More on Narex mortising chisels

I don’t know what Narex means in Czech, but in my hands it means tangible, solid quality and good value. In response to those who asked about a heavier mortising chisel form the USA I looked at the Narex brand because I had had such good results from the Narex bevel-edged chisels since we started to use them at the school. I am often concerned about those touting hardness of steel these days when it’s important to look at toughness and durability combined with good edge retaining quality. I don’t think that I have tested these chisels long enough yet but I will use them alongside the Narex bevel-edged chisels when I make the coffee table and the Craftsman style rocking chair in the next two weeks. These are both oak pieces so that will be an ideal testing ground.

As a boy growing in my craft back in the early sixties, all of the tools I bought came unsharpened and had only the primary ground bevel at 25-degrees. I think that it was understood that sharpening was a task for the craftsman not the maker. Edge tools such as planes, spokeshaves and chisels needed to be sharpened to task and that would vary with the work in hand and the individual craftsman using the tools. This stands to reason and so too the fact that sharpening is never a one time practice but repeated many times throughout a given day. That said, our culture tells us that an edge tool should be ready to go at point of purchase and so many tools have something of a cutting edge rather than none at all and it’s this that can create the confusion. As soon as a cutting tool touches the wood sharpness is affected and when we start slicing and chopping with chisels we have taken the first steps towards dullness, so then it’s up to us as to when we resharpen the edges of our tools.

In this case the Narex mortising chisels arrived with a single bevel of 24-degrees which is too shallow for chopping out mortises at the cutting edge but ideal for the main bevel of the chisel. This is where we use a secondary bevel, not the same as micro-bevel, to strengthen the cutting edge and substantially increase the longevity of sharpness to the edge. Depending on the wood, a good secondary bevel should be about 35-degrees. The bevel should be about 3/16″ wide and my preference is to strop the edge also to a mirror finish though this is not essential at all.

I really like the feel of the handle which seems to be the same handle as is on the Narex bevel-edged chisels but turned 90-degrees. The oval handle is ergonomically shaped and therefore gives good control as well as comfort. The flat faces of the chisels were quite flat and soon became ready for chopping with. Once the bevel was refined I was ready to go. For those who are looking for a heftier tool that will not bend or flex, these chisels fit the bill. More later.

21 comments on “More on Narex mortising chisels

  1. Hi Paul,
    I have bean using these for a while now, I use the ones with the longer faceted carver handles. I have found them more than up to the job, edge life was much better after a second sharpening.
    I really look forward to reading these updates, nice work buddy.

    Very Best
    Ken

  2. Hey Paul, my first and only set of chisels are Narex bevel edged and I like them a lot but had problems flattening the back, It took a lot of time and probably rounded the edge on two of them. Did the chisels bought for the school needed much tuning?

    • They did vary from chisel to chisel. We were using EZE Lap diamond plates, 3″ x 8″, which cut quickly and started with the 250 coarse stone and then went to their fine and superfine. From there we used wet and dry to 2000 and then buffed on wood to 15,000. This is a one shot deal and needs doing periodically, perhaps once a year.

  3. I have a full set of Narex chisels: all six mortise chisels, ten bevel edged and four skew and im very happy with the quality and price of the chisels. I have them for over a year and used them in woods ranging from pine to mahogany to greenheart and they worked well and kept a great edge even in the greenheart and purpleheart. All the backs of my chisels were ground very slightly hollow and flattened easily except the 2″ had a very slight crown that took a few extra minutes but it wasnt bad. To flatten and sharpen i use abrasive bonded to glass plates and it worked well. I cant see myself buying a new set of chisels anytime in the future.

    • What did you start with? I have an older set of Marples and am about ready to use LV’s 90x silicon carbide to flatten the 1″. It seems to have a belly and I can’t get one corner near the cutting edge to flat.

      I was using 80 grit sandpaper, switched to medium emery cloth – that was better. But when I started polishing it out through finer grits – no joy. 🙁

      • Miles,
        A couple of things. I generally use plain ol’ wet-n-dry and start with anything between 180-240 grit. A squirt bottle with water keeps the surface from clogging. An important point here, and this can well be your problem, is that, when you push the chisel on the forward stroke, there will be a tendency to hold the chisel with the dominant hand, pushing the chisel on the surface at an angle so that one corner or the other enters the abrasive before the remaining long part of the edge. Thus you can cause a build up of abrasive on the fore corner of the chisel with each successive forward push. This then also tends to be the more aggressive and productive stroke. Because this is the leading edge it becomes more like a bulldozer causing a buildup at that corner point. Any stroke, and there will likely be many, that goes over this rise will receive a mega dose of particulate at that corner and in a matter of seconds you have created your own problem of rounding the corner and even the leading edge of the flat face of the chisel. Try trailing the cutting edge more so rather than pushing the important cutting edge into the particulate you are pulling it. Also, don’t just wet the wet-n-dry, flush it with water so that abrasive and steel particles are flushed more evenly over the surface or even off the surface for that matter and not allowed to build up where the push strokes stop. Remember that the abrasive is very hard and aggressive and doesn’t stop cutting when it surface fractures from the substrate of particulate below.
        Another concern to seriously consider is that the plate you sharpen on is truly guaranteed dead flat and not even slightly undulating and also thick enough or supported enough not to be flexing with the pressure of the stroke. For instance, unless float glass is fully supported, it will flex. Even double sided tape allows a measure of flex in glass. Any of this will cause rounding on the fore corner of the cutting edge. Of course the worst scenario will be if the platen, slab, tile, glass, granite or whatever you use is itself indeed hollow.
        All of the above has not so much to do with the size of the abrasive particulate although large grit particulate will round more. You must take care throughout each level.
        I will post this as a blog to help those who might not see it here too. It was a good question.

