Chisel Recommendations for dovetail cutting and some paring

  • Advertise with us

« back to Hand Tools forum

Forum topic by TheWoodenOyster posted 12-10-2014 04:03 PM 3810 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1351 posts in 3274 days

12-10-2014 04:03 PM

Topic tags/keywords: chisel

Hey guys,

I recently started cutting dovetails by hand and started using my chisels for fine work for the first time. I have done some minor paring and mortise chopping, but dovetailing really is a whole different ballgame. I have been using a cheap set of “Faithfull” chisels recommended by Paul Sellers. They seemed fine until yesterday when I took a close look at an edge and realized it was all beat up because I hadn’t sharpened it in a while. I resharpened and went to make a light chopping cut in purpleheart and the tip rolled over like piece of aluminum foil. This could be a result of the purpleheart, but it is still disconcerting, as I assume the tip wouldn’t last well in maple or ash or other domestic hard hardwoods just like it didn’t last through the purpleheart. That said, I need some advice on a few chisels to try out.

I figure right now (Christmas) would be a good time to ask for a few different types of chisels to demo. Then, I could possibly order a full set of my favorite, or even make do with a hodge podge of different high quality chisels that covered a few different sizes (1/4, 1/2, 3/4 would probably serve most of my needs).

These are the factors I am looking for in a chisel:

1. Edge retention needs to be better than aluminum foil
2. Take a keen edge
3. Usable for all dovetail tasks including chopping out waste and paring into corners. (Here I am thinking that thinly ground sides would be good as my regular bevel edge has resulted in bruised edges of tails)
4. Can take a medium beating. I won’t abuse them, but they are tools…
5. I would be willing pay up to $40 or $50 each

Some chisels I have been considering are the Ashley Iles MK2, Ashley Iles roundback dovetail chisel, Koyamaichi Japanese chisel. I currently have 1/2” Stanley 750 and I plan to start testing it more thoroughly to see if I like it. Previously, I had used it mostly for paring.

What are your thoughts?


-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

14 replies so far

View Drew's profile


423 posts in 4439 days

#1 posted 12-10-2014 04:31 PM

I would recommend the Lie Nielson bevel edge chisels. Very good all around chisels. I like to use a 3/4 or 1” – along with a 3/8” to get into the corners. I also like using the 3/8 Sorby, although the edge doesn’t last as long, it gets into the corners well. I find 1/4” chisels get beat up to easy, that’s why I recommend using a 3/8”.


View theoldfart's profile


13011 posts in 3790 days

#2 posted 12-10-2014 04:31 PM

First question I have is what angle did you sharpen to? if it folded over like that I would suspect a much tool steep secondary angle.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1351 posts in 3274 days

#3 posted 12-10-2014 05:20 PM

30 degrees

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View waho6o9's profile


9135 posts in 3916 days

#4 posted 12-10-2014 05:22 PM

Get the Japanese chisels if possible. :)

View JayT's profile


6449 posts in 3550 days

#5 posted 12-10-2014 05:42 PM

For new, I love my Two Cherries.

I’ve also put together a “set” of vintage socket chisels I use for paring only—different brands but all socket style with shop made handles. That allows me to have a slightly different setup and grind on those chisels and it really does make a difference.

If you are only looking for one or two sizes dedicated for dovetailing, you might be able to find some real bargains in vintage. I paid less than $40 for all those and about twice as many again at an auction and then sold off a few that paid for the whole lot. So I basically have a free, pretty complete set from 1/4 up to 2in that just involved the time and labor to clean up, sharpen and make handles. The quality of the vintage chisels is superb, as well.

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

View Andre's profile


5010 posts in 3145 days

#6 posted 12-10-2014 05:47 PM

Get the Japanese chisels if possible. :)

- waho6o9

The Japanese are great but you need to grind some bevels on the narrow ones as required.
I have been using a set of Stanely SWs and an assortment of other small chisels including
a set of L.V. Veritas® Detail Chisels.

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View theoldfart's profile


13011 posts in 3790 days

#7 posted 12-10-2014 06:11 PM

30 degrees, shoots the hell out my theory!

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View TheFridge's profile


10863 posts in 2825 days

#8 posted 12-10-2014 06:43 PM

Sharp ones?

