Conical Sockets, Chisels and More

For more information on chisels, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.

Something seems evident to me and that is that when I see all the old chisels made by people like Marples, the handles are always bonded by rust to the sockets and they take real effort to separate them. Something else seems evident to me too. The cone on this Marples is turned to fit straight from the lathe and stops short of bottoming out by 5mm. Notice too that the wooden cone fit so tight before bottoming at the entrance to the cone that it pared back the  wood toward the shoulder of the handle. My suggestion here is that this handle was dried right down to the lowest percentage. When it was first driven on to the steel it could only tighten and swell into its permanent hole. The surface was rough-turned not slick and hard-polished, that’s evident. The gap as I said is the safety margin allowing perfected tightness. Neat, clean, effective.


I hear of Japanese chisels, that they use laminating blacksmithing techniques to fuse two metal hardnesses for strength and durability to the tool. It’s a tradition sustained in a culture passed down and preserved in its doing. DSC_0023Here is a chisel I own that’s laminated, laminated by a Sheffield blacksmith in the steely heart of England’s industrious revolution. Sockets were forged in two ways I know of. Some were formed by opening the red hot steel from a mass using drawing out methods and some were flattened and wrapped and then forge-welded where the two flanges came back together in the wrap. Laminating the hard to the softer but stronger gave the same durable qualities of a top-quality chisel.DSC_0002 Isaac Greaves made this chisel sometime in the early 1800’s. You can see the line of lamination at about 1/8” at the points. A file glances of the steel on the flat face but grips the topside. The wood is immoveable from the socket. The hoop too is inseparable. Rust plays its part in both.DSC_0005

Hammer forged blacksmithed chisels rarely came out to the exact size and so, like most of those I have owned, this one measures 1/32” oversize. Engineers boast in thousandths, few of them can forge a chisel like this one.

I own sets of chisels that are at the upper end of expensive. I wanted to test them out over a longer period than magazines do for reviews. Magazine reviews are paid for, all be it indirectly, by advertisers advertising in the same magazines. Anyway, some sets are dangerous and have safety issues, others have buckled-edge problems and others fracture along the edge when you chop pine with them. Most old chisels have none of these problems and so too, I have found, chisels at the mid to lower end of the market. Imports too have changed from once producing unreliable chisels to more reliable ones. The steel striking buttons on chisels