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Thread: Wood Chisel Survey for Beginners (Revised For The Record)

  1. #1

    Wood Chisel Survey for Beginners (Revised For The Record)

    Okay, here I go yet again -- but I just have to ask:

    Butt chisel vs. bevel edge chisel -- how are they defined and what's the difference?

    Mortise chisel vs. sash (?) chisel -- again, how are they defined and what's the difference?

    That’s OK…some of it still confuses me these days as there is some overlap between types. This is just my take on it as terminology by trade and era varies a bit:

    Bevel edge doesn't mean much per se, as even some firmer and framing chisels have them....it merely allows getting into a tighter corner. Neither does socket or tang handles, although the larger chisels are generally socket chisels, as are many high-grade chisels, as sockets are considered a better design as handles are easier to replace, but cost significantly more to manufacture. To call a chisel a “socket” chisel with no other descriptor is a common mistake today, often by people who should know better.



    Butt Chisel: Any short chisel, usually with bevel edge and design suitable for paring and striking with 30-degree bevels. A finish carpenter or shipwright’s pocket chisel easy to store with a major role in hanging doors and all around trimming. Usually tang handles.



    Bench Chisel: Longer chisel for workbench use. Paring and light chopping, usually with 30-degree bevels and beveled edges.





    Paring Chisel: Long, thinner chisels not designed for any striking, only paring with 20-25 degree bevels. Some have "cranked" handles for clearance and were primarily used by pattern makers making negative patterns in soft pine. Others are skew cut to reach into corners, and a “dovetail” chisel is diamond-shaped to clean female sliding dovetail sockets. Usually with tang handles.



    Firmer Chisel: Usually the same length as bench chisels but of thicker, heavier steel, usually straight sided. For paring and striking with 30-degree bevels. Usually with socket handles.



    Framing Chisel: Larger, longer chisels usually an inch or larger wide. Some were designed for paring with beveled edges and 20-25 degree bevels and some for striking with square edges and 30-degree bevels. Usually with hooped, socket handles.



    Corner Chisel: A framer forged into a 90-degree angle to clean out corners. Generally 30-degree bevels. Usually with hooped, socket handles.



    English “Pigsticker” Mortice Chisel: Ward and other makers. A short, stubby, fit-in-the-tool-chest, tang-handled mortise chisel with unhooped handle designed for striking. All mortise chisels are generally straight sided…some have some taper for ease in popping out chips. All with 35-40 degree bevels.

    Continued…
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  2. #2


    Sash Mortise Chisel: Medium length mortise chisel for bench use, generally with unhooped handles. “Sash” comes from window factories, and there is some confusion describing medium length and long length mortise chisels as factories generally used the longer chisels but the medium ones are often called “sash” chisels.



    German Pattern Mortise Chisel: My term for them as they don’t fit other descriptors. Heavy, untapered blades and hooped, tang handles.



    Millwright or Factory Mortise Chisel: Very long, very heavy mortise chisel designed for heavy striking with heavy, hooped handles. Many were 16” long and often made by manufacturers like New Haven Edge Tool who specialized in large chisels. Always with hooped, socket handles.



    Slick: A large, very heavy 2-4” framing chisel with long handle up to 24” designed for paring large timbers with 20-25 degree bevels. Never struck. Always with socket handles. These and the heavier framing chisels are dangerous and should have protective edge covers made.

    Buying old chisels, you can expect to see many combinations, as handles are interchangeable and chisels are often converted to other uses as they wear. The butt socket chisel in the top left picture was originally a well-worn DR Barton firmer I converted, and the skew parers below were originally socket bench chisels of many flavors:



    From my observations in buying up lots of cast-off chisels to make up sets, anything marked "Stanley", "Witherby", "Winchester", "Chas Buck" or "White" is going to a collector for too high a price....along with some Swan's. Greenlee, older (not newer) Buck, New Haven Edge, Ohio Tool, DR Barton, Underhill, Union Hardware, GI Mix, Shapleigh Hardware, Eric Anton Berg, Dickerson, Gillespie, Dixon, PS&W or PEXTO, Robt Duke, Merrill, Butcher, Hibbard OVB, Simmons Keen Kutter, Lakeside and several other old makers are every bit as good as the collector prizes and are much less expensive. Most unmarked chisels of that era were usually made by one of the above makers and are also generally excellent.

