Dieter Schmid's Fine Tools


A few tips on buying chisels

A good chisel can only show how good it is if it is used for the purpose it was intended for. The building site is the wrong place for an expensive chisel, for there the wood there will be spattered with concrete and the danger of theft will be high. It is delicate work should be done with fine tools, in the workshop.

The finest work can only be achieved if the chisel is sharp. One should never use dry grinding wheels on fine chisels, because they cause the steel to soften and the cutting edge will last hardly any time at all. And, beware of the marketing from manufacturers who practically promote their chisels with the slogan, "Sharpened and ready for use – just unpack and start carving!" Always sharpen and hone your new chisels first. You need to flatten the back of the chisel to absolute flatness; if you don’t, you cannot expect to finish it properly after sharpening the cutting edge. Then sharpen the bevel, and finally hone both the bevel and the flat face. Do not be afraid of using a sharpening guide. There is nothing more frustrating than re-sharpening or re-grinding a bevel because you were simply holding the chisel in your hand while working it on the stone.

Perhaps you have heard a story like this- someone found Grandfather’s ancient chisel in a corner of the attic. It still worked, after being sharpened up brilliantly to an edge that lasted for ages, and became the tool of preference for every job. Stories like this are actually true, and not some miracle, because of the properties of carbon steel. Carbon steel is excellent to sharpen and has high hardness. In the 19th century, virtually every cutting tool was made of carbon steel, the name given to steel unalloyed with any other substance. It is allowed to contain up to 1.7 % carbon. However, it has some disadvantages - it is brittle, can be denatured if heated, and it is not stainless.

Many of today's manufacturers avoid these disadvantages by using steel alloys. Adding chromium and nickel makes the steel stainless, adding tungsten and molybdenum makes it resistant to heat, and adding titanium toughens it. Foundries will mix the additives to obtain the best combination for their product.

However, these advantages in turn bring their own disadvantages. Stainless steel tools are less easy to sharpen, readily clog grindstones, and the cutting edge dull more quickly.

As the disadvantages of carbon steel used in handheld cutting tools are more than outweighed by its advantages, we declare a preference in the case of chisels made of high-carbon steel over those made of alloyed steels.

Japanese chisels are made of plain high-carbon steel. Two Cherries and MHG chisels are made of alloyed steel.

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