Mortise chisels: Average brand vs. Premium

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Forum topic by JuanGatico posted 06-02-2012 03:58 AM 3379 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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72 posts in 2183 days

06-02-2012 03:58 AM

Hi LJs

I want to ask you something, but first of all let me say English is not my native language, so I beg you to forgive my probable mistypes or something.

OK, when it comes to bench and dovetail chisels, I am willing to put my money on products like Ashley Isles, STANLEY Sweetheart, TWO CHERRIES, maybe LIE-NIELSEN, on the other hand, for mortise chisels, don’t you think the average woodworker will be fine with something like NAREX. I mean morticing is a rather “though” task that doesn’t require the most sophisticated chisels.

What do you think?

Thanks in advance for your answers.

9 replies so far

View ITnerd's profile


263 posts in 2597 days

#1 posted 06-02-2012 04:46 AM

Hey Juan, welcome to LJ’s.

You listed some great brands for bench, butt and dovetails. And I’ve heard good things about Narex, especially the newer sets.

For the mortise chisels, I am partial to the old english pigsticker style. Beefy, fantastic old steel, and you can still pick them up for decent prices on ebay or elsewhere.

I think you can pick up one or two to start, and add as you need new sizes. Very reasonable, and fun to have some antique tools in the shop. I personally would prefer 2-3 of these, than a whole set of new ones.

-- Chris @ Atlanta - JGM - Occam's razor tells us that when you hear hoofs, think horses not zebras.

View waho6o9's profile


8190 posts in 2574 days

#2 posted 06-02-2012 04:55 AM

Welcome to LJs Juan.

Excellent advice from Chris and you can’t go wrong with Narex. Good luck on your choice.

View Loren's profile


10385 posts in 3645 days

#3 posted 06-02-2012 04:59 AM

I wouldn’t recommend overthinking mortise chisels. Mortising
by hand is a very physical activity and the geometry of the chisel
and size of the mortise are related. The pigstickers aren’t too
well suited to small mortises used in cabinet doors for example,
but they have the mass and ergonomic design to cut larger
mortises all day.

The chisels with a narrower profile are easier to use when
bottom-scraping a mortise. These are the ones called sash
mortise chisels. The pigstickers have a different kind of power.

No chisel I’ve used (and I have some very good ones) holds
an acutely sharp edge when used for heavy chopping. So
while quality steel matters in any chisel to some extent, the
finer steels perform best and hold their edges best in
applications other than mortising and bottom scraping.

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3574 days

#4 posted 06-02-2012 05:22 AM

Hi Juan Welcome to Ljs
I have always felt that Chisels just do a job and almost any of them will cut wood if their sharpened properly ,so I’ve never felt that there’s a reason to buy high end chisels. I have had a set of Marpels for over 20 years and they hold an edge reasonably well and only cost about $60 for a set of six. There are finer chisels out there but once a chisel is sharp it will cut wood very well whether it’s a $10 chisel or a $ 500. chisel.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View BubbaIBA's profile


387 posts in 2374 days

#5 posted 06-02-2012 01:50 PM

The boutique tool makers make some very beautiful and good tools, I’m glad they do but their fanboys do woodworking a disservice in acting as if other tools are not as good. The selling of the sizzle and overlooking the steak.

Loren and Jim pretty much covered it, find a chisel that is sized right, fits the hand, and will hold an edge long enough to do the job….from what I’ve read about the Narex they would fit the bill, as would 80% of the $5 to $10 USD chisels you can find on eBay.

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3660 days

#6 posted 06-02-2012 02:04 PM

Juan—I bought a set of Narex mortising chisels about 2 years ago … I have been very happy with them.


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View JuanGatico's profile


72 posts in 2183 days

#7 posted 06-02-2012 02:05 PM

Hi guys. Thanks a lot for your kind answers!

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2854 days

#8 posted 06-02-2012 02:11 PM

Buy antiques

Old English heavy ones

Mine are hand me downs over 100yrs in the family.

Bench Chisels, I give away to trainees and buy myself a new set.

Like Jim says, Marpels are great, this time I bought Irwin and two of each

of the popular sizes. I prefer to hone at the end of the day while waiting

for the glue to skin.

Old habits die hard. :)


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile


932 posts in 2352 days

#9 posted 06-02-2012 03:41 PM

It’s more about your sharpening technique, than anything else, hard steel chisels take forever to put an edge on, and will hold an edge a long time, soft steel chisels will not take very long to sharpen, and will dull slightly, but re-honing them is no big time sink.

It basically comes down to what you are comfortable with in the angles of the chisels, the lenghth of the handles the style handle and so on.

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

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