    The only really poor socket chisels I've observed buying are newer Craftsman (older socket Craftsman were made by Greenlee) of too-thick, modern, gummy, shiny chrome-vandalium steel...and some "Eclipse" brand and Stanley Defiance that won't take an edge.

    The bad news in making up sets for yourself is that used tool dealers rarely understand any of the above and you have to look at each and every listing in detail. The good news is because of that ignorance and the minimum number of name brands collected, all of the others, including many of the rarer types are dirt cheap.



    Pictures other than mine are from Harry Miller, Lee Valley and Highland Hardware.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  3. #3
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    Wood Chisel Survey For Beginners

    Wow!!!!!!!

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the very well illustrated lesson Bob.

  5. #5
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    Nice Job Bob, thanks again for posting

    Gene

  6. #6

    chisel prices

    thanks for the time spent in the edecational thread. i have been spending a lot of time on ebay looking for chisels...i have no idea what is a reasonable price for the types of chisels listed in ur post. is it fair to assume that if it's old it's good? could u give a price range that it reasonable for chisels so that a uneducated newbie like me doesn't get ripped off. i'm not interested in new tools and am drawn to the oldie but goodies. thanks! -nick in virginia

  7. #7
    That article was expanded and published in FWW mag, and is available on-line at the Taunton Press site.

    Here's the part of the same article that addresses your questions but was edited out. Magazines are in the business of catering to advertisers who sell you new, not used tools.

    I can't talk to price. Mostly I bought chisel lots like the one shown below, rehabbed them all and sold off the excess. The chisels I kept then penciled out real cheap if you don't count labor. But I've paid as much as 60 bucks for an odd-sized Witherby millwright chisel I needed to fill out a set, too. Cost depends mostly on you.

    Should I buy older, used chisels?



    Depends. For newcomers it can be problematic, as you need good tools to use now but have not yet acquired the skills needed to rehabilitate abused antiques into something useful:



    If you already have good grinding and honing skills and can also make handles, then flea markets and local and on-line tool auctions are an inexhaustible source of top-quality, high-carbon tools; often at prices less than you’d pay for the equivalent quantity of raw tool steel. Of course, you are trading your labor and rehabilitation skills for the money you save – and the labor can be considerable. I’ve done a bit of this at various auctions for myself and for tradesmen friends who don’t use computers, and I’ll share what I’ve learned.

    As long as the chisel is old, factory-made, and intact with good length remaining, I’m not too concerned about condition short of severe pitting. For me, blade backs are easily ground on the belt sander to flatten and remove pits, sockets can be repaired, steel can be polished and blued to hide rust staining, and handles are easily made on the lathe. Anything marked "Stanley", "Witherby", "Winchester", “James Swan”, "Chas Buck" or "L&IJ White" is generally going to a collector for too high a price unless they are part of large, handleless lots. Older (not newer) Greenlee and Buck Bros, New Haven Edge Tool, Ohio Tool, Crossman, DR Barton, Underhill, Union Hardware, Jennings, Sargent, GI Mix, Shapleigh Hardware, Eric Anton Berg, Dickerson, Gillespie, Wye, Dixon, PS&W or PEXTO, Robt Duke, Fulton, Merrill, Butcher, Stiletto, Hibbard OVB, Simmons Keen Kutter, Lakeside and several other old makers and hardware store brands are every bit as good as the collector prizes and are much less expensive. Most unmarked chisels of that era were usually made by one of the above makers for a hardware distributor and are also generally excellent.

    The only really poor socket chisels I've observed are newer Craftsman (older socket Craftsman were often made by Greenlee) of shiny, chrome-vanadium steel, some "Eclipse" brand and the occasional Stanley Defiance that refuse to take an excellent edge. Also, used tool dealers rarely know their wares well, and you have to look at each and every listing in detail to find what you need.

