Irwin Marples or Narex Premium?

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Forum topic by SamfromTB posted 09-12-2019 01:18 PM 1668 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View SamfromTB's profile


2 posts in 500 days

09-12-2019 01:18 PM

Topic tags/keywords: suggestions chisels hand tools tools irwin marples narex

I am about to purchase a new chisel set. I am a hybrid woodworker who primarily uses power tools. I have been getting by with a cheap set of Harbor Freight chisels. They must be sharpened after nearly every use, but have got the job done (mostly). I have narrowed my choices down to a 4 piece Narex Premium set and a 6 piece Irwin Marples set. The Irwin are about $60 and the Narex about $50. Anybody have experience with one or both that could help with a recommendation? Open to other suggestions as well. Don’t want to spend more than $20 a chisel and not willing to take the time to restore vintage. Sounds like a fun project for future but not at the moment. Thanks in advance.

15 replies so far

View JayT's profile


6413 posts in 3088 days

#1 posted 09-12-2019 01:29 PM

I’m going to start with a question. Which of your current HF chisels do you use the most?

What I’ve found for myself and see in others is that buying sets is not generally the best way to acquire chisels. Most woodworkers are far better off buying higher quality individual chisels in a couple of sizes they use most and expand from there. If you are using every chisel in your current set equally, then great, buy another set. If you use your 1/2in chisel a lot more than the others, get a really good 1/2in chisel and continue to use the other sizes of the HF ones until you feel you need to invest in another size.

Also consider if an in between size would be even better for your work. One of my most used chisels is a 3/8, which you will not find in any set. I also use 1/8 a lot. I’ve had chisel sets and two or three of them never seem to get used (usually the wide ones), which means you are paying for stuff you don’t need. I’ve been much happier spending on a few Two Cherries that fit my woodworking needs instead of a set that doesn’t. It cost a bit more, but that has been spread over time and the steel quality and balance is leaps and bounds higher, which makes for a much better user experience.

Again, if a set really fits how you work, then there is nothing wrong with buying one. I just wanted to present a different avenue of thought that has worked better for a lot of woodworkers.

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

View Robert's profile


4030 posts in 2358 days

#2 posted 09-12-2019 01:29 PM

It all depends on what your primary use is. There are chisels more suitable to dovetails and some that are not.

I have both sets you mention. The very first chisels I bought were the blue handled Irwins. I quickly found they are sub-optimal for dovetails because of the high side bevel heights. I consider them more a “firmer” utilitarian type chisel. Great for general tasks and mortises. They hold an edge as good, or maybe better than the Narex.

The Narex premiums are a good, entry chisel . You’ll get a good bang for the buck. Fairly low side bevel heights, making them good for dovetails. My only complaint on them is 1) be prepared to do some work getting the backs flat, 2) edge retention could be better.

If you’re not doing hand dovetails, I would to with the Irwins.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View knotscott's profile


8386 posts in 4253 days

#3 posted 09-12-2019 07:21 PM

I have one Narex and a set of Marples. To my hands, the Marples feels more comfortable. Both can be made to work well, but it boils down go what you like.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 2838 days

#4 posted 09-12-2019 07:49 PM

JayT’s strategy is a really good way to get better quality tools you’ll actually use.

View wildwoodbybrianjohns's profile


2107 posts in 424 days

#5 posted 09-12-2019 08:59 PM

I have a ton of chisels, of various quality. But I only use two for the most part- a 2cherries 1/2”, and a 2cherries 1/4.” Sometimes I need somethin smaller to clean up grooves for splines, and use an 1/8” 2cherries.

Occasionally I use gouges, again 2cherries, same size as above.

All the rest sit in a drawer gathering dust, waiting to be sharpened.

-- Wildwood by Brian Johns: The Big Bang: Nothing - exploded into Everything. Thanks to Nothing.

