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First 2 chisels...Lee Valley, Veritas, or both?

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Forum topic by Rob posted 131 days ago 1220 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Rob

239 posts in 1667 days


131 days ago

Topic tags/keywords: chisel

I’ve been reading up and listening to podcasts, and am about to start buying a few of the hand tools that seem to be deemed essential even in a power tool shop. When it comes to bevel-edge bench chisels, most experienced woodworkers seem to recommend starting out with a 3/8” and 3/4”, or a 3/8” and 5/8”. I might have also seen someone recommend 1/4” and 3/4”. I’m kind of leaning toward getting the 3/8” and 5/8” in case I decide to buy a set later, since most of the small sets come just include 1/4” increments.

I was pretty set on starting out my chisel collection with a couple A2 steel Lie Nielsen chisels, probably 3/8” for the first and either 5/8” or 3/4” for the other. The ease of swapping out a LN socket chisel’s short handle for a long one for paring sounds great, but I’m not sure if paring is as common/useful in a power tool shop as it is in a mostly-hand tool shop.

After I made up my mind to buy the LN socket chisels, I started reading about Lee Valley’s revolutionary new PM-V11 steel that’s slightly easier to sharpen than A2 but supposedly holds an edge a lot better. Although Lee Valley’s hybrid sockety tang handle might be less desirable than a straight-up socket handle, the idea of having to sharpen the chisels less frequently is very appealing.

So now the questions:

  1. What kind of steel are your chisels, and how often do you need sharpen them in order to keep them cutting properly? (I know this will vary by use, but just give me a ballpark figure…once a month? Twice a year?)
  2. Realistically, how easy is it for a beginner to break the handle on a tang chisel, and is that still an issue with Lee Valley’s hybrid tang design?
  3. Should I expect to do much paring if I’m mostly using power tools and maybe hand-cutting or trimming up some dovetails here and there? (This is related to being able to switch between long and short handles if I get socket chisels.)
  4. If I can’t make up my mind and I just decide to get one LN chisel and one LV/Veritas PM-V11 chisel, does it matter which one I get in 3/8” and which one I get in 5/8” or 3/4”?

Any feedback on any or all of these questions would be a huge help.

P.S. I know the Narex sets are popular but it sounds like they need a good flattening and sharpening before their first use. I’ll have to sharpen my tools eventually, but I don’t want to have to flatten and sharpen them right out of the box…now that it’s getting nice, all my time needs to go toward emptying out the garage so I can start converting it into my shop. And once I start getting stuff set up in there, I want to be able to start working on a long list of projects right away.


18 replies so far

View Loren's profile

Loren

7223 posts in 2244 days


#1 posted 131 days ago

I have a bunch of chisels. Japan, Sorby formers, Marples
butyrate-handled, and a set of 4 Barrs. The Barrs are
the best choppers by far. I bought a 3/8” Veritas to
fill in the Barr set as for me 3/8” is a useful size. It’s
a wimpy feeling chopper but for paring it is nimble
and holds its edge very well despite chopping, as
do the Barrs. All the other chisel edges fall apart faster
in chopping. Sometimes it doesn’t matter because
chopping is chopping and sharpness isn’t critical.

Best practice is probably to have a chopping set
and a paring set but pragmatically I’ve never followed
that practice as it would mean twice as many chisels
rolling around on my bench at a time. A typical
chisel job has me pulling out about 5 and if I used
two sets it would be 10.

In my opinion if you want a chisel that can chop and
then pare and then chop again all day, you’re looking
at $60-up per chisel on the new market.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

111999 posts in 2174 days


#2 posted 131 days ago

No offence meant but I think chisels are just chisels you just cut wood with them they don’t need to cost $350 each to work I’ve been using a set of Marpel chisels for 25 years,they work fine and only need sharpening ocasoinally .You don’t have to be afraid of sharpening chisels or flattening their backs,it’s just part of the woodworking experience that you need to grow as a craftsman and it really doesn’t take that long to get good results.
Best of luck on your chisel quest,I’m sure others will totally disagree with my opinion .

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View bbc557ci's profile

bbc557ci

541 posts in 670 days


#3 posted 131 days ago

I too plan to buy a couple or 3 and have been doing some research on chisels. Don’t want to pay the “Festool” type price but on the other hand I don’t mind paying a little extra for better quality. After an hour or so of looking and reading up on chisels on the inter-web, my brain turns to mush!! Lots more to them than I would have thought. I’ll be watching this thread with interest :o)

-- Bill, central NY...no where near the "big apple"

View Loren's profile

Loren

7223 posts in 2244 days


#4 posted 131 days ago

Jim has a good point of course. Don’t overthink chisels –
they are tools for stabbing wood. You can start out with
modest ones and learn to sharpen them exquisitely. Generally
the edges won’t last, but when they’re sharp they cut as
good as the finest. If the time investment in chisel maintenance
starts to annoy you, maybe buy a couple of premium ones
and see if the edge hold up better and saves you time. They
hold their value well in any case and can be dumped on ebay
if they don’t live up to the hype, same as Festool.

