Mortise chisels: Average brand vs. Premium

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Forum topic by JuanGatico posted 818 days ago 1976 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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71 posts in 819 days

818 days ago

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


261 posts in 1232 days

#1 posted 818 days ago

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


4837 posts in 1210 days

#2 posted 818 days ago

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


7431 posts in 2281 days

#3 posted 818 days ago

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


112015 posts in 2210 days

#4 posted 818 days ago

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.

-- Custom furniture

View BubbaIBA's profile


216 posts in 1009 days

#5 posted 817 days ago

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


3740 posts in 2296 days

#6 posted 817 days ago

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


71 posts in 819 days

#7 posted 817 days ago

Hi guys. Thanks a lot for your kind answers!

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4119 posts in 1489 days

#8 posted 817 days ago

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


925 posts in 988 days

#9 posted 817 days ago

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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