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

View bobro's profile


320 posts in 2649 days

#9 posted 12-10-2014 08:54 PM

Purpleheart is much, much harder than ash or maple.

The techniques for working with extremely hard and tough woods are different from the high-speed techniques which work with classic European furniture woods. It’s just not physically possible that Chinese woodworkers 500 years ago were chiseling intricate joinery in rock-hard tropical woods at anything like the pace Peter Sellers chops walnut or cherry in his woodworking videos, without instantly rendering their chisels as blunt and bent as bananas.

But they worked those woods to the highest standards, with chisels that would be considered soft by today’s standards. The only way this is possible is that they used the chisels differently. I’ve found working very hard woods that there’s a lot more choking up, and a kind of tight sweeping paring, and both long thin shaving as well as what can only be calling chipping away little bits, and just plain non-stop thoughtful attention.

For extremely hard woods, the chisels do NOT need to be sci-fi-sharp. Some Western woodworkers have commented on how the tools of Chinese woodworkers working tropical woods by hand just aren’t that terribly sharp. At least one article mentioning this is on the internet, I’ll link to it if I can find it. Now checking the hair on my arm, I see that I actually keep my chisels pretty much around shaving sharp more so than I had thought, but I’ve never done “scary sharp” in my life, nor ever used a boutique chisel, yet chopped purpleheart, pau ferro, merbau, padouk, wenge.

In fact I would say that extreme sharpness is more required by soft, spongy, crumbly woods than it is by very hard tropical woods.

Some of this is about the specifics of the tools, bevels and so on- recently got a little 60° traditional Chinese plane for very hard woods and endgrains, and it works a charm. I also use a one-dollar chisel, from one of those import stores that carries all kinds of cheap new junk, that I ground to a kind of bullnose bevel, for doing anything crowbar-like, levering out chunks, scraping.

But mostly it’s about technique.

In my opinion, of course.

Still, I think you and anyone else who can afford them should get some swank chisels. :-)

-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

View Aussie's profile


19 posts in 2741 days

#10 posted 12-11-2014 04:21 AM

FWIW I have some Narex bench chisels and found they were a bit soft (or aluminium foil as you put it) until I’d sharpened them a couple of times & they now hold an edge much longer than they did out of the box. I’d suggest you perservere a bit longer before spending money on more chisels …

-- The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made.

View ksSlim's profile


1304 posts in 4229 days

#11 posted 12-11-2014 04:28 AM

Might try using a strop on your blades after you hone them.

Sometimes, there is a fine “wire edge” on the blade. A strop will take off the wire and leave a better edge.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1351 posts in 3274 days

#12 posted 12-11-2014 02:37 PM

Aussie, I am going to keep using them for a little bit to see what happens.

Slim – Interesting that you say that. I sharpened by hand for a long time and stropped afterwards. I thought it worked pretty well. About 3 months ago I was able to visit the lie nielsen shop in Maine, where I talked to deneb puchalski about sharpening. He insisted that a honing guide gives you better results at least for a plane iron. After talking to him, I wanted to give it a test run again as I hadn’t used a honing guide in over a year. So, I sharpened a plane iron on a guide and it worked pretty well. So I decided to give the honing guide a shot with a chisel. That chisel is the one that folded over on me. Kind of makes me wonder if sharpening chisels by hand is superior to a honing guide and gives you a stronger edge. The plane iron is a toss up.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Julian's profile


1676 posts in 4029 days

#13 posted 12-11-2014 04:08 PM

I purchased a set or Marples chisels over 10 years ago. Reasonably priced and they have worked very well for me. I keep them sharp with a 4000 grit water stone and then run them across a MDF board with polishing compound. They hold their edge on oak & maple. In my opinion; good chisels do not have to cost a small fortune. To each his own.

-- Julian

View Farkled's profile


28 posts in 3654 days

#14 posted 12-13-2014 06:28 PM

I bought a set of LV PM-V11 chisels because I could. They are wonderful, but a set of Narex bevel edge chisels will do just as well for chopping dovetails. Once you have completed a number of dovetailed corners you will have a much better idea of what you want in a chisel. Approach from the viewpoint of: What will brand X do that my current chisels will not?

A 30° honing angle is a good all purpose setting, 35° for chopping and 25° for paring.


Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics