What's the difference between a $5 chisel and a $20 one?

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Forum topic by Siegel_KenEvil posted 10-07-2010 11:42 PM 3284 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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114 posts in 2255 days

10-07-2010 11:42 PM

Topic tags/keywords: chisel sharpening

Hi Everyone,

My sharpening stones are in the mail so I plan on spending the next week sharpening my 8 chisels. 4 are Marples and 4 are Craftsman. I purchased them many years ago and I think I paid about $20 for each set. Considering the huge time investment involved if flattening the backs, should I start with better chisels? I see nothing wrong with these but I don’t want to spend hours flattening the backs to find out they can’t keep a sharp edge.


-- Scott

15 replies so far

View Rileysdad's profile


110 posts in 2696 days

#1 posted 10-08-2010 12:22 AM

I’ll bet the old Marples are pretty good. The may not hold an edge as well as a Lie-Nielsen, but they should give you good service. As for the Craftsmans, I don’t know.

Flatten the backs, grind a new bevel and hone ‘em up.

-- Measure twice, cut once, buy extra stock.

View newbiewoodworker's profile


668 posts in 2244 days

#2 posted 10-08-2010 12:23 AM

No chisel can keep a sharp edge, and be easy to sharpen!

I have a set of HF chisels… I ground on a piece of 420grit sand paper.. it can split a hair..

Its merely the steel that is used; Two common types: Tool, and Carbon Steels.

Tool: Holds an edge, but is hard to sharpen

Carbon: Doesnt hold its edge long, but is relatively easy to sharpen

-- "Ah, So your not really a newbie, but a I betterbie."

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2401 days

#3 posted 10-08-2010 12:33 AM

You could put an edge on the craftsman chisels and test them to see how well they hold an edge, and then judge if they are worth flattening the backs. I did that with some old chisels to see if they were worth the time to bring back to life or not.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2401 days

#4 posted 10-08-2010 12:46 AM

Newbiewoodworker, I think you misunderstood what Scot was asking. He was wanting to know if anyone knew what the quality of the steel is in the chisels he has to before he went through all the work to hone the back of the chisel. Honing the back is as important as honing the bevel, and helps the chisel to cut smoother. The idea of honing the back is to get a mirror like finish for the chisel to glide smoother through the cut. Didn’t know if you knew what he meant and thought I would clarify it better. Hope your not offended by my explanation.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 3545 days

#5 posted 10-08-2010 01:02 AM

Answer = $15.
Use what works for you.
I’ve got some expensive hand-forged Japanese chisels that I’m afraid to use too often.
My Marples do the daily work.

-- 温故知新

View a1Jim's profile


115166 posts in 2994 days

#6 posted 10-08-2010 01:20 AM

I think chisels that cost $ 150 each are a prestige thing Maybe they hold and edge longer but how much longer
I recommend Marpel chisels to my students you can get a set of 4 for $39 and they last a long time. I never had a lot of luck with really cheap chisels like HF but to each their own.

-- Custom furniture

View Steven H's profile

Steven H

1117 posts in 2477 days

#7 posted 10-08-2010 02:16 AM

I bought a set at home depot for $10
It works fine, but the edge doesn’t last long
If you do not have many experience with chisels start with cheap ones

View newbiewoodworker's profile


668 posts in 2244 days

#8 posted 10-08-2010 02:20 AM

Jim: Certain sets of their chisels are fine(the ones with the PVC handles) but the others I hear are crap… They were awful, until while cleaning off some rust, I hit it with some 420… now it shaves everything but your beard…

-- "Ah, So your not really a newbie, but a I betterbie."

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3204 days

#9 posted 10-08-2010 02:41 AM

Cheap or expensive, they aren’t worth much unless they are sharpened well. Flatten the backs on them all. If they chip, increase the bevel angle or use another for chopping type work. If they dull quickly, console yourself to honing them more frequently, use them for softer woods, or use them for utility tasks like shaving off glue squeeze out. Flattening the back is a laborious task, but only needs to be done rarely. If you are worried about wasting your new stones, use wet-dry paper on a flat surface to do the majority of the work. The really lousy ones are the ones you loan out, because you don’t really care if you get them back, and if the loanee buys a replacement, odds are it will be of equal cheapness.

