Hand Tools Archive

Re: Marples chisels: trying again

david weaver
When the marples chisels are OK (as my parers were), they are fine.

The trouble with them is that they sometimes release chisels or entire sets that are partially or mostly unhardened.

Robert Sorby's more recent offerings are more uniform, but are several points softer than they should be. A member on another forum did some hardness testing of current and some older chisels and found them to be somewhere in the ballpark of 57 hardness, which doesn't sound like much, but there aren't many vintage chisels there.

He speculate that there is an ASTM standard for chisels to be listed as "chisels" from a trade perspective and that 60 hardness is above it.

The first thing I tried the sorby chisels on cherry. They didn't tolerate it. Whether or not mine are also 57, I don't know. I set them aside (i like their proportions). This weekend, I dovetailed a pine drawer for a cabinet (it only had one drawer). They worked great. They probably need a couple of degrees more to hold up better in slightly harder stuff, but they're already just south of 30 degrees.

It depends if things are a little soft or if they went through a defective period.

57 is usable, you could learn to live with it. 60/61 makes for a chisel that holds up well on cherry and works cleanly on pine, too. The marples set that i had must've missed the water (or whatever fluid is spashed on modern chisels that are zooming by on a line after being heated by induction) on the hardening process.

Henry taylor covers a very broad range. more than half of my carving tools are henry taylor, and not new, but not 150 years old. they are fine - harder than the two R. Sorby sets of chisels that I have. They may have also gone through a process change at some point that made they iffy.

The other kind of obnoxious thing about chisels that are just above the mid 50s is that oilstones will hone them even when an oilstone is settled. I mean hone them fast. The R. Sorby chisels will raise a pretty stout wire edge even when you're trying to finish an edge. Their softness returns a second favor by making the larger than expected wire edge much more persistent (but they do hold up well in pine).

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