Why I Hate My Chisels

I’ve decided I hate my chisels.  I know that’s a strong sentiment, I tell my 12 year old “hate is too strong, we don’t hate”.  In this case I think it’s warrented.

I’ve been working a lot of Douglass Fir for both my workbench and my “sharpening station”.  The wood for the sharpening station is green, fairly damp and splintery.  I was working on the stretcher tenons this morning, I knifed in the shoulder and wanted to deepen the scribe line and pare out a little wedge for a “first class saw cut”.  Here is the freshly sharpened chisel.  There are a few spots that look like a little nicks, but it’s actually tiny little curls of wood that it lifted when I set it down.  I checked it for smoothness with my thumbnail, and even shaved a spot on my arm (I gotta stop doing that, I’m betting a bald spot there.  It’s definitely shaving-sharp.

Sharp Chisel

Sharp Chisel

I went around the entire knife line, set the chisel in place and gave it a light tap, lift and repeat.  I’m going maybe 1/32″ of an inch deep total including the knife cut.  The shadow from the work light to the left makes the cut look deeper than it is.  I worked my way around two ends, for two tenons, gently.

Ready for a First Class Saw Cut

Ready for a First Class Saw Cut

After the first tenon end was done I could feel burs on the chisel.  Seriously?  Here it is after the second tenon was pared.  I think you can see the nicks and burs in the edge, it need to be sharpened again.  I asked Santa for a set of Lie-Nielsen chisels for Christmas.  I hope she was paying attention.

PS: I also strongly dislike the huge side edge, it’s about 1/8″ tall at the cutting edge.  What part of “bevel edge” don’t then understand.  If they held a sharp edge I’d re-grind the side bevels so that they didn’t dig in to the sides of my dovetails.  Oh well.

Dull Chisel

Dull Chisel

Categories: Uncategorized | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Why I Hate My Chisels

  1. Curt Seelier

    I noticed the same thing when I was putting together my bench of dougl fir using midlevel chisels — they’d fold like wet kleenex after a short time. The LV chisels sharpened up too fast to dislike them; but I do as little with DF as I can now.

  2. I’m a big fan of the steel on the Narex chisels, they hold up really well.

    You didn’t mention what brand your chisels were..

    • They are “Sandvik”, I bought them at the local woodworking store a long time ago. They were inexpensive by today’s prices — about $100 — but it seemed like a lot of money at the time. They sharpen easily enough I guess, but are pretty much worthless in Doug Fir. They seemed to hold an edge better in white pine, but that stuff is so soft I could use plastic picnic ware to shape it.

  3. http://www.leevalley.com/us/wood/page.aspx?cat=1,41504,43500&p=49989

    these are fantastic chisels,I’ve had them for a while and they’ve held up for most of what I’ve been doing. They hold an edge pretty well in my experience.

  4. I used the Narex chisels in the dovetail class at Port Townsend last year. They seemed to hold an edge well, but we were using spanish cedar and pine for the class. I haven’t put them to the “fir” test.

    I’m prohibited from buying any tools until after Christmas, so I’ll have to wait and see what Santa thinks 🙂

  5. ken

    Joe,
    Maybe I’m wrong, but that looks like a small cnc mill in your workshop picture atop your blog. A carbide endmill would take care of that bevel edge ledge.

    • No, it’s a GIANT CNC mill 🙂 That would be an interesting approach to sharpening, or at least to re-shaping the bevels.

      I’m actually going to sell the CNC shortly. I hate to see it go, but it takes up a lot of room. And not having it is key to not being in the chopper parts business anymore — which equals more personal shop time.

  6. Gavin

    I know this is a little late to the discussion but I just came across this posting.

    I see the little fish on the handle and that is the Bahco logo. I always thought that Bahco made pretty good chisels. I am really surprised that they are getting trashed so easily from that fir. Maybe they are just a bad batch.

    • Based on feedback from others, apparently fir is pretty tough on chisels. I guess it’s the “ring porous” thing. I’ve noticed it’s actually pretty hard on my plane blades, although they hold up better than the chisels did (the plane blades are cryo-treated A2, I’d guess that the chisels are O1 or plain high carbon steel)

  7. Sandvik and the high carbon Swedish steel has had a good name for well over a century. Lots of things can cause this, from an unusual grain formation, grit that grew into the tree, some inconsistency in hardening the steel (even famous Japanese sword makers have to throw the occasional mistake away), to simply allowing the steel to get just a touch too hot during the sharpening process. Watch out though when the Sandvik or Bahco blades don’t have the customary “Made in Sweden” imprint; later production was farmed out to Holland, Spain and perhaps other locations… I can’t personally testify to exactly what steel was used on these products.

    Having said that though, there is always a trade-off when hardening steel to determine the best balance between edge-holding and shapen-ability (sic); and there’s no way to please everyone who picks a chisel up. Yes, there are plenty of chisels out there that have some of the hardest steel imaginable, but get ready to spend a lot of your shop time at the sharpening table. The one exception perhaps is the PM-V11 steel (Rc61-63), which is an innovative proprietary alloy that seems to bend the rules a bit and allow a super-hard edge that isn’t a nightmare to sharpen, and I’m sure that new discoveries in steel processing won’t end there either.

    And then there’s there’s the age-old issue of personal preference. This is what keeps all the different car manufacturers competing with each other, and some of them amazingly still in business. I have several journeymen in our shop that insist on nothing but the old Swedish steel at the business end of their chisels and believe me, most people would think twice before telling these guys to their face they don’t know what they’re doing. But some of the younger fellows want the newest steel or space-age designed tools on the market and do fine with that. However, it’s still the journeymen that comprise the backbone of our business.

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