Best chisel set for the money

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Forum topic by BerBer5985 posted 11-04-2011 05:48 PM 41023 views 0 times favorited 79 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View BerBer5985's profile


445 posts in 3881 days

11-04-2011 05:48 PM

I’ve been using a set of craftsman chisels we got on sale for about $20 for the set and they are very thick and difficult to get into the corners of dovetails and whatnot. I want to buy a good set, but I don’t want to spend $150 for a set. I’ve seen the new stanley baileys which look nice, I’ve heard good things about the marples blue chips, and then I’ve heard good things about the Narex set. I’ve been leaning towards the Narex set. There also is a set of Stanley Fat Max at lowes made in Sheffield, England that look decent for the price, but I want a good set of wood chisels. Anything has to be better than my craftsman set mixed in harbor freight chisels which I have to sharpen everytime I use them. Any other good recommendations under $75 for a set?

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

79 replies so far

View DS's profile


4110 posts in 3881 days

#1 posted 11-04-2011 06:06 PM

If you find one let me know.

The “best” chisels cost between $25 and $30 per blade, not per set.
They cost this much, not because they are “designer” but because they have proprietary alloys of steel that often are available only in specific regions of the world. They also are treated to harden the cutting edge, yet not make the tool brittle and inflexible. This is done by hand by a craftsman who understands how to put a good edge on steel. The edge is polished sharp, not just ground sharp.

Although there are many high quality sets, my personal preference is Pfiel Swiss Made chisels. I usually add to my set when I do a job that requires one I don’t have. I could never afford to buy an entire set at once.

By contrast, in China, they’ve taken to welding manhole covers in the streets because they’re constantly being stolen to make cheap tools to sell in America—not the best steel for this application.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

7481 posts in 3954 days

#2 posted 11-04-2011 06:07 PM

I have the Marples set (pre-Irwin) thinking I would upgrade to a premium set later on. But they have turned out to be so good I passed on a very good deal for a set of Hirsch chisels a few months back. The Marples do everything needed, and cost quite a bit less. I’ve read opinions that they are just as good with the Irwin name, but I have no experience with them

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View BerBer5985's profile


445 posts in 3881 days

#3 posted 11-04-2011 06:12 PM

Do you think it’s better to get started with a high quality few chisels instead of 6. Like maybe 1/4”, 1/2”, 3/4” or something like that? I feel like chisels are one tool worth spending a little on but I don’t want spend a small fortune when I could get by spending less than $100 for a starter set and moving up to some of the handmade sets. I managed to do ok with my cheap craftsman set so I’m sure a $75-$100 set would be a vast improvement.

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 4634 days

#4 posted 11-04-2011 06:12 PM

I have nothing to compare them to, but … after I did a nice back-flattening and hone … I’ve been totally happy with my 10pc Narex set.

Happy Hunting !

-- -- Neil

View drfunk's profile


223 posts in 4137 days

#5 posted 11-04-2011 06:13 PM

I picked these up because they were on sale (and still are): (

I have little to complain about. They required only minimal honing out of the box, sharpened well, and hold a good edge. I’ve used them for large scale dados and small scale dovetails.

I also have the Narex set, but have yet to put them into service because I’m dreading how much honing they will require before they will be ready for service.

View Loren's profile (online now)


11506 posts in 5108 days

#6 posted 11-04-2011 06:15 PM

A set of 4 is good enough to get started. For awhile, you could get
sets of New-old-stock Marples chisels on ebay for a song, but they
may be gone now.

I have a bunch of inexpensive ($20-30 each) laminated Japan chisels
and they are really fabulous cutting tools, but they aren’t suited to all
work since they are kind of a butt chisel style. You can get sets
from Grizzly and other suppliers at really attractive prices.

Look on ebay for chisels from Sorby, Footprint, Record, Marples –
all of which tend to be Sheffield-made and good to very good quality
for general cabinet and furniture work.

View Andy Brownell's profile

Andy Brownell

144 posts in 4712 days

#7 posted 11-04-2011 06:58 PM

I’m going to provide a recommendation here that is a little different than some of the other fellas above.
Save your money for a bit longer, and make an investment in something that you’ll never need to upgrade.
Buy a set of the Lie-Nielsen socket chisels.
A set will run you around $300 bucks. They are top grade steel and the finish of the steel and handles are perfectly balanced. Putting off a purchase to upgrade to a better tool that will last a lifetime is worth it. I can vouche for these in particular. If you are even close to considering becomming serious about woodworking, good tools make a huge difference in the long run.

I’m sure this will unleash a barrage of nay-sayers who have used $20 chisels for their whole life. But I thought it would be worth sharing a different perspective. Christopher Schwarz from Popular Woodworking (Lost-Art Press) would likely agree with me.

-- Andy Brownell

View Bertha's profile


13635 posts in 4153 days

#8 posted 11-04-2011 07:03 PM

I go Irwin blue handles all the way up to rare vintage Butchers. I have a chisel problem, admittedly. I say use the blue chips or Narex until you have a reason to go high end. You may never have to but if you do, the transition will be very sweet indeed.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Brian S's profile

Brian S

108 posts in 4054 days

#9 posted 11-04-2011 07:04 PM

I’ve got some of the Narex chisels, which I really appreciate. They get a lot of positive reviews, and are relatively inexpensive. Actually, the price on these is climbing all the time: I got the six piece set for about $40 only six months ago (if memory serves), and the same set is now over $60.

