If You Could Buy Only One Expensive Chisel at A Time?

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Forum topic by BustedClock posted 07-29-2017 04:24 AM 2643 views 1 time favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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129 posts in 3296 days

07-29-2017 04:24 AM

Topic tags/keywords: chisel blade

I’m a relative noob to woodworking, but I’ve been at it long enough to grow tired of my cheap-a** bench chisels. So I’m starting on a campaign to buy really good chisels, one at a time, as I get to the point where I desperately need one. BTW, my main use is joinery, particularly dovetails and mortise/tenon.

I have determined that I use my 1/2” chisel the most, so I’m starting with that. Have my eye on some really nice 12 – 13 mm japanese chisels. But, where to after that? I haven’t kept track enough to figure which next size I use. Further, I’ve done everything with standard, bevel-edge, bench chisels. Should my next chisel be a different type (paring, mortise, japanese dovetail), as well as a different size? Or, should I concentrate on getting a fuller set of a single type?

I’d really appreciate suggestions from folks around here.


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

7 replies so far

View Andre's profile


3567 posts in 2580 days

#1 posted 07-29-2017 05:14 AM

Get the Chisel you need and will use! I have a lot of chisels and just recently pick up with the Japanese dovetails,
should of got them sooner. Have usually used some Stanley Sweethearts and a collection of odds and ends, never really used my 2 Cherries much(just to pretty). Have a set of Narex Mortise chisels that meet all my need for that purpose but would really like to try out one of them old English Pig Stickers!
To start all over it would be the Veritas PMV-11s and a set of Japanese Dovetails. (Maybe the Veritas Mortise too)

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View TheFridge's profile


10859 posts in 2260 days

#2 posted 07-29-2017 05:23 AM

I did with the LN chisels. No regrets.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View playingwithmywood's profile


444 posts in 2371 days

#3 posted 07-29-2017 05:58 AM

just get the set of 7 narex and go from there and upgrade when you wear those out,41504

View jdmaher's profile


468 posts in 3353 days

#4 posted 07-29-2017 11:55 AM

Chisels have been a money pit for me. I have spent way too much on these things! I have discarded (given away) several sets over the years, but still have 4 complete sets (two butt sets, one bench set, one mortising set).

So, I started to keep track of what I actually use AND try to make frugal use of what I have. That is, I try to use the LEAST number of chisels from my set. So far, the results have been only a little surprising.

I use a 1/2” Sweetheart most of all. Primarily for dovetails, but also for general cleanup of minor corner and surface anomalies. Used to was that I grabbed whatever chisel was sharp – which eventually resulted in no sharp chisels and an evening of sharpening, and confusion. Now, I find that sticking to the 1/2” allows me to do 2/3 of what I need to do with just that one chisel.

Next up is a 1/4” Iles mortising chisel, for cleaning out mortises. Since almost everything I do is done with 4/4 boards, tenons are usually 1/4” thick.

Then, the 1/4” Sweetheart, for getting into tight spots.

Then, I use a wide chisel for cleaning up both the sides of mortises and tenon cheeks (I don’t own a good tenon plane, but should). I used to use a 1” for this, but upon reflection now (usually) use a 3/4”. Depending on the type of wood I’m working, I might use either the Sweetheart OR the Iles mortising; go figure. BUT, I suspect that these needs would be better served by a combination of a good shoulder plane and a wide-ish paring chisel.

Since I’ve started paying attention, I have not used my various butt chisels at all. I do occasionally use a specific bench or mortising chisel of a size exactly matched to an unusually sized component (e.g., a 3/8” mortise and tenon).

I think the reality is that I could do everything I need to with 1/2” bench, 1/4” bench and mortising, 3/4” paring chisel.

All the others are an expensive luxury that I probably don’t really need.

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

View BustedClock's profile


129 posts in 3296 days

#5 posted 08-01-2017 01:36 AM

Thanks, folks, for answers.

I’m actually looking to replace/retire a set of Narex bench chisels. In addition, I’ve been very impressed with the Japanese chisels someone let me try.

Like jdmaher, I’m pretty sure I use a 1/2” chisel the most. So, I’ve already set my eyes on a 12mm Iyoroi Blue Steel Chisel, from Gramercy (Tools for Working Wood). Being pretty much a noob, however, I’m not sure where to go next. Jdmaher makes a pretty good argument for his selection. I’ll have to think about it.

Again, thanks!

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

View waho6o9's profile


8908 posts in 3351 days

#6 posted 08-01-2017 01:40 AM

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4422 days

#7 posted 08-01-2017 01:42 AM

I find I use a wide chisel quite a lot. One
of my favorites is a Japan chisel about
1-3/8” wide. It’s useful for chopping
thin pieces to size, paring tenons and
other things. The short blade gets my
fingers close to the work.

My Japan chisels are similar to the basic
ones Lee Valley sells. I have some Barr
chisels too, which are very nice to use
and stay sharp a long time.

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