Sometimes you cannot judge the quality of steel by the price. I buy Buck Bros plane irons because they are cheap. (I also have some more expensive ones). I pay for it in 2 hours of flattening the backs to get rid of the mill marks (nice job for a rainy day where I don’t want to think a lot). Once flattened, they hold an edge as well as a Stanley that cost 6 times as much. Because they are inexpensive, I can afford to play around with different bevels as radii without the risk of ruining an expensive item. If you consider my time, no, they are not cheaper, but my time is a variable I can control. Income too often is not..

A tool that is too expensive for me to risk using it is worthless to me. However, I am one of those weird people who enjoy making a tool work well for what it is intended as much as using it on a project. A day in the shop tuning and refining a tool to work well is as pleasing to me as one making a piece of furniture. I do enjoy fine tools, and have some. They are a real pleasure to use. However, the process of choosing that tool to buy included using and tuning lesser tools so that I could recognize good quality (not just expensive price) when I saw it.



PS As for chisels, I have more than 20. I keep them all sharp. Some are used for hogging out a lot of waste as they dull quickly but get the job done. The better quality are used for the final cuts, paring, etc. as they will hold the keen edge I need. I no longer buy cheap ones in a set, but some I bought 30 years ago are still in use. Kind of make me think that what was cheap quality 20 years ago is equal to medium quality now. I do have some standards, tho. Chisels, like drill bits must pass one test. If it bends I throw it out.

-- Go

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 3066 days

#10 posted 10-08-2010 03:19 AM

“spend hours flattening the backs”...

you need to rethink your sharpening techniques. it shouldnt take you hours to flatten the backs. it shouldn’t take hours to even flatten a sole of a handplane – and thats A LOT of material to remove sometimes.

FYI. you only need to flatten the front of the blade, there really isn’t much material to take off of a chisel.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View mcase's profile


446 posts in 2546 days

#11 posted 10-08-2010 05:10 AM


For an authoritative answer to your question you might try the “Sawmill Creek” web site. Go to the “Neanderthal Haven” forum which is dedicated hand tool enthusiasts.

View dbhost's profile


5590 posts in 2649 days

#12 posted 10-08-2010 05:30 AM

I am guessing $15.00…

I have a set of Stanley Fat Max chisels, marked England and they are awesome, and were relatively cheap. Got them at the BORG a few years ago, haven’t seen another set like them…

I have a set of HF chisels that were a well intentioned gift… They dull super easy, but are easy to sharpen.

-- My workshop blog can be found at

View canadianchips's profile


2306 posts in 2414 days

#13 posted 10-08-2010 06:09 AM

I have craftsman chisels. I have had them for 30 years, they hold the edge quite well. I cannot honestly say I can tell the difference between sharpening My Marples and My Crafstman chisels.(Both are same age)
I do have some cheap Fuller chisels that I use for rough work. I just sharpen them more often.(These are the ones that I will lend to people)
I have a set of Stanley chisels – they are okay
Scandanavian chisel – super hard, I like this one.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2136 posts in 2526 days

#14 posted 10-08-2010 12:48 PM

Price is usually determined by three factors.

1. Country of origin (cost of labor and materials)
2. Quality of the material used
3. How much flattening and honing is performed at the factory

Cheap chisels will usually take a hit on the bottom 2 above. Some chisels, like the Narex Czech chisels, take a hit on the flattening and honing, but use a nice grade of steel on their chisels. The most expensive chisels are usually pre-honed and flattened at the factory. It is nice to get them out of the box ready to go, but I don’t really like the thought of paying someone to sharpen my chisels for me.

As far as time investment goes, what would you rather use to practice getting the hang of sharpening? Expensive chisels or cheap ones? When I first bought my sharpener, I spent my time flattening and honing the cheap set of Buck Brother chisels I picked up a few years ago. They have been quite handy for DIY projects that I would not want to use a nicer set of chisels on and they helped me get the hang of the sharpening process.

Good luck and hope you enjoy your new purchases.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View snowdog's profile


1158 posts in 3400 days

#15 posted 10-08-2010 02:53 PM

I should count how many chisels I have in the shop.
I Love my cheep chisels but adore my expensive ones.

Sharping was a skill that took me a long time to get comfortable with and one I think I will never master.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

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