Hand Tools Archive

Difference for Cabinetmaking
Response To:
Moxon ()

David Weaver
Seeing the older references for cabinetmaking and joinery where the oval bolstered types were labeled in some sales lists as "Best joiner and cabinet mortising chisels" was a little surprising.

There must have been some difference in technique for deep mortises vs. something more typical for cabinets and doors. If not in technique, equipment.

If I had been sold expensive oval bolstered mortise chisels in those days with the gradual primary shown in some older drawings, I would've been pretty unhappy about it. Cutting a mortise on a 2" door stile is difficult, let alone smaller things.

This is just my opinion, but on smaller mortises, neatness rules and early chisel rotation and a predictable smaller cross section (sash mortise, not bevel edge bench chisels) dominates. The cross section is a nice size on sash chisels to register well and not create too much friction, and the chisels rotate well without much depth. One back and forth (if someone starts at one end and always works bevel down) and the mortise is done without issues of getting to depth or working deep.

But once the mortise gets deeper than an inch and a half or two, the oval bolstered chisels work extremely well, and someone somewhere must've determined that a taller cross section works really well for deep rotation (rounded top or not). Riding the full bevel creates a lot of friction when it's that long, and the bevels in some drawings would never hold up in a mortise. It still needs to be relatively neat, but there's so much material removal that quick neatness is probably less important than reducing the friction on the bevel and getting good deep rotation (Which is easier to do with a longer bevel than it is a shorter steeper bevel).

Once mortises get wider than about 3/4ths of an inch, I have no experience, so I'd defer elsewhere, but the oval bolstered chisels seem better for joiners.

I'd bet there are a lot of RAy Iles mortise chisels that are bought and tried and then put aside for smaller mortise chisels. Why would I guess that? I ended up doing that, and then selling those chisels. I have the I sorby chisel set just because I adore them, but the occasion to cut mortises deep enough where they separate themselves from smaller chisels is pretty rare. And I'm not surprised to see sets of a lot of them with some showing the rounded bevel gone or mangled, and others showing factory finish full length, over the edge and only part of the bevel looking like it's ever been steepened - never enough to necessitate addressing the original primary.

© 1998 - 2017 by Ellis Walentine. All rights reserved.
No parts of this web site may be reproduced in any form or by
any means without the written permission of the publisher.