Buying good tools cheap – Starter Chisels UK

There was a time when imported tools were both cheap to buy and cheap in quality, which of course isn’t cheap but false economy. In the sixties we in the UK were flooded with low grade products from the the German Democratic Republic, Japan, India, China’s Hong Kong and others. Those days are long gone and on every continent there are productive enterprises capably producing fine products.

About five years ago I bought a set of chisels made for and distributed by Faithfull UK. They were cheap, very cheap. I wanted user chisels and so I bought all the sizes. Back then they looked like Record Marples Bluechips in every way except the blue. The blue was a different colour – moving toward green and not blue. I have used those chisels on and off for about six years. No one expects a £2.99 to £3.59 chisel to hold up and certainly  plastic handles are still seen as lesser quality than wood. Well, that’s true in some ways but not true when it comes to the amount of work it takes to use plastic instead for wood. Not really, anymore, anyway.

I wanted to really test the chisels in a different sphere beyond my own use. When 22 chisels arrived I introduced them to the workbenches in the school. I wanted dead-on 1/4” and 3/8” chisels for the two projects we just made in pine and oak and of course the next project, which is the oak Craftsman-style rocking chair in which we would be chopping 44 mortise holes and that using the 3/8″ chisels. We used Faithful blue chisels and the new colour is identical to the Marples blue of old. The chisel could be mistaken for a Marples bluechip in just about every way including the white line plastic trim between the handle and the chisel bolster. The chisels needed very little work and feel well-balanced in the hand. They took and retained a keen edge that lasted for many mortises and of course they were as shown, my favoured bevelled-edge chisels.

As to plastic handles

I have no problem with plastic handles in general and I think that Marples came up with the best shape of all for a plastic handle and having used Marples since about the mid sixties. I actually like plastic handles and I am used to them in my working of chisels. I do have a problem with what Bahco, Irwin Marples and others when they seemed to think that we woodworkers needed metal end caps so we could beat harder on the chisels and rubberized ergonomic grip inserts that peel off after a while so we can muscle them to the task of working wood. They create fashion not quality. The Faithful chisels are more than adequate for any woodworker and so for less than about £16 you can have a good set of starter chisels that will last a lifetime and may in fact never need replacing.

I like wood too

That said, I really do like wooden handles and quality wooden handles at that so I have a wonderful set of old Marples boxwood handled chisels, Robert Sorby chisels with the hexagonal London pattern handles and some made by Crown with Rosewood handles. You know that we used Narex chisels in the USA New Legacy School and Aldi chisels here in the UK. The Aldi chisels have proven to be excellent chisels and they were the very cheapest at £7.99 for a set of four and including a useless oilstone. They recently downgraded to a three-chisel set instead of four and dropped the oilstone so once again we see the ‘con’ glomerates deciding once more what’s best for us.

Yes they are made in China, but in this case that’s not hidden behind an old Sheffield user name. Google a supplier online for a dealer. I am sorry, I don’t think that they are available in the USA.

37 Comments

  1. G S Haydon & Son Ltd on 26 February 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Hi Paul

    I took a gamble and bought a set of six faithfull blue handles for about £35.00 a couple of months ago thinking they would be good for less fine work. However as you point out they hold a great edge and feel OK in the hand. So much so I am delaying the purchase of a “better” set of chisels until I feel I really need them. The only down side I found when compared to the old marples blue chip was a seam on the plastic handles that felt a little uncomfortable. I guess this will wear with use or I could spend a little time and tidy up. I did take a look at their smoothing plane the other day, unlike the chisels it is horrible and should be avoided
    Really like your sharpening videos on youtube as well. A refreshing and simple way to look at sharpening.

    • Paul Sellers on 27 February 2013 at 12:14 pm

      Faithful chisels are really good chisels. Nothing cheap about their product except their price.

      • benedykt on 19 December 2014 at 8:12 pm

        Hi paul
        I am trying to decide if I should buy faithfull or aldi chisels for a starter set. I am more worried about steel quality and shape of the bevels than looks. Which set whould you use for day to day woodworking based purely on performance?

        Reagards
        Benedykt

        Love your blog its an amazing tool for people who are just learning woodworking (and others)

        • Paul Sellers on 19 December 2014 at 9:27 pm

          Aldi first choice for me. That’s my advice.

  2. J_SAMa on 28 April 2013 at 10:57 am

    Hi Mr. Sellers,
    What kind of edges do the Faithfull chisels have? Are they bevel firmers with thick, square shoulders, or are they real bevel-edged chisels with very thin or no shoulders?
    Like in the attached picture, are the Faithfull chisels more similar to the “standard” or “premium”?
    Sam

    • Paul Sellers on 28 April 2013 at 2:48 pm

      They are bevel-edged chisels. Mid-way between thicker and thin, but their edge retention is excellent and they are very nice to use. If there is a fault it is that the tops of the handes go to a more pointed end of the egg shape rather than the shallower end of the egg shape, so I reshaped it by cutting some off the end and filing to a more suitable shape.

  3. George Micklus on 6 November 2013 at 3:16 am

    I have thinking about the narex chisel what do you think of them. Also is there a NY schedule for 2014

    • Paul Sellers on 6 November 2013 at 8:09 am

      Did a couple of blogs on these chisels. Highly recommend them. Lifetime tools with no problems around edge retention and durable cutting edges. I love em.

  4. Mike Baker on 21 February 2014 at 7:27 am

    If I may, what are the red handed chisels you used in the “Dovetail Caddy” video on Youtube? Their shape, especially at the bevel edges(much thinner there than average) look like it makes them a great choice for dovetail work. Are they avaiable in the U.S.?

  5. Craig on 1 March 2014 at 9:50 am

    Hi Paul,
    I would like to know what do you think to Faithful planes?, I have one, a no.4 and tuned up right I think its as good as some of the “brand” names.

  6. Alexander on 7 June 2014 at 2:03 am

    I am thinking of buying a set of Bahco 434, Stanley 16-401 Bailey Chisel or a Narex chisel set. Which one do you think would do best as starter chisels that I could keep using for a while? Lesser known brands such as Aldi are very difficult to get in New Zealand. I would really appreciate any help or suggestions

    • Paul Sellers on 7 June 2014 at 8:44 am

      I have found the Bahco and Stanleys overly thick and heavy. They would be good for joinery and construction type carpentry. In finer work like furniture making, musical instrument making and so on they are less suitable. The Narex chisels work well. We have them at the school in New York and they have worked well. Go for the Narex.

      • Alexander on 7 June 2014 at 11:08 am

        Thanks heaps for your help

  7. MIke on 17 June 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I’m looking at some record chisels have you heard of them? If so and they worth buying.

    • Paul Sellers on 17 June 2014 at 10:13 pm

      If you are in the UK and you are looking for secondhand record chisels they will be good chisels. Newer models are made in China not the UK and so you might as well buy some made still in china but for half the Irwin Marples type but the same quality. Here’s an ebay set for £35 plus £4 shipping . These have so far been excellent chisels as starter or long term set.

      • MIke on 17 June 2014 at 11:55 pm

        Thanks a lot Paul your advice really helped

  8. Andrew Frudd on 11 August 2014 at 10:36 am

    Hi Paul

    I have watched a few of your videos recently and you are obviously someone in the know when it comes to woodworking and woodworking tools. This thread came uo when I was trying to find some reviews on the faithfull carving chisels. I have been dabbling in wood carving since I was given a very cheap set of chisels at christmas. I have got about as far as I can with them and so I was considering the faithful tools. Have you any experience of their carving range?

    • Paul Sellers on 11 August 2014 at 5:10 pm

      I cannot say they are the best but as for a starter I think that they will work for you and you will make progress. With a grinder you can redefine them as you learn to work the shapes to the bevels you want to effect different cuts.

      • Andrew Frudd on 12 August 2014 at 9:19 am

        Thanks for your reply, I might just give them a go!