        • Paul,

          Thank you for your complete and thoughtful answer.

          Dominant hand may well be the problem – there was certainly a good buildup of abrasive in front of the chisels cutting edge. I’m also left handed and will work more on a straight pull, or slow figure eight with my hand intentionally relaxed. After all, I can do it while driving so I do not unitentionally “go where I’m looking”, why not here?

          Now I’m off to Home Depot for a granite tile – should be more rigid than my piece of 1/4″ glass, and if polished correctly it will be flat.

          I’ll also try wet and dry sandpaper – I’d been using aluminum oxide dry, open coat. W/D will closed and should cut more effectively, and as you observe I can keep it wet.

          I use 3M Spray contact adhesive (used for dry mounting prints, etc.) to fasten the paper to the grinding plate.

          — START ASIDE—
          So why am I doing all this? Well I came across your plate glass/mortise chop YourTube video last Wed – it was a revelation. So I went looking for my chisels and came across the old Marples set. Didn’t touch the 3/8″ – just marked out a mortise in a piece of old spruce and chopped away, going back and forth to the video.

          Cripes! It worked! I’ve tried: boring out the waste and paring the sides, using my non-plunge router (carefully easing it into the wood) and a drill press mortiser (47 yr ago in high school). I’d become resigned to buying a proper mortising chisel, or maybe a plunge router and a complex jig, and now I don’t have to. I mean really, the idea of creating a mortise had me cowed, but no longer.

          They won’t be perfect, but your demo showed it can be done.

          What a revelation, took the block upstairs and showed my wife. She asked for a footstool for Christmas. 🙂 Excellent starting project: Taper the legs for elegance, curve on the underside of the rails, rabbet for the ply panel that will carry the upholstered top, and the tufting, etc. for the top.

          Want another example? About 6 years ago Rob Cosman was doing his “airy shavings” and dovetail demo at the Atlantic Woodworking Show here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Wow – what plane! What a price!

          All I had was my father’s early 1950’s Miller Falls smoother – probably #4 or thereabouts. So I thought a bit – what is a plane? A sharp blade, rigidly supported to control depth of cut, in flat base that provides a reference surface. Move the assembly across the wood and the blade cuts off ( shaves off?) the set amount of wood, according to the projection of the blade.

          I’d never fettled a plane – so took the whole thing apart and cleaned out the “gunge” – it wasn’t bad. Ensured the frog was flat, did the Scary Sharp thing: flattened chip breaker (it was pretty good), flattened and sharpened the iron. No adjustable mouth so I moved the frog up, set the chip breaker to the very edge of the bevel and started off – slowly advancing the iron.
          Yeah – it did whispy shavings. Not a Lie-Nielsen, but a good 95-98% of a Lie-Nielsen. I could almost see through the pores. — END ASIDE—

          Thank you for the encouragement.

          Regards – Miles Thompson

          PS My father, although born in Edmonton, Alberta, grew up in Stockton-on-Tees. /mt

  4. I just came home with 3 new Narex mortice chisels (8112 series) which have tapered round handles, not the oval or squared I would have preferred, but the price was too alluring to pass up.

  5. Paul, After using the Chisels for a while what is your impression? I bought the set from Lee-Valley. They didn’t come with paperwork on the bevel, and assumed it was fine. polished it to 12k grit. Chopped 1 small mortise and the bevel edge was all mangled. I was cutting it in red oak, and it cut ALOT faster than my standard bench chisel. I will re-sharpen the edge with a second bevel at 35deg like you recommend. Also, What do you think about hollow grinds on mortise chisels?

    Thanks!!

    • Remember that when chisels are made the first few millimetres of the cutting bevel will often not represent the steel in the full chisel because the influence of the grinding and so on can affect the chisel. You may want to simply sharpen and use a few times over until you get to the more solid main stem, ‘inner’ steel further along and see then how they hold up.
      I probably would never hollow grind and chisel. Personally I think it unnecessary and disadvantageous. I can see how people have been influenced to do this and it makes me unpopular to go against the thinking but to me it is more a false economic than any saving in energy and effort. I just sharpen and get on with it. I do not like grinding on grinders as it seems, well, a but primitive somehow. It necessitates a machine and a danger I don’t need or like. But that’s just me. Others will tell you it’s the opposite and that’s fine.

  6. Can’t tell you how happy I am, that I read this blog.
    Thanks for the advice Paul, absolutely transformed the use of these chisels.

  7. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for all you do for us handtool newbies! So it’s been quite awhile now, how are the Narex mortise holding up?

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