1. Chrome vanadium for the lower end ones I think and
high carbon (more rust-able but holds a better edge) for
the more boutique ones. If you chop hardwoods every
day with chrome vanadium steel, expect to touch up
edges daily for best results.

2. You won’t break them. Don’t open paint cans with them
though, it wrecks the edges. Prying with files can break
them but chisels are generally a lot tougher than files and
can pry wood chips forever.

3. depends on your quality standards. Are you a hack or an artisan?

4. dunno. They are similar in weight and balance. Light for
my taste.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

View bbc557ci's profile

bbc557ci

541 posts in 670 days


#5 posted 131 days ago

No offence meant but I think chisels are just chisels you just cut wood with them they don’t need to cost $350 each to work I’ve been using a set of Marpel chisels for 25 years,they work fine and only need sharpening ocasoinally .You don’t have to be afraid of sharpening chisels or flattening their backs,it’s just part of the woodworking experience that you need to grow as a craftsman and it really doesn’t take that long to get good results.

Maybe we just over think some things …. I know I do some times. Hhmmm….

-- Bill, central NY...no where near the "big apple"

View JohnChung's profile

JohnChung

220 posts in 671 days


#6 posted 131 days ago

I have some really good chisels for mortising while I do own Irwin chisels. The set I generally use is the
cheaper stanley and blue chip chisels.

If you do need a durable edge PM-V11 is the way to go. Just buy what you need in your work. You can upgrade to better chisels if the work demands it.

If the chisel is sharp and can hold the edge over a day it is pretty good as it is. But pounding end grain almost all chisels that I know off needs to frequently sharpen unless it is softwood.

View Rob's profile

Rob

239 posts in 1667 days


#7 posted 131 days ago

Bill, I’m glade I’m not the only one whose brain is turning to mush from all this information overload!

a1jim that’s a great point. I’ve had all winter to read about woodworking and have easily spent a hundred hours listening to and watching woodworking podcasts, and I’m dying to start working on some projects, but I don’t want to make the mistake of buying subpar tools (or the wrong tools) that make the job take 2, 3, or 10 times as long. So many times I’ve been working on a project and either put it on hold indefinitely, or took hours instead of minutes. But maybe, like you said, chisels are chisels and it really doesn’t matter.

I was all ready to buy a set of Marples until I found out Irwin bought them out years ago and now half the people who buy the Irwin/Marples chisels say they aren’t as good as the old Marples. I don’t know if that’s the whole “Chinese-manufactured stuff is junk” mentality (which may be true in a some, but certainly not all, cases), or if there’s really some truth to it.

Then I started looking at other less expensive chisels but the general consensus seemed to be that all the cheaper chisels come dull and are made from cheaper steel, and you frequently have to spend hours sharpening them. Supposedly all these people who have used a premium chisel or hand plane can tell a difference the first time they hold it, and it does such a better job than whatever less expensive tool they started out with. To paraphrase some of what I read/heard, you can’t get the cheaper chisels sharp enough and they don’t hold an edge, so you’ll never like using them. But on the other hand, the “premium” brands can be used right out of the box, they’re better balanced (so easier to use), and if you’ve ever used a lesser brand, you’ll kick yourself for not buying the premium one from the start.

And to add on top of all that, there’s all this talk about needing 3 or 4 grits of sharpening stones, plus having to flatten the stones themselves with a diamond plate on top of a thick piece of glass on top of a 1/2” slab of granite. Yikes!! Maybe at this point I’m mixing up two different sharpening methods. Back when I first started thinking of getting into woodworking I thought I’d buy a $20 set of chisels and a $20 bench plane and a $100 table saw, and sharpen all my tools and my lawnmower blade in 20 minutes my $50 grinder. But now I’m thinking that was pretty unrealistic.

View funchuck's profile

funchuck

119 posts in 1654 days


#8 posted 131 days ago

I use a set of Ashley Iles chisels. They have very good balance and aren’t too expensive. I really like them.

Before the Ashley Iles, I had the Pinnacle brand chisels from Woodcraft. They really sucked. The edge would curl up after a few cuts and I thought I just had to grind away 1/8” from the tip to get to the good stuff, but the edge still curls. The reason I’m saying this is that cheap chisels are not worth it. Buy something nice.

Also, to keep the chisels sharp, I use a leather strop and some green honing compound. It’s really easy to keep any edge tool sharp with it. Just strop the tool every once in a while and you’ll hardly have to use sharpening stones.

Personally, if I had to choose between LN and Veritas chisels, I would be stuck too. I’ve never used them, but I’m sure you’d be happy either way. I think the LN chisels look better, but the Veritas metal seems to be better. I guess if it were me, I’d choose the cheaper one :)

-- Charles from California

View Rob's profile

Rob

239 posts in 1667 days


#9 posted 131 days ago

Loren, John, and Charles, thanks for the pointers.