      • Andrew Frudd on 27 August 2014 at 3:35 pm

        Update; I bought the 1″ gouge, 1/2″ curved gouge and the 3/8″ spoon gouge. The description said they would need a final sharpen so I was expecting that. What I was not expecting was quite how coarsly ground they were. It took a long time to get a polished finish on the bevels, unfortunately I have not been able to get a good finish on the inside of the canal so the edge is still a bit ropey. The spoon gouge has a good narrow bevel and cuts well now sharp, I can do spoon bowls by hand and it flys through the oak bowl I am making with the help of a mallet. The other two are currently useless. The beve, angle on the straight gouge is over 40 degrees, the curved gouge is a bit less but not by much. Next project is to borrow a bench grinder and try to change the angles I think!

  9. Dan Adams on 30 January 2015 at 7:45 pm

    Hi Paul, I do a lot of maintenance work and have recently started to hang doors quite regularly. I have been using a set of DIY chisels for years but have decided to upgrade. I was going to buy the Irwin Marples M373 8 chisel set until reading through this blog and your comment about being mad in China. I’m also looking at the Bahco 424P-S6 Bevel Edge Chisel Set which is a bit cheaper. Its site work not workshop, what would be your preference for this type of work?

    • Paul Sellers on 30 January 2015 at 8:08 pm

      I have no problems with goods made in China at all. My concern is the politics and economics that people play where domestic markets are compromised by politicians, economists and corporate businesses that hide behind the names established by hard working people in the past that had integrity. In this case Irwin is not a British Company with a history in Sheffield but a company that bought a British company and sold off the jobs and the tooling and then used the ancient name to cloak its distorted perspectives on the value of people.

      • Eagsy on 3 May 2016 at 11:19 pm

        There are two versions of Marples M373 chisels. The newer ones are marked as “Irwin Marples” on the blade and made in china. Not sure where the steel comes from. The original Marples chisels have “Marples Made in England” clearing marked on the blade. These are still available but are becoming more rare.

        • Paul Sellers on 4 May 2016 at 1:15 am

          I think my answer was regarding a question on Stanley’s not Marples or Irwin.

  10. EricStanley on 8 February 2015 at 7:43 am

    In this same vein of discussion: I am very new to wood working and have only done very simple projects. I bought the eight peice set of carbon steel chisels from harbor freight and I don’t know if they are a production fluke, but mine hold their edge quite nicely. The wood handles are something rubbish, but I just threw on a new oak handle for my 1 inch and I think it is going to last me for years.

  11. Todd on 5 February 2017 at 3:14 am

    Hi Paul, I just came across this thread and hopefully you’ll see this and reply asap. I’m from Canada and things here are ridiculously priced compared to other countries. A friend is going to London within the next several days for a week or so on biz and I thought it might be a good opportunity to have him pick me up a decent set of chisels. He could buy them there and have them delivered to his hotel.

    It would be great if you could recommend a decent set of a handful of quality chisels that would be a good starter set. I’m not a beginner but no pro, and want a versatile set of bench chisels to carve with, do joinery, etc. They don’t have to be the best of the best, but I would like something of high quality that I’ll be happy with for many years and never regret purchasing. I’ll grow my collection over time. Thanks!

  12. Jan on 21 February 2017 at 6:23 pm

    As a Czech rep. citizen, It is nice to hear about Narex being valued so nicely. So I would add one more tip – If you see Rychter Extra, do not hesitate and buy. This is kind of “Marples Made in England” equivalent for us in Czech rep. Best ever made, here.

  13. Mattes on 22 February 2017 at 3:37 am

    I have just come across MHG, a firm that locates where that “downgrade” gdr-stuff was made, in schmalkalden. Known for the extinct brand “smalcalda”. they currently outsell plastic handled chisels: 4,50 – 6,- euroni pp. having mentioned gdr-tools – were they useful? I see them drifting in the bay at times… while the worldwide market was flooded with products, inside the gdr it was a hard struggle to get hands on any useable tools, thats funny.

