Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life.

Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life. Sunset at Telegraph Point.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chisels and Such

One of the most useful of our workshop tools is the humble chisel.  In historic terms, it is also one of the oldest in homo sapiens' toolbox.  From stone - through copper, bronze and iron - the modern steel chisel has a long heritage.  As woodworking has refined itself over the centuries, chisels have evolved into the variations on the chisel theme that we have today.

We now have bench chisels, butt chisels, paring chisels, dovetail chisels, mortice chisels, and all the variations of carving chisels that you can imagine.  There are likely to be other categories that I have left out.

You will find treatises on chisel types in numerous publications, so I won't go into them here, but the most common garden variety of chisels these days - is the bench chisels.  These are sold everywhere from hardware stores to specialist tool manufacturers, and usually in sets.

Here are some that are on offer at present:

These modern steel chisels can all trace their lineage back to something like this one - a chunky firmer chisel with a socket for the handle.
This one was made by Ward and Payne in Sheffield in England.

It is only one inch wide, but is a beast of a thing and quite heavy - even without the handle.

Modern bench chisels have bevelled edges, which helps reduce the weight of the chisels in the hand, giving them better balance.

To further reduce the mass of the chisel at the handle, it can be mounted with a tang like this old Robert Sorby - also made in Sheffield.

Here is a set of tanged bevelled edge chisels (except for the smallest which is too narrow to carry a bevel).  All of these are English - made in Sheffield, but from many years ago.   Most were made in the first half of the 20th century.  The majority of these handles are English London Pattern chisel handles.  They look lovely but are an acquired taste as far as comfort in the hand is concerned.

They take and hold a keen edge, and more than hold their own against their modern equivalents - when used for general woodworking. Belting holes in jarrah or spotted gum all day will pull them up, but very few of us do that.

Most of these are F Woodcocks (made between 1939 and 1957),  but there are plenty of quality English makers, whose chisels are just as good.  Here are some:

English Chisels
  • Robert Sorby
  • William Marples
  • Hale Bros
  • Charles Taylor
  • Edward Preston
  • S J Addis
  • Lindley
  • Herring
  • Pearson
  • Ward and Payne
  • Alex Mathieson (Scottish)
  • Brades
  • F Woodcock
  • Greaves
  • Thomas Ibbotson
  • I & H Sorby

The best English steel was made from Swedish ore, and has some of those same qualities as the famed, and widely sought after Swedish steel chisel makers - Berg, Jernbolaget, Kronan, Toledo.  Sadly, older English chisels are overlooked in this country, except by those who know how good they are.  Not in the UK of course, where they are still valued.

The point is, that old English chisels are not the flavour of the month here in Australia - either at Sunday Markets or online auction sites. They are cheap, and excellent value for money.  It is easy to put together a set of English bench chisels for very little outlay.

I have put together this set over many years.  If I was doing this again, I would concentrate on the makers in bold type simply from personal preference, and the fact that I consider them to be the best in their class - but there is not much in it.  It may take quite some time to put together a set from the same maker, but a composite set like mine could be done at one Sunday market - for around the cost of a single new 1 inch chisel from the links above.

Because E A Berg - Sweden - chisels are often used as a benchmark for fine steel in old chisels, I will add a link for more information.
For a short history of E A Berg and his steel product making ventures - see here:
E A Berg

Enjoy Your Break
I will be taking a break from The Village Woodworker Blog for a few weeks, while I attend to other matters.  You will have an enforced break from the happenings in this neck of the woods.  Enjoy .....

I hope that your segue from autumn to winter - (late spring to summer for our northern cousins) is full of the joys of the season .....................
.................... and happy woodworking to all .........................

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