Chisel metal strength

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Blog entry by DouginVa posted 11-28-2012 12:16 PM 7365 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve been practiciing hand cut dovetails recently and before I started out I wanted to make sure my Mifer chisels were at their sharpest. I have a WorkSharp 3000 and have always been happy with it but I thought I’d try to give my chisels a hand sharpened mirror finish and a micor-bevel on some wet stones (8000 grit).

I was very pleased with the hand sharpened edges at a 30 degree bevel, except that after chopping out some dovetails on cherry and pine I noticed the nice crisp sharp edge was nicked up and jagged. It didn’t take much to get the crisp edge back but since these Mifer chisels were the first decent chisels I ever owned I was wondering if this is normal? Or are these cheap chisels not made out of the best metal for this type of work.

I got the chisel set as a gift seveal years ago and don’t really have much to compare them to.

-- Just a man with his chisel.........

10 comments so far

View Arminius's profile


304 posts in 5018 days

#1 posted 11-28-2012 12:48 PM

The original Mifer made in Spain were pretty decent, and the edge should not deteriorate that quickly, especially working pine. That would be pre-2001 or so. Not sure about the ones made since in El Salvador. Without knowing quite how much you did, hard to really judge.

View DouginVa's profile


503 posts in 3488 days

#2 posted 11-28-2012 12:51 PM

This is a set made in Spain, I got it way before 2001. My other thought was that maybe at some point I let the metal get too to hot in a previous grinding operation, but I don’t ever remember sharpening these on a grinder….just an oil stone.

Thanks Arminius

-- Just a man with his chisel.........

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4213 days

#3 posted 11-28-2012 02:56 PM

Without seeing the edge, it is hard to diagnose. Is the edge chipping or deforming? Even with the best chisels, there will be some variation in hardness. I am unfamiliar with this brand but if they are quality chisels, the main body is probably hardened correctly. The edge maybe not. When they grind the initial bevel, they can get the hardness and temper messed up.

I suggest just keep using them and sharpening as needed and it will probably settle down to longer lasting edges once you get away from the original edge.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 3361 days

#4 posted 11-28-2012 03:11 PM

Were you using some kind of sacrificial board underneath your work while chopping the dovetails? Were you levering with them and paring, or just straight chopping? I’m not familiar with that brand of chisel, but as long as they’re made of decent tool steel, you shouldn’t be seeing chipping and nicking from something relatively simple like dovetail waste. One thing I’ve noticed with some chisels is the steel on the end of a brand new chisel is relatively soft and you have to sharpen them a bit to get to the good stuff. That doesn’t sound like your problem though if you’ve had these a while.


View wunderaa's profile


248 posts in 3417 days

#5 posted 11-28-2012 03:28 PM

You may benefit from utilizing a micro-bevel at just over 30 degrees as you alluded. The slightly higher angle should allow for longer edge retention, although at the cost of ease of cut penetration. Experiment and see if that helps. I’ve used up to 35 degrees with good results. Also ensure that the face (back) of the chisel is lapped to the same quality as your beveled edge. Any imperfections on the face at or near the cutting edge can cause quick edge collapse.

View Deycart's profile


444 posts in 3472 days

#6 posted 11-28-2012 07:41 PM

Smaller chisels need a higher angle than large ones. And the reason is this. First assume you use the same hammer for all your work and use the same amount of force. Lets just say it results in 100 pounds of force. If you have a 1” chisel then you evenly place 100 pounds of force along 1 inch that being 100 pli (pounds per linear inch just made that up). If you have a 1/8 chisel you end up with 800 pli. Thats 8x more force that little chisel has to endure. Thats why small chisels deform easier if they are sharpened to the same angle as the large ones and thats how all manufactures sharpen them when you get them.

That being said every chisel is different. You need to play with them and the angle until you get it to work long enough without constant sharpening, but still gives you an easy cut. It takes a while for this, but when you finally tune yours in it will become your best friend and you wont hesitate to pick it up.

View DouginVa's profile


503 posts in 3488 days

#7 posted 01-30-2013 05:02 PM

I’m beginning to think my expectations of chisels are too high. I got a set of Lie Nielson O 1 chisels for Christmas and although they do hold an edge longer I still see the cutting edge developing knicks sooner than I expected.

-- Just a man with his chisel.........

View waho6o9's profile


9055 posts in 3791 days

#8 posted 01-30-2013 05:08 PM

I whack the daylights out of these Ebay Japanese chisels and the edge retention
is remarkable.
I know what you mean by the dulling of the edges as that happens on some of my other
sets. Obviously, the edge will dull, it just seems that some sets dull quicker than others.

View DouginVa's profile


503 posts in 3488 days

#9 posted 05-10-2013 01:33 AM

So after countless sharpenings using mostly water stones and the occassional touch up with my WorkSharp my Lie Nielsen O1s are still losing their edge sooner than I would expect them to. I followed some of the advice from above and hoped that after a few sharpenings I’d reach the very hard steel and they’d hold their edge longer, but nothing changed. I originally wanted the A2 metal, but those buying me them for Christmas gifts didn’t follow my instructions well…..oh well.

Then a week or so ago Lie Nielsen had one of theif hand tool events in Gaithursburg, Md., not too far from my home. So I went. I spoke with one of their reps there and told him my story. He said send em back, they’ll take em. Mind you now this was long past the 30 return policy they have with their products. So I sent an e-mail and Deneb Pulchaski himself (from many of their You Tube vids) answered. He said they would gladly take the chisels back and LN wanted nothing more than their customers to have the best tools in their customer’s hands. And once they received my O1s they would ship out my new set of A2s…..along with a few more goodies that I bought at the hand tool event.

I must say I am very impressed with LNs customer service and I hope the A2s are as nice as their other hand tools. I think I’ll be a loyal Lie Nielsen customer in the future.

-- Just a man with his chisel.........

View Grandpa's profile


3264 posts in 3890 days

#10 posted 05-10-2013 01:49 AM

You could take your chisels to a machine shop and have them hardness tested. They should be Rc52 or slightly higher I think. I have seen people claim that they had Rc60 but my experience in the manufacturing enviroment Rc55 is difficult to achieve. Another thing is the angle of the edge. You said you were using 30 deg edges. This should be okay but the thinner the edge the shorter the life. just some thoughts…...

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