Every woodworker worth their salt, will tell you why their chisels are the best at the bench.
Each is right too – as a chisel that feels right to one, may feel very wrong to another. Its another tool that you have to have in your hands, before you can commit to it. Like most tools for fine woodworking, these will be with you for some time and as such, you need to be comfortable and confident in your chisel choice.
At Rowden we tend to use and recommend the western style of chisels, the so called “bevel edged chisel”. These are light chisels, often much lighter than those used in Japan and that can be helpful – a light tool is felt to be more responsive. A Japanese chisel is by no means a bad choice – quite the opposite. The difficulty is that for good Japanese steel, which is very hard, the price is generally high and the setup time can be much, much longer than with western style chisels.
We like to be able to see exactly where the chisel is cutting at the corners. The bevel edges down the sides of the chisel give us a sightline down to the action, right on the corner of the chisel. We also like a slender blade that contributes to the lightness and a wooden handle.
Most European chisels are not intended to be struck with a hammer but with a small wooden mallet or nylon headed small hammer. The blade also needs to be dead flat on the back. Generally, this is not the condition out of the box and as such, chisels need some work to bring them to a state of being usable in a cabinetmaking workshop.
In recent years, the most prevalent chisels at Rowden have been Ashley Iles Bench Chisels. Lie Nielsen also make a great set of bench chisels, but these are a little bulkier and quite a bit more expensive. Ashley Iles is a British brand, started in Sheffield by Ashley in 1948. Today its run by his sons Tony and Barry and their bench chisels are the best balance of quality and affordability. The steel is great, holds an edge very well and the tool is extremely comfortable to use.