As far as hack or artisan, I like to think I’m not a hack but I don’t think I’m worthy of being called an artisan. :D I’d rather do things the right way and a lot of the time I’m probably excessively picky, but my patience does have its limits and at some point of diminishing returns I get bored with a project and am ready to call it done so I can move onto something else. At least then it feels like I’m making progress again.

View Loren's profile

Loren

7223 posts in 2244 days


#10 posted 131 days ago

Ugh, Rob.

Ok. You gotta learn to sharpen and have some gear to do it
to do fine work, period. I’m talking furniture joinery.

I have tried a cheap $2 China chisel and it was junk but
everything I’ve sharpened and used over $5-$8 per chisel
could take a fine edge and pare adequately.

The most important factor in chisel performance is
sharpening. Balance, feel, and edge durability are
way less important when you’re starting out. I’ve
become interested in edge durability over time. Because
I use water stones and they are messy, I make a
mess when I sharpen and I don’t like to do it
a lot. Duplication of chisel sizes helps me put off
sharpening for awhile since I can grab another chisel
at a similar size and it may be sharper than the one
I’ve been dulling.

In the end, you’ll need to develop a 6th sense for
when the tool you’re using needs to be abandoned
until you can sharpen it. This varies a lot depending
on the sort of things you build and what wood types
you use.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

1642 posts in 1090 days


#11 posted 131 days ago

I’ve had a set of the Marples (the real ones) for about 20 years, and they have always been all I needed. Flattening the backs wasn’t such a chore, and they hold an edge fairly well. I then bought a second set of Marples (again, the real ones) when they were being discontinued. The second set has a butt cap and shorter blades, a little better for the occasional chopping that comes up from time to time. This year I graduated to a set of Veritas PM v11 chisels. I have to admit they are bench chisel heaven. But they are no more an extravagance than some of the power tools that get bought. As for their construction, I have no fear of the handles breaking….and all the info about their edge holding ability is very true.

-- I long for the days when Coke was a cola, and a joint was a bad place to be (Merle Haggard)

View Woodendeavor's profile

Woodendeavor

210 posts in 1203 days


#12 posted 131 days ago

David Savage from the other side of the pond has emails he puts out about tools. I can not find the email I am looking for right now but came across this article on his web site. He talks allot more about the steel used to make the chisels and how it affects the final product.

http://www.finefurnituremaker.com/published_articles/2012-articles/carbon-steel-article.htm

View Arminius's profile

Arminius

304 posts in 2400 days


#13 posted 131 days ago

I own some of both the Veritas and the L-N. There isn’t a wrong answer, both chisels are excellent lifetime tools. Both are satisfying to simply have in hand, well-balanced and appealing tools.

The PM-V11 is remarkable for edge retention and performance, advantage LV. I also like the hybrid-tang, legacy of having a few vintage socket chisels, the socket design creates anxiety. I guess if I had to pick one over the other, I would probably go with the Veritas design, but in the end that is because the balance seems to suit me just a bit better. I can readily see someone preferring L-N for exactly the same reason.

View bbc557ci's profile

bbc557ci

541 posts in 670 days


#14 posted 131 days ago

Ron….. your post #9….. I think we are related some how. I’m generally my own worst critic, I drive myself nuts sometimes !!

Anyone have any 1st hand experience with the Stanley Sweetheart 750s? Fellow LJ’rs brought these to my attention in another thread http://lumberjocks.com/topics/59065 I’d guess they aren’t the Caddy of chisels, prolly more like the Chevy.

Of course edge retention is always a concern because we would rather pound/remove wood than sharpen tools. But overall, to me anyways, in the big picture sharpening is no big deal just part of wood working. That said, I’ve read a few posts where LJs mentioned that the edge of some chisels would curl whilst pounding on hardwood. That, would be totally unacceptable to me, and I expect to most all others as well.

And sharpening…. diamond stones, water stones, wet/dry sand paper? Does it never end?!? lol

-- Bill, central NY...no where near the "big apple"

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

111999 posts in 2174 days


#15 posted 131 days ago

Bill
I guess I need to back of my chisels are chisels comment somewhat ,given that you would not want to buy HF chisels or chisels from the $5 bin at the hardware store,plus the fact that some chisels are not what they use to be. My point was pretty much what you’ve already said “don’t over think this” There are reviews of reasonable priced chisels out there, buy some and try them. Chisels are not hand guns or fine swords so the balance issue is a non issue for me. If you are of the mind the chisels you buy will be the last chisels you will ever buy and you don’t want to buy chisels and up grade later ,and that you have lots of discretionary funds to work with then you may want to buy a higher end chisels. If you are gathering tools to put your shop together and you don’t have unlimited funds, you don’t want to spend what a used table saw cost on a set of chisels.
A famous woodworker of years gone by named Tage Frid use to use Stanley chisels and when they dulled woud grab a belt sander turn it over and sharpen his chisel on it and then go back to work. If you told the average woodworker that someone sharped their chisels that way they might just assume the guitly party was a hack,but Tage’s articles was basically the whole reason Fine Woodworking magazine became such a success.Tage Frid taught woodworking for many years and many of his techniques are still in use today some 50 years later.
Do what works for you.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

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