    Having rehabbed around 200 of these old chisels and gouges over the past several years, I'll offer a quality opinion based on the ones I've used:

    Top-Tier:

    Witherby
    Swan
    Gillespie
    New Haven Edge gov't contracts marked "USA" or "USN"

    Hard to Call between First and Second....but always most excellent:

    DR Barton
    PS&W or PEXTO
    Greenlee thin paring chisels
    Buck gouges


    Second-Tier:

    Stanley
    Stilletto
    Ohio Tool
    New Haven Edge
    White
    Older Buck (older chisels will have sockets, which went out around the time forging did)
    Older Greenlee
    Older Craftsman made by Greenlee
    Winchester
    Wye
    Chas Buck
    Douglas (precurser company to Swan)
    GI Mix
    Eric Anton Berg
    Underhill
    Jennings
    Sargent
    KeenKutter
    Hibbard OBV
    Dixon
    Robt Duke
    Fulton
    Merrill
    Butcher
    Lakeside
    Union Hardware
    Dickerson
    Shapleigh Hardware (Diamond Edge brand)

    Third-Tier (Don't buy)

    Stanley Defiance
    Eclipse
    Newer Greenlee, Buck or Stanley socket chisels made in the 1960's and later.
    Any chisel with a vanadium finish like used on today's mechanic's tools.

    Al the hardware store brands were made by a larger chisel manufacturer. Greenlee seems to have made a lot of them. One store bought from Witherby....Shapleigh?...but I don't remember which one. Shapleigh bought Sargent planes as house brands, and may be the one whose chisels were made in Winsted, Conn.


    Last edited by Bob Smalser; 01-20-2008 at 11:41 AM.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  8. #8
    Bob - thanks for the information. One question: You mention that the slicks were never struck, but the pictures you show have a couple of the slicks with hooped handles. Seems you wouldn't hoop a handle unless it was to be struck. Or were those handles replaced by someone who didn't know?

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  9. #9


    I coulda been more clear I guess. That's a slick framed by two 1 1/2" framing chisels, the "heavier framing chisels" the text refers to.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  10. #10
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    Where does Ohio Tool fit into your hiearchy Bob I see quite a few of those on that auction site and they sometimes turn up here?
    Craftsmanship is the skill employed in making a thing properly, and a good craftsman is one who has complete mastery over his tools and material, and who uses them with skill and honesty.

    N. W. Kay

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    Excellent tutorial. The pics and text are well done. It is very useful. Thank you.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by James Mittlefehldt View Post
    Where does Ohio Tool fit into your hiearchy Bob I see quite a few of those on that auction site and they sometimes turn up here?
    Right in the middle. I've had several go through here. Good tools.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  13. #13
    Hi Bob,
    Thanks for the tutorial. It is excellent.
    In Australia we don't see as many of these brands as we see English makes - our heritage I guess.
    I have just picked up some socket chisels that are clearly of US origin and among them are the following:
    Rockford
    Bridge Tool Co
    Globe and
    True Value *


    Have these crossed your path and where would they fit in the above hierarchy?
    Many Thanks
    MC
    Last edited by Martin Cash; 08-28-2008 at 6:31 AM.

  14. #14

    Pics might help

    Hi again Bob,
    Here is a picture of the chisels mentioned above.
    The brands are (from the top):
    Globe
    Rockford
    Bridge Tool Co
    True Value
    and a No Name chisel with a butchered sharpening job.
    I am thinking that only the bottom two have original handles, but maybe also the Rockford, but it looks too new.
    Bob,
    you have mentioned that these could have been made by one of the major manufacturers.
    Perhaps the pictures will lend a clue to their home of origin.
    Thanks in anticipation.
    MC
    Attached Images Attached Images

  15. #15
    Here's your hardware-store-brand chisels by their original makers.





    From top to bottom:

    1) Stanley. No doubt about yours. Nobody else ground them like that.

    2) Unmarked. Looks like a numkber of brands.....the narrow chisels are difficult to ID.

    3) Unmarked Greenlee. But studying the pic yours could also be a Witherby.

    4) Greenlee. I'd give yours a 90%+ chance of being Greenlees, as they were one of the larger factories in business through the 1960's and made a lot of hardware store brands.

    5) Douglas. But no telling with narrow sash chisels like these.
    Last edited by Bob Smalser; 08-29-2008 at 7:01 PM.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

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