View LittleShaver's profile


695 posts in 1496 days

#6 posted 09-12-2019 09:25 PM

I have a full set of NAREX at my main bench and a small set of Marples at my small bench. I’ve had good experience with both.

-- Sawdust Maker

View Andybb's profile


2873 posts in 1480 days

#7 posted 09-12-2019 09:58 PM

I bought a set of 6 good quality chisels. (forget the brand) I agree with the others. If I had to do it again I’d buy a very good quality single 1/4 & 1/2” chisels or maybe a 3/4” also. I hardly ever use the rest. 2 or 3 great quality chisels are about the cost of a good quality set of 6 or 8.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View tywalt's profile


107 posts in 1041 days

#8 posted 09-12-2019 10:42 PM

I like the Narex chisels. I also have a set of WoodRiver from Wood Craft that are comparable as far as holding an edge and size of the bevel, but have a fatter handle that fits my long fingers much better. No idea about the current Irwin Marples but my “main” chisels I use everyday are old refurbished Marples with beach handles… There is no comparison there. The original Marples are fantastic.

A good friend of mine swears by those HF wood handled bevel edge chisels though. Apparently they are a decent set though I have no first hand with them.

-- Tyler - Central TX

View Axis39's profile


356 posts in 474 days

#9 posted 09-12-2019 11:30 PM

I have a pile of chisels… I inherited a bunch and have collected some over the years.

Like you, I spend a lot more time with power tools… But, every now and then, a chisel is the right tool for the job.

I have rough chisels I used in construction… They tend to get beat to crap and not treated well. But, in that pile, there are a few nice Buck Brothers, that surprised me with their quality. I’ve used those probably more than others, but those are jobsite chisels.

I have a set of Marples, but don’t reach for them that often. I feel bad beating on the back ends of them… Always a fraid the handles will crack. I have some very nice carving chisels, gouges and such that I use a lot for fine, detail work. But, like everyone else, I have two or three chisels I reach for more than any others… Usually a 1/2” and a 1/4”. But, I would never be without a nice 1/8” either.

I am really thinking about dumping a bunch of them and maybe ponying up for a nice Japanese chisel…

I will throw another vote in for buying one really good 1/2” or 1/4” chisel before anything else. Heck, if you want, I probably have about ten 3/4” chisels, you can have one or two! LOL (some of them might actually be decent chisels…)

-- John F. SoCal transplant, chewer uppper of good wood

View BurlyBob's profile


7930 posts in 3142 days

#10 posted 09-12-2019 11:57 PM

I’ve got a set of Two Cherries and truly love them. They hold an edge like there’s no tomorrow.

View Kirk650's profile


680 posts in 1625 days

#11 posted 09-13-2019 12:46 AM

On another post I suggested the Sheffield steel Marples with the blue handles. They are well worth the money, but I decided to buy a full set of LN socket chisels. But I didn’t like them as much as thought I would. Since then I’ve shopped smarter and bought specific size chisels instead of another full set. Yes, I have more chisels than I need.

The best edge holding chisels I have are the Veritas PMV11’s and the Pfiel. Those are what I reach for.

View CaptainKlutz's profile


3703 posts in 2371 days

#12 posted 09-13-2019 01:57 AM

+1 If money is concern, buy best quality chisels in only the sizes you use most; and keep a set of cheaper chisels with more sizes for general furniture work, and last but not least; a set of garage sale beater plastic handled Stanley/Buck Bros for general carpentry work.

