Help choosing chisels for beginner

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Forum topic by Veeps posted 09-12-2019 05:12 PM 652 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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22 posts in 405 days

09-12-2019 05:12 PM

Topic tags/keywords: chisels mortise and tenon chisel joinery chisels for beginner

I’ve been doing some woodworking for a while but mostly power tool work. I want to learn and practice doing some mortise and tenon joinery which I haven’t done yet. I need a new workbench and I think learning mortise and tenon on that will be perfect practice. I have some random second hand chisels but most are chipped and beat up. What would be some good chisels that are fairly inexpensive and will hold a decent edge? I know most need initial and regular sharpening, but I just don’t want to have to sharpen them after each use. Thanks for any insight.

-- Check out my projects and vintage tools at

16 replies so far

View Aj2's profile


3405 posts in 2675 days

#1 posted 09-12-2019 06:06 PM

You not being realistic Veeps. Because a chisel that gets used a lot needs to be sharpened a lot.
Your just going to have to jump in the how to sharpen a chisels with both feet.
Once you get good at that any chisel will be decent.
Hollow grind + the side sharpening method. Is my recommendation.
Good Luck

-- Aj

View Ripper70's profile


1378 posts in 1786 days

#2 posted 09-12-2019 06:09 PM

I have some random second hand chisels but most are chipped and beat up.

- Veeps

Second hand doesn’t necessarily mean unusable. Nor does chipped and beat up. Make sure you’re not discarding something that is of decent quality. Good chisels are expensive and restoring them could be worth the effort.

-- "You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away." --Vince Ricardo

View bondogaposis's profile


5870 posts in 3228 days

#3 posted 09-12-2019 06:11 PM

Learn to sharpen the ones you have. You don’t want practice on a premium set.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View UnmarkedBill's profile


11 posts in 513 days

#4 posted 09-12-2019 06:20 PM

I bought a ton of chisels because they’re fun to buy, realized somewhere along the line my Buck Bros set with the plastic handles would have been fine for a lot of things.

View Lazyman's profile


5857 posts in 2264 days

#5 posted 09-12-2019 06:21 PM

Unless they are just so beat up that work to get them back in shape is too much, my advice is to use your old second hand chisels to work on your sharpening skills. After you’ve used them for a while and gotten good at sharpening them, you can then splurge on a nicer set. I’ve got several sets of chisels and frankly the ones I use the most are my Harbor Freight beaters. They are cheap, sharpen well and actually hold an edge as well as a nicer set i use when working on joinery but it’s nice to have a set of cheap bench chisels you don’t have to fret about when you use them in rougher service.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Rich's profile (online now)


5952 posts in 1466 days

#6 posted 09-12-2019 06:30 PM

There are a number of good brands out there. Two Cherries are on the high end of the price scale, but not as high as Lee Valley or Lie Nielsen. Then there’s Narex, Stanley Sweetheart and some others. Look around and read reviews.

Regarding sharpening after each use, you won’t need to if you get a leather honing strop and some polishing compound. Just hone them before each use and you’ll be a happy camper.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View bilyo's profile


1165 posts in 1979 days

#7 posted 09-12-2019 06:35 PM

I agree with finding out what you already have to see if they are worth restoring. Even if they are cheap and low quality, you can use them to learn to sharpen. Also, don’t throw them away. I sometimes run into situations where I don’t want to use my good chisels. I just grab one of my cheap ones and bang away. If I damage it, I haven’t done harm to an expensive chisel.
If you decide you need some new ones, check Fine Woodworking issue #200–Sept/Oct 2008. That article compared 23 different brands of chisels. There might also be some similar articles from different sources that are more recent.

View LittleShaver's profile


695 posts in 1496 days

#8 posted 09-12-2019 09:29 PM

I used garage sale find chisels for many years until I could afford better. Learn to sharpen and most any piece of metal can be a chisel (at least for a short time). I even have a set I made from old files.

-- Sawdust Maker

View tywalt's profile


107 posts in 1041 days

#9 posted 09-12-2019 10:47 PM

Shoot us a picture of what you have. There may be some old (which in my book are the good ones) gems in there that are worth restoring!

There is another thread from today on this topic that may be of use to you as well. Phone is having trouble pasting the link but you wont have any trouble finding it in the recent posts. Some good info there regarding Irwin Marples, Narex, HF, etc..

-- Tyler - Central TX

View BurlyBob's profile


7930 posts in 3142 days

#10 posted 09-13-2019 12:03 AM

Buy the best it will last you a lifetime. Buy cheap ones and you’ll buy them many times.

View Kirk650's profile


680 posts in 1625 days

#11 posted 09-13-2019 12:33 AM

Start with those blue handled chisels from Irwin/Marples. Good quality for the price, and they hold an edge as well as most. My favorites these days are those Veritas PMV11 and Pfiel, but I was chopping mortises a couple days ago and reached for a 1” Marples and was reminded that it was a good chisel.

10 years ago, or maybe more, I took a hand tool woodworking refresher course, and they supplied the chisels, which were the Marples.

I should mention that the Marples (Irwin’s) were the Sheffield Steel version. Those are what you want.

View SMP's profile


2629 posts in 783 days

#12 posted 09-13-2019 06:06 AM

Probably best value is the Narex, but they have caught on their popularity and have been raising prices. The Irwin Marples are decent, as well as the made in USA Buck bros. Tools For Working Wood has some decent ones. Its kind of a mixed blessing with the cheap ones. They won’t hold an edge as long as more expensive metals, so you have to sharpen more often, meaning you get better at sharpening faster. So if you do get higher quality chisels in the sizes you use most, you wont have to practice on those.

View WoodenDreams's profile


1155 posts in 788 days

#13 posted 09-13-2019 07:28 AM

I have a mixed collection off used chisels. Two of each size from 1/4” through 2”. only three of them I bought new. My wife also got me a additional set of Bailey Chisels. What I focused on was good sharpening stones, grinding wheels and a disc sander for sharpening needs. It’s nice to have extra chisels that are all sharp. My point is old beat up or chipped chisels are still good after sharpening. If your using one, it’s nice to now I can grab another sharp chisel quick. New chisels also get beat up and chipped if not sharpened.

View Veeps's profile


22 posts in 405 days

#14 posted 09-13-2019 10:56 AM

thanks everyone for your input. Looks like everyone recommends I just try to salvage what I have for now. I will do that. thanks. I have lots of sharpening to do.

-- Check out my projects and vintage tools at

View theart's profile


229 posts in 1431 days

#15 posted 09-13-2019 12:21 PM

Any chisel is going to need sharpening, but the number one thing you can do to decrease the frequency and effort is to keep them from getting banged up in storage. It’s much easier to just do an occasional touch-up than to have to grind off enough material to take out a chip. So your first step should be finding a good rack or tool roll. Then work on sharpening. I usually just tape some sheets of sand paper to my table saw.

As for new chisels, I’ll add to the Narex chorus. Their steel seems to have a good balance between edge holding and ease of sharpening, and I find the elliptical handles comfortable.

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