steel aparently.
I would say it is pretty good, it is not as hard as the cutting edge of my japanese chisels by quite a lot but this is no bad thing in practice.
They compare favourably with the chisels I replaced which where Bahco ergo ones (another good budget option), I think they sharpen a touch easier but they hold the edge equally well.
I like the handles too, they are properly sized for each size and comfortable in use, the hoops have prevented splitting even though I always use a steel hammer on them.

Another small note on chisels my mate had the stanley fat max ones with the metal striking cap, those were just horrible the noise they make when using them is nasty as is the quality of the finishing, they were "polished" to about 100 grit or so. Just horrible.

Maybe these will ba a good starter set.


Ollie
Chrome vanadium can be hard to decipher - everything has that name even if it's 0.5 carbon or 1.15% carbon (at least of that series of rod), which is generally the same as the old water hardening steel, but with chromium (hardenability) and vanadium (higher hardness and grain pinning to keep grains from growing in sloppy high temperature processing - I'm sure both do other things). The bottom line whatever it is above and beyond those refinements is that it makes it a lot easier to get hardness and toughness right (high hardness true 1095 and higher, it's not very easy to get it perfect - so much so that I'd imagine much of what's sold as 1095 in the knife world is 1095CV or a similar carbon steel with chrome and vanadium).



At any rate, the steels are thrown about in various tools - chrome manganese, chrome vanadium, etc, but without spec we don't know much. With spec, we don't know if the steel is done right. Simpler stuff (like CR80V) is easier to get right but it tempers softer at the same temperature. Higher carbon stuff is harder to get just right and it will have generally lower toughness (but better compressive strength and things of the like, so the fine edge will be harder and stiffer - it just won't tolerate bending).

I saw an aliexpress ad yesterday for "workzone" chisels -the same look as the aldi ones. It said they are Cr100V (I found this a bit of a shock). They're out of stock, but I wasn't inclined to try them as they're a bit coarse and they were literally listed for $44 for a set of four. A princely sum over the $8 or so that aldi carried them for here (I paid about $10 for a similar set of 6 from HF years ago before harbor freight's buyers found cheaper coarser chisels to sell).

I don't have much experience with making things out of those DIN spec rods - they don't sell here in any bulk, plus I'd have to forge rod to flat by hand unless someone here rolled the rod into bars that I could then forge. This wouldn't be totally prohibitive, but I wouldn't make any 50 chisels like that.

I have my suspicions about how much better something like Cr100V would be than 75/80 type steels that are right around the eutectoid limit - the latter has lower potential at high hardness, but is easier to get right. I'll show you what happens with files (which are probably like the 1.15% level, and definitely have something in them for hardenability as they harden more easily and keep their temper better than 1095).

Here's the grain structure from the mill (notice the fineness):

file - fully hard - factory.jpg


I tried a relatively low temperature triple quench that some folks like - look at the carbides forming
triple heat - lower temperatures - quench just over magnetic - no forging.jpg


This is supposed to *improve* the steel, but what I see is grain getting bigger.

What if I heat several times and forge to shape and then triple quench:
forged file triple quenched and tempered.jpg


eek. we don't want to see the coarsening grain (at least I don't).

The bottom sample may actually achieve higher hardness due to the coarser grain, but I can't imagine it'll be as tough.

These rod steels (in commercial chisels) undergo a couple of high heats and then forging but are otherwise handled cheaply and quickly. Something with 0.8% carbon wouldn't precipitate into bigger grains - the only way to get the last picture above to look like the first picture is a soak and restart. This generally requires a commercial forge. I could likely improve it some with forge cycling (heating to descending temperatures with a high temperature first cycle, without quenching), but I don't think I could get it back to the top picture.

This is the grain picture of intentionally broken steel samples - to do this right, you're supposed to flatten and polish and then etch an area, but I think this is clear enough that's not needed.

What's the relevance to $10 chisels? I doubt they ever see any such process of grain refinement, so it could be hard if the manufacturing process doesn't do that stuff to get the right mileage out of higher carbon steels (but they could still be better).

Bottom line, the real best way to judge chisels is to actually get them and use them, and then note actual models, as even different trim levels of the same manufacturer with the same spec given on the sales sheet (CrV) could be very different. And then, f you got lucky and found Cr100V in two different makes, the two could end up drastically different, if not even just for final hardness, for a bunch of other reasons.

I'm keeping my eye open to see if I can catch a detail here or there about commercial woodworking tools and other commercial goods as to whether or not they actually receive the complicated heat treatment cycles requested on the spec sheet, or if we just get them done quickly for cost, and done as "good enough". I still think if the stock is good and the chisels get quick heats and forging and then quick heat treatment (to limit change in the grain in the steel), cheap chisels could easily be as good as very expensive ones.
 

Ollie78

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Interesting what you say about the steels used and the treatments etc.
The end user can most often not tell or have the means to test for the differences.
I can tell that the laminated cutting surface on my japanese chisels has a very fine grain in comparison with the iron backs, it takes a superb edge.
The best steel I have on a chisel is one random old car boot sale paring chisel with a box handle ( might be an isles) . It was totally black but sharpened amazingly well and to a really shiny surface, this I guess is due to fine structure of the steel. I really should treat it to a new handle.

Ollie
 
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