Wood River - WoodRiver 4 Piece Butt Chisel set (Rating: 4)

First Impressions Review of Wood River Butt Chisels

i received these for Christmas this year. I've been eyeing them for a while, mostly due to the beautiful Bubinga handles that fit so wonderfully in the palm and the on-sale price of $29.99. This is just a short review based on the initial set up and a few paring and chopping exercises. The set is four chisels in 1 inch, ¾ inch, ½ inch and ¼ inch. Overall fit and finish is quite good for an economy set of chisels. It took quite a bit less work to flatten the backs of these than my Irwin/Marples blue handled set.


The box is nice although the latch is on a little crooked making it difficult to latch.

First look:

As always with Wood River tools, all the metal parts are covered with a grease to protect from rust. The first thing I did was to remove the protective (protects sharp edge and any unsuspecting fingers) plastic tip covers and wipe the chisels down with mineral spirits to get rid of all the cosmoline. Next I looked them over for overall fit and finish and initial sharpness. The Bubinga handles are quite beautiful and comfortable and appear to be finished with lacquer but not as heavily as my Veritas tools. Since most of my tools are from Wood River or Veritas they will fit in quite nicely (I have a thing for uniformity). The backs are nicely polished and the top and side bevels and lands are a nice satin finish. The primary bevel (there is no secondary) was coarsely ground and rough at the cutting edge. The one-inch chisel tip was about a thirty-second out of square. Not a big deal but it did require regrinding before honing.. All the others were dead on square. With the coarse grind out of the box I didn't even try using them before setting them up.

Initial setup:

This is after five or six strokes on a freshly flattened 800 grit King waterstone. You'll notice that the stone connected all the way across the tip and back of each face. Those are the dull spots. This is really quite encouraging as a slight hollow in the center is a rather desirable thing in my experience. For all you flat back advocates, just look at Japanese chisels…. If it had come all the way to the edges I might not have done anything further besides polishing up to 8000.

After a bit more work on the 800, then 4000 and finally 8000 grit stones I was happy with the flatness of the overall faces and the polish on the leading half inch or so.

I took them out to the shop and hollow ground all the bevels at roughly 25 degrees then worked up a wire edge on the 800 grit then a tertiary bevel a couple of degrees higher on the 8000. I then flipped it over and polished the wire off on the 8000. Now we're sharp enough to shave with!

At this point it was time to see how they worked. I threw a bit of pine in the vice and took some end-grain pairing cuts with the 1 inch. I was a bit disappointed when the edge fractured after just a couple of cuts and started to scratch the work piece. I figured that I must have overheated the edge while I was regrinding the edge square. I took it back to the 800 grit and ground it back a ways and rehoned and now it's performing quite nicely. I went on to do some end grain pairing in soft maple and then used the ¾ inch to chop a ¾ inch deep mortise in the same soft maple. The edge holds up fairly well although not as well as my Marples chisels. Overall I'm quite pleased with the comfort of the handles and the aesthetics and quality of the chisels. The smooth transition from the handle to the ferrell to the blade is very pleasing to the eye and smooth to the touch. I was also pleasantly surprised by the initial flatness of the backs.

After setting them up and using them for a bit I'm not really sure where they fall in my every day woodworking. They're really too short to be good pairing chisels and the use I thought I'd make of them most was for chopping waste between dovetails but as you can see in the next photo the lands are wide enough to drive a car on. This will make them impossible to use between tails. I could grind down the side bevels to bring the lands to a knife edge, as I've done on a couple of my Marples', but it would be an enormous amount of steel to remove and I don't want to compromise them for heavy chopping. Besides, as I said, I've already modified a ¼ and a 1/8th inch for that purpose and I don't really make pins bigger than that. I suppose they will be good for removing waste between pins. They are quite short and the center of gravity is not too high as on my Marples' so they are well balanced when chopping. You can really choke up on the blade and not be top heavy which makes it easy to get right in your marking gauge line and see both the tip and the top where your mallet is hitting at the same time.

The wide lands: Wood River on the right and unmodified Marples on the left. Both are 1 inch.

Another issue I found is also related to the size of the lands. I use an Eclipse style honing guide and it's designed for bevel edge chisels and does a really good job with all my other chisels. But with the blades being so short and the flats being so wide on the sides of these, the jig will not hold them securely. I learned to sharpen freehand a couple of years ago but found that I get a sharper tool if I use the jig. I did freehand these today but will have to modify my honing jig so I can use it with them.

As I'm writing this I think I just discovered something else nice about these chisels. I've been carrying the one inch in my front pocket for the last hour and forgot it was there. Try doing that with a full size chisel!

In the end, I'd recommend these to anyone wanting a nice set of butt chisels at a ridiculously low price. Very little work to get them ready for use, beautiful to look at and very comfortable to hold and work with. Should be good for pairing or chopping shallow mortises and waste between joinery. Also could become a constant companion for your apron plane.

Now stop playing around on the Internet and get out there and make some shavings!