Good design, inconsistent quality

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Review by JayT posted 06-15-2013 10:19 PM 20744 views 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Good design, inconsistent quality No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

Needing a decent set of chisels, instead of my plastic handled beaters, I decided to try the Stanley Bailey 5pc set. Now that I have been using them for about six months, it was time to do a review. The set retails for around $70 for five chisels and a leather tool roll.

Initial impressions

The chisels look good with brass ferrules and hoops contrasting nicely with the stained hardwood handles. I’m not a big fan of stained handles, but they do look nice out of the box. The included suede leather roll is well designed, with deep chisel pockets, a protective flap for the handles and ties sewn on the back for roll up storage.

The blades looked decent, but the machining on pretty much all of them was a bit rough. For the price point, though, I felt it was acceptable. The blades are marked with both inch and metric sizes, but are actually metric widths. Not a deal breaker to me, as you don’t really need a chisel to be an exact width, but a little deceiving on Stanley’s part, as they advertise these with the imperial sizes on their own website

Preparation for use

I decided to flatten and hone the chisels as I needed them, rather than doing all at once. The first one used was the 1/2inch (12mm). Flattening the back took quite a bit of time and effort, it was not well machined at the factory. Now I know manufacturers intentionally make the back a bit concave, but this was ridiculous, taking at least 10 minutes just on a coarse diamond stone to get a flat, consistent scratch pattern on the cutting edge, plus more time on the finer stones to get a mirror finish. (For comparison, I recently purchased a couple of Two Cherries firmer chisels and they took about 2-3 minutes each to flatten and hone to a razor’s edge)

After finally getting the back flat, it was time to work on the bevel. These come from the factory with a 25 degree bevel, but I prefer about a 30 degree. It was a simple matter to hone the steeper angle and this went much quicker than the back. The chisel took a good edge, easily paring end grain pine. The others all took really good edges, as well.

As I worked over the other four chisels in the following days and weeks, there was no consistency in the production quality. Most of the backs needed quite a bit of work, though the 1inch was nearly flat out of the box. The biggest gripe was that the 3/4inch (19mm) wasn’t square—it had to be completely reground before there was any chance of being used. It’s not like this was even close, it was readily apparent to the naked eye. Where was quality control?


I have used the chisels for both paring and chopping operations and there are good and bad points.

The good. The handles are extremely comfortable to use. They are large enough to fill the hand, yet not so large you can’t get a good grip. There are flats front and back with a slight swell on each side that both fits nicely in the palm and helps keep the chisel oriented correctly. The 1/4 (6mm) and 1-1/4 (32mm) have done well, holding their edges and doing everything I could ask. The handles on all have stood up well to mallet work, other than . . . .

The annoying. The finish on the tops of the handles doesn’t hold up when using a mallet—of course the lacquer will come off, but so does some of the brown stain so my handles are now two-tone.

The bad. While the smallest and largest chisels have performed admirably, the other three that will likely get the most use have been disappointing. The edges of both the 1/2 and 1inch chipped while chopping mortises in SPF construction lumber, while a small section of the 3/4 folded over at some time, indicating that the hardening and tempering process was not well controlled. Since the mortises were first drilled out with a Forstner bit and all I was doing was removing the corners and small areas of waste, it shouldn’t have been overly stressful use. The 3/4 seems to have stabilized out after sharpening past that one area and will probably be OK, but I’m leery about the other two.

The conclusion

The designers of these chisels did a good job, especially with the handles, but whoever is in charge of manufacturing and quality control of the blades should be ashamed. I’m generously giving the set 3 stars (2-1/2 would be more appropriate if we could do halves) as two chisels of the set I purchased deserve 5 stars, while the others would rate at 1 and 2 stars. I would not recommend them to another woodworker, unless you just like to gamble. Based on this set, you might get some good ones or might get some lemons. For the money, I think there are probably better options.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 2978 days

14 comments so far

View terryR's profile


7612 posts in 3076 days

#1 posted 06-15-2013 10:55 PM

Sorry to hear of your quality issues, JayT.
Thanks for taking the time for a review to share the knowledge!

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View jak77's profile


18 posts in 2709 days

#2 posted 06-15-2013 11:09 PM

Thanks for the warning. I recently purchased the same set.

While my sharpening seemed to go better than yours. About 15 minutes for the set with sandpaper. I have yet to use them for mortising.

Before purchasing this set I compared them to a set of Marples.The Marples had actual chunks missing from the cutting edge.