  14. kenny moore on 28 June 2017 at 1:45 pm

    hi paul thanks for sharing your knowledge, your a true genius when it comes to wood work,i have seen and i am tempted to buy a set of 4 marple/record chisels which whilst looking close on the pic,s they seem genuine they are yellow and red split proof handles with the record on the bottom of the pack and marples at the top ,is there such a make as in record and marple making chisels. your answer will be much appreciated. as i have never heard of marple/record chisels, they are still in there slips/packing. have you heard of these before

  15. Brian on 24 August 2017 at 9:58 am

    Hi Paul.

    Love your videos. Following up on a question asked earlier, what brand are the red chisels in your sandpaper caddy video series?

    Thank you

  16. Daniel on 21 November 2017 at 5:41 pm

    I bought plastic handle tools (chiesels and others) and they all stink after a number of years. All of them. My tool box smells bad even if I wash them. So, not thanks for the plastic handles.

    • Paul Sellers on 21 November 2017 at 6:19 pm

      I’ve used plastic handled chisels for over 50 years and they have never smelled at all let alone stank, so I am not sure what the problem with yours has been but no one should be put of buying plastic handled tools if it’s what they like or can afford.

  17. Mary on 6 June 2018 at 3:00 pm

    “In the sixties we in the UK were flooded with low grade products from the the German Democratic Republic, Japan, India, China’s Hong Kong and others.”

    Please note that it was British Hong Kong, or simply Hong Kong, in the sixties.

  18. George McQueen on 7 July 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Since this topic was started, Ebay does have the Faithfull Chisels for purchase in the US, and they are marked from the United Kingdom. The price ranges considerable with shipping costs varied also, but the average seems to be about $12-$15 for each Chisel and shipping is around $5 for each with Sterling at 1.33 to the dollar, so that makes a set of 4 around 50 pound Sterling or so compared to our price of around $68-70 for the set of 4.
    A six piece set of Irwin is about $55 on Ebay with this description…..Long blade and slim, contoured polypropylene handle provides increased leverage for added control, precision, and comfort. High carbon solid-forged hardened steel blade for superior performance and maximum edge retention. These wood chisels are designed for use with a wooden mallet or the palm of the hand. IRWIN Tools Marples chisels have been the industry leader for woodworkers for nearly 200 years. IRWIN Tools Marples Woodworking Chisels, 6-Piece Set, Boxed (M444SB6N)

    Note they reference Marples as the leader for nearly 200 years…..after reading your comments above, they are indeed referencing themselves as the original company….very deceiving.

    What are your thoughts for starter sets here in the US….a set of 4 Irwin (China) is available through Woodcraft stores for about $44 so the set of 6 from Ebay is slightly a better deal. The Faithfull are a bit more expensive, but not by much. I had bought a starter set from Harbor Freight (China), but the metal is so soft that Knots bend the metal edge badly…junk. I would rather pay and have better metal and longevity…..I am 65 Years old and retired and love working with wood as a hobby, but thus far I am like most using primarily electric saws etc. Love your youtube channel and have just ordered the recommended diamond sharpening stones, and I picked up a couple of old Stanley planes at a flea market…#4 and 5 which I plan to restore after watching your video on how to do it. Many thanks to you….am looking forward to learning from your channel and this site.

    • George on 7 July 2018 at 3:40 pm

      Well, perhaps I found the set to serve me….available from Amazon NAREX Chisels
      Price: $78.99 Free Shipping for Prime Members
      6 piece set comes on a wooden presentation box
      Blades are made from fine-grained, nicely tempered chrome-manganese steel and hardened to Rc 59
      Contains the following sizes: 6, 10, 12, 16, 20 and 26 mm
      Bevel ground at a 25 degree bevel.
      Handles are made from stained European Beech

  19. Andy on 6 May 2019 at 6:04 pm

    Hi Paul, I finally managed to get a set of Lidl chisels off ebay as they are no longer sold with wood handles in the UK. They are very good, the 24mm and 18mm are fine but the 12mm and 8mm are very thick closer to a mortise/firmer chisel, the ones I have seen you using are very thin so the question is have you worked yours to make them thinner or have I just been unlucky.

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