Purchasing new tools can be a daunting task. In this video, George answers a question from one of our Woodworkers Guild of America community members, giving his advice on how to purchase chisels. What can you expect to pay when buying chisels? Are some chisels better quality than others? Find the answers to these questions and learn what chisel is right for you in this video.
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I agree with George on general approach. It’s great to have a nice set of quality chisels for precision work, as well as a cheap “beater” set which you can use for things like glue scraping, or home handyman tasks.
That said, my “nice” set is a four-piece set by Narex, which would admittedly be considered mid-level quality, with something like a Lie-Nielsen at the top of the heap. They have been a good starter set for me, as I have only been woodworking for a few years so far. At some point, I will likely step up to a top-quality set.
Good quick answer (the world of chisels could easily lead to a 3 hour discussion), but just a couple of quick points I thought might be helpful.
1) At first I was going to say don’t forget vintage chisels, but have decided not to for 2 reasons. The first, and main reason, is that it always seems to take a larger time investment than initially assumed to get an old chisel back into working order. If one isn’t going to be using said chisel all that often, the time/value benefit just might not be there. The second, and almost as important, is that any vintage/antique tool purchase can immediately lead to “oldtoolitis”, or the immediate addiction to purchasing more cool old tools than you need which drains your bank account, leaves you divorced, and inevitably takes up all the time you should be spending using the damn tool you wanted to buy in the first place. Avoid at all costs unless retired or independently wealthy.
2) Something I’ve found as someone who has gone from using all traditional handtools to 90% machinery, due to starting a production shop, is that I find myself using my pairing chisels far more often than my bench chisels. Since I’m no longer chopping out waist for joinery, most of my chisel use occurs when I’m fine tuning a machine cut surface. It could very well be worth it to refrain from buying a full set of bench chisels to be able to purchase a couple of pairing ones. I’d say start out with possibly a 1/4″ and 3/4″ bench chisel, or similar sizing, and then add as one finds need. If you find yourself using only one chisel 95% of the time, and a large majority of that time fine fitting joints, go ahead and give a pairing chisel at that size a try. I’ve never used the Lie Nielsen’s, but I know they have an optional pairing handle that could provide an introduction to pairing chisels without another major purchase.
3) Lastly, as with any bladed tool, your happiness with it is going to come down largely to your ability to get said tool sharp. Take the time to learn to sharpen well. It’s not nearly as complicated as many people seem to make it. You don’t need an entire book or 3 hour video on the subject. A $10 jig, some cheap Amazon water stones, and a 5 minute YouTube video will do the trick to begin with.
Hope this helps
I would add to get a set that is in fractions, if you use fractions instead of metric. I had a set of german chisels that were metric and there were frustrating moments trying to get things to fit. I finally bought a set of Lie-Nielsens myself and they are great. If you don’t want to spend that much you can get a decent set from Wood River or Narex.