To be fair, I don’t have a lot of experience with any of the really traditional chisel manufacturers, so I can’t say that the Narex are just as good. But they beat the pants off of the cheapo set I had before, and they hold an edge well. I’m very happy with them.

One thing you might do is try buying a single Narex chisel (a 1/2” chisel is only 7.50), and discovering for yourself if you like them. Worse comes to worst, you’re not out much, and you have at least a decent extra 1/2” chisel kicking about.

Last thing about the Narex: they are metric. So they are not exactly the proper widths for the imperial system. For many people, this is a major problem. I don’t find it to matter at all (I think it would matter more for mortising chisels, but not so much for bench chisels), but I’m not super experienced. Lots has been written about this, so you may wish to read up on it, I just thought that I would bring it to your attention.

-- Brian

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 4115 days

#10 posted 11-04-2011 08:53 PM

One consideration you will have to make is whether you want to use the metric system or the imperial system in your shop (you can use both but it complcates things…especially when you get into joinery planes.). I agree with Brian though the issue is more with your mortising tools than anything else.

I side with the guys who say buy good steel and just a little of it. A full set of chisels is nice and a good value if you have the chunk of change to throw down, but failing that look at the chisels you already own. Which see the most use? Replace those first. Lie Nielsen makes a great tool. they hold an edge well and they are properly balanced.

If I were starting from scratch here is what I would get. 1/4 inch mortice chisel, 1/4, 3/8, 3/4 bevel edge chisels, and I would expand my set from there. The marples are nice, I own and use a set. but every time I grab a LN one of my marples gets relegated to tasks where I might hit a nail. take it from me, do not get a fat max anything…you will hate them when you start dovetailing.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 4431 days

#11 posted 11-04-2011 10:00 PM

+1 on NOT wasting your time on Fat Max.

I have one Two Cherries I got to try out. Nice chisel.
I have a couple of Marples that aren’t bad at all.
I have a 3 pc set of Narex mortise chisels I really like. Outstanding for the money, in my honest opinion.
I have an 8 pc set of Wood River that I wish I had never seen. Cheap chinese junk bought for half price.
I have a 4 pc set of Harbor Freight chisels, as good as Wood River but with plastic handles and shorter. But what can you expect for $1.00 per blade.
Also, a bunch of mixed everything with some old Stanley #60s, a Fat Max (paint can opener), some Fullers (Japanese knock offs of the Stanleys made back in the 70’s and a Buck Brothers).

I, also, have a chisel problem, obviously. But, of all those chisels, I like my Narex the best. They take an edge well, and they hold it. They look decent and I just like them the best. If I could afford Lie Neilsons or Ashley Iles I don’t see how they could work any better than the Narex, but they are prettier. I keep the Marples in my tool bag for road jobs.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5368 posts in 5421 days

#12 posted 11-04-2011 10:27 PM

I’m kinda like ( in choices ) Bertha. I have found some very nice W. Butcher chisels over the years. Got ‘em for a song. I also found some very nice old Stanley socket chisels.
I’m an avid flea market hog, so I’ve made most of my scores there.
All that to say that I’ve bought just what I’ve needed rather than sets. Figure out what ya wanna do. The old stuff has some sweet steel.

-- [email protected]

View Bertha's profile


13635 posts in 4153 days

#13 posted 11-04-2011 10:33 PM

^that steel sure is sweet, Bill. I’d have been better off never learning about it;) It sounds like the Narex might be a good launching point. A sharp cheap chisel will get the job done, no doubt about it. Just like an antique handplane, though, there’s just something about those old chisels.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View BerBer5985's profile


445 posts in 3881 days

#14 posted 11-05-2011 02:34 AM

I just can’t imagine that a $300 set of chisels can cut 3 times better than a $70 set. There has to be a point if diminishing return here where spending more money does not equal better cutting and sharper tool. I’m thinking for $300 it better make the dovetails for me or be made of gold. Call me crazy but I’m thinking those narex probably will do as good as a job as the $300 lie Nielsens. So I might go for those.

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

View PurpLev's profile


8654 posts in 5109 days

#15 posted 11-05-2011 02:54 AM

a $300 set of good quality chisels may pay itself back if you use it daily or if you have a taste for fine tools, but for the occasional woodworker a sub $100 set will never NEED to be upgraded as long as it’s a good quality set. I have the Narex mortise chisels and they are a good investment albeit require above average investment in elbow grease to get them ‘ready’ but in the long run – a good quality set for a good price. I also have a german set of bench chisels slightly more expensive but not by much which are great. My point is you don’t have to get a mortgage to get you good quality chisels.

Consider this though – even better bench chisels depending on the bevel on their sides may not give you as much clearance as you may want for dovetail work – for this you may need to invest in dovetail/japanese/beveled edge chisel/s that would get you in tight corners.

do you research per what you NEED and you’ll find something suitable.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

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