These seemed to look better and didn’t take much to make useable.

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 2978 days

#3 posted 06-15-2013 11:48 PM

jak77, hope you have better luck. If all five chisels were the quality of the 1/4 & 1-1/4, this would be a 5 star set, even with the flattening time. Hopefully you got some good ones and don’t have any issues. Let us know after you have used them for a while.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View JustJoe's profile


1554 posts in 2805 days

#4 posted 06-16-2013 01:26 AM

Thanks for the honest review. They look a little thin to be pounding out mortises with – how well did they hold up when used as a paring chisel?

-- This Ad Space For Sale! Your Ad Here! Reach a targeted audience! Affordable Rates, easy financing! Contact an ad represenative today at JustJoe's Advertising Consortium.

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 2978 days

#5 posted 06-16-2013 02:14 AM

JustJoe, they work OK for paring. Pretty much the same story, the 1/4 & 1-1/4 have been great, but I haven’t been happy with the 3/4 and haven’t used the other two as much for that purpose. If I have sharpened past the softer section, I expect it will do better going forward. Since the handles are so comfortable, this may be the best use for them.

They are light for chopping mortises (though Paul Sellers does it with bevel edge chisels), but that is why I hog out most of the material with the drill press and then chop out the corners and points between the overlapping holes. Any decent chisel should stand up to that.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View kdc68's profile


2987 posts in 3044 days

#6 posted 06-16-2013 05:13 AM

Thanks for the well written and thorough review…

-- Measure "at least" twice and cut once

View Tedstor's profile


1690 posts in 3400 days

#7 posted 06-16-2013 02:26 PM

I’ve looked at and considered purchasing these chisels in the past. But I came to the conclusion that the Stanley Sweetheart chisels are only marginally more expensive and are typically considered to be better tools. I have a SW 1/8” which I like a lot. Of course, the Sweetheart set only includes 4 chisels vs the Bailey which includes 5. In any case, I didn’t feel the Baily set offered enough value.
FWIW, Amazon currently has the 4pc SW set avaialable for $79.99 shipped (after $10 off). the discount also appears to apply to the Bailey set as well, making it $59.99. Either set would probably make a beginner/casual user pretty happy.
Thanks for the review.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4415 days

#8 posted 06-21-2013 06:14 AM

Sometimes it’s said the best steel is about 1/4” back from
the factory edge, so some chisels improve with grinding.

Japan chisels are often too hard (will chip) and can be
tempered by leaving them out on a hot roof or pounding
repeatedly into something like oak to build up heat
at the edge to temper. I’ve never done it but
my Japan chisels are a bit brittle.

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 2978 days

#9 posted 06-21-2013 02:15 PM

Good to know, Loren. I will hope that is the case with this set and as I regrind the performance will improve. The ergonomics are so good, I would love for them to be my main users—just will not put up with poor blade performance.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 3413 days

#10 posted 10-17-2013 02:12 AM

What type of stone did you use to flatten the backs?

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 2978 days

#11 posted 10-17-2013 09:47 PM

Sam, I started with a coarse (325 grit) diamond stone until the last 1/2 inch or so of the back was showing a consistent scratch pattern, then moved on to a fine diamond and finished on a 6000 water stone. This is the same process I use for my other chisels and plane irons with good results.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View BustedClock's profile


129 posts in 3289 days

#12 posted 01-09-2014 07:01 PM

I got a set of the Baileys this Christmas. I loved the look of them in the box, and the first one I took out felt really good in the hand. Then… I took out the 1/4” and it has substantial arc over the length of the blade. Here’s a picture (I hope):

My poor mother, who is 84, is certain she ordered from Lie-Nielsen, but they don’t carry them at all. I guess I’ll just add the rest to my collection.

-- Hey, I'm usually right twice a day! Except where they use 24 hour clocks.

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 2978 days

#13 posted 01-09-2014 07:29 PM

Ouch. That’s bad, especially as it had to be that way when it was packaged up. I’d try contacting Stanley directly and have them replace it, since you don’t know who the vendor was.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View Actionman's profile


1 post in 1088 days

#14 posted 07-10-2017 04:14 PM

I had a very similar experience with these.
I WAY overpaid for these here in Canada on top of it so this just sent my frustration over the top.
After way too many hours I ended up with some nice chisels but it’s embarrassing to say how much time I spent.
Mind you I did go the distance and removed all tooling marks and polished them so look and work extremely good.

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