+1 Chisels are shaped for different tasks. Buy/use the right kind for the task. I.E.
: Firmer chisel with wide sides, or small side bevel don’t work well on dovetails.
: Tapered beveled sides don’t work well in in large dovetails.
: Mortise chisels use flat sides to provide max leverage wedging out wood from mortise.
: Paring chisels need a different balance then striking chisel.
: etc, etc, etc.
+1 Am another idiot who owns many different brands of chisels.
: My personal experience with different brands is reasonably close to the results in the Fine woodworking Chisel review(s) from Issue #139, Nov/Dec 1999 & Issue #200, Sept/Oct 2008, except in 2008: Narex was over rated. Both the blue handled Irwin and Narex in my collection are used the least as they stink at edge retention, at least compared to my other choices. The edges are also prone to chipping in harder woods, especially if you attempt higher sharpening angles (32-35 degree) for paring work. Use a 25 degree bevel, and they work better.
- Current generation Stanley 750 chisels are waste of money. The have a premium price, but perform no better than any other of the $50-80 chisel sets. The antique Stanley 750 have much better steel, which provides better edge retention. But you often have to restore garage sale finds to get them.

As far as other options:

- My longest edge retention beater chisels are from Footprint. If you can find the wood handled versions anywhere, buy them! I paid $20 for set of four on sale. Perform better than any of the more expensive mid-range chisels, regardless if whether UK, German, or Swiss steel.

- When it comes to dovetails, my preference is Japanese chisels? That sort of makes me weird, maybe?
I like the balance, and they work well for me. Picked up a 10 pc set of Grizzly on Black Friday special for $99; was biggest bargain ever. The edge retention is only exceeded by chisels costing much more. (like Fujikawa HSS, Ouchi, or Veritas PM11 in my collection)

Using chisels is very personal experience. There are different styles, and different hands doing the work. Suggest you buy a couple different chisel brands with different handle styles, and blades; so you better pick type you want to spend money for an entire set later? You might find you like Japanese style chisel too? :-)

Best Luck

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View chriscarter's profile


29 posts in 968 days

#13 posted 09-13-2019 01:09 PM

I have the Narex ones Lee Valley sells, which are the regular handle with the premium style blade that have the narrower lands in imperial measurements. They are great and of all of my handtool arsenal (I’m only a hand tool guy, no power tools) I’ve never felt like I needed to upgrade. Flattening the backs was a very quick task.

Chisel preference for most people is mainly about handle shape and what feels good to you. So you will get wild results on recommendations.

Also, ALL chisels have to be sharpened after nearly every use. That’s the nature of the beast. Power tool guys don’t like to sharpen and rarely use chisels. And when they do, it’s usually for some brute force task. So sharpening is only an occasional thing. For hand toolers, sharpening is a CONSTANT thing. I sharpen my chisels every day that they are used on a strop (no stones unless I somehow manage to damage one, which is pretty rare). If I’m doing a lot of dovetails and really putting a chisel through its paces I’m likely to hit the strop midway through as well.

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

7006 posts in 4071 days

#14 posted 09-13-2019 04:17 PM

I have the complete set of Marples… When I bought mine, they were still made in Sheffield, England when the quality of good steel was used. The later blue handled Marples are no where near as good as they were back then. But like any chisel, you have to keep a sharp edge on them, and flatten the back side to get that edge….!!

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View Eric's profile


216 posts in 1114 days

#15 posted 09-14-2019 08:23 AM

I’ve purchased a few sets of the Narex chisel to complement my 90s era Marples Blue handled chisels. I’ve found no issues with flattening the backs. Every chisel is properly made and took a few minutes to go from 1000 to 8000 grit. The edges hold as well as my Marples with Sheffield steel. No regrets, I’d buy them again.

I looked the the Chinese made Woodcraft chisels but the product at my local store was poorly made. The blades didn’t align with the handle on the three sets I looked at and the cost was higher than Narex from amazon.

I also bought a set of the modern Stanley 750 chisels. I think they’re very nice for the $160 I spent, the backs cleaned up and flattened as quickly as the Narex. The edges hold up as well as my 90s era Marples. A little pricier for the cosmetics but a nice value.

Chisels are useless without a strategy for sharpening them. I use Japanese water stones and a Veritas sharpening jig. I have $250 worth of sharpening kit to keep my chisels and hand planes working right.

-- Eric

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