|Review by Alster||posted 09-02-2011 01:18 AM||3800 views||0 times favorited||4 comments|
I bought three of these chisels from Ray Iles while living in England. Ray and everybody at The Old Tool Store were terrific—friendly and helpful and quick. And for whatever reason, despite a pretty weak dollar, the price was much better there than I could find them for in the states.
When I got home from England, I set to work flattening the backs and putting an edge on. I was dreading this, as I’ve read other reports that the D2 steel in these can make that a chore. But they were almost dead flat right out of the package, and I’m happy to report that flattening the back and polishing to a mirror shine took just a few minutes for each chisel. I put an edge on freehand (at what I guessed was about 35 degrees), as the shape of the chisel and the long 20 degree primary bevel make it very tough to use a honing guide or register the chisel on the stone. Forming a secondary bevel didn’t take long, and I was able to get my chisel razor sharp with very little effort.
But the real test is in the chopping, and last week I put my biggest chisel to the test, chopping 1/2” mortises two and a half inches deep in gnarly southern yellow pine. Not the hardest wood, but the late growth is tough. I chopped eight mortises; the first eight mortises I’d ever chopped by hand.
So it turns out that chopping mortises is hard work. My arms were tired by the time I was done, and just the slightest bit sore the next day. But I chopped seven beautiful, square mortises, and I think that what I’d read elsewhere is right—the oval shape of the handle gives your subconscious a cue that helps hold the chisel straight in the mortise, and thus also straight up and down. It was only my last mortise that wasn’t square—it was a square hole but at a small angle from perpendicular, and I’m chalking that up to being tired.
Through all of this, I used the chisel like a crowbar, levering out big chips (I really whaled away at the thing with a heavy mallet). And when I was done, I used the same chisel to chop the ends of the mortises square. I didn’t lose a bit of sharpness through eight big mortises; the beast sliced through the alternating early and late wood end grain cleanly and without the tearout and chunking you’d expect from pine.
I’d never owned a mortise chisel before these, but WOW! does it make chopping mortises easy compared to the “drill and pare” method I’d been using. Money well spent, in my book. And I walked away feeling pretty manly having chopped these without any power assist.
By the way, the photo credits belong to the fine folks at Tools For Working Wood.