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.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cheap Chinese Chisels - Good Value - Or Just Plain Junk?

A Small Review

They are multi-branded and ubiquitous - racked on shelves in discount stores, bundled in hundreds at Sunday Markets, sold on the internet by the thousands, and packaged in boxes at every hardware store in the country.

I have seldom even given them time of day - let alone taken them seriously.  Funny how end of financial year sales can trigger a person's consciousness to think in a completely different way.

I was in our local big green hardware store last week (because it has a toilet and ........ never mind!) and I had to pass the GOING CHEAP sales trolley.  There it was - a box of Trojan bevelled edge bench chisels for $15.

How bad could they be?

Now, a set of five Veritas bench chisels sells for $295 plus freight, and a set of five Lie Nielsens is $340.  A set of six Ultimax Harold and Saxons will set you back $750.

For less than $4 each, these seemed insanely priced - even if they were junk.  If that turns out to be the case, I could always use them to open paint tins.

To say that my expectations of these chisels were low, is almost akin to the hopes that supporters have for the success of the Parramatta Eels and the Western Sydney Giants this year.

So, off to the checkout to part with some small change. 
You know that these have a lifetime warranty quipped the checkout chap.
Yeah, sure, as soon as they break, their lifetime is over - thought I as I walked out the door.

Here's what was in the box - four bevelled edge chisels sized 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 inch.  On the front - precision ground for easy cutting ......!   Hmmm, the grinding might be precise, but it was done with a fairly coarse grinder - look at those striations on the back of the blade.

So, first task will be to flatten the backs of all four chisels.

Here was the first surprise - the backs were all quite flat and didn't need much to remove the grind marks. Only the area closest to the edge of the blade needs immediate attention, the rest will get flattened over the course of the chisels' sharpening lives.

The bevels that create the cutting edge were indeed precision ground, and merely needed a touch up on the fine oilstone, followed by a honing on a hard white arkansas stone.  In both cases I use a kerosene/oil mix of 3/1 for lubrication.

The handles are made from red polycarbonate, and can take a beating.  There is a black rubberised material on both sides to aid hand use and provide grip.  The blade has a type of socketted tang connection to the handle, which is moulded onto it.

The handle flares just before the blade, and also has a built in hollow for the thumb.  This works equally well with the left or the right hand.  I am right handed, and when I used the chisels for paring, they felt very comfortable - the design obviously works.

Sadly, I discovered the hard way that the side edges of the back of the blade were quite sharp - a by product of the precision grinding no doubt.  Nevertheless, while paring, it is my custom to support the blade in my left hand and slide it forwards into the cut with my right.  My left index finger sported a band-aid for the rest of the day.

All of the blades need the edges relieved on the oilstone to prevent this occuring again.

So - how good are they?

An easy test that anyone can perform on a sharpened chisel - is to see how well it handles the paring of end grain.  I tried paring blackbutt, rose gum, spongy pine, and even western red cedar.  These latter two are likely to simply fold under dull chisels.  No trouble at all.  Above is a sample series of cuts in black wattle - like a hot knife through butter.

They even come with plastic blade guards to keep them sharp and protect one's fingers.

Will these chisels slice through jarrah and gidgee all day - don't know - probably not, but what chisels will.  I usually don't use those timbers, and neither do the majority of woodworkers, I'd venture to suggest.  For the kinds of woodworking that most of us do, most of the time, these chisels will not only be fine, they will perform very well.

Clearly they aren't junk - if anything they are an absolute bargain - even at full retail price.  On sale, they are a steal, and they would not be out of place in any workshop, or as a set in a mobile tool chest.

...... and happy woodworking to all ........


  1. Tom an excellent right up. I last year purchased a set of Aldi chisels very similar only difference is they are HSS and again good enough for me and what I do. I do have my dad's old chisels all of course have seen some grinding honing in their time but still stand up to what ever needs to be done. I do like those handles on the Trojan and will check them out.

    1. I bought a four chisel set on sale from harbor freight... six bucks as I recall.... they are almost my go to chisels now, im totally impressed. edge retention is equal to or very close to my two cherries and narex.

  2. also like the life time guarantee. Having broken several of these el cheapo Chinese no names without really abusing them it is nice to hear that some brands are worth using. Off to Bunnings to get a set. $46 for a set of 6 sizes - doesn't seem excessive if they do last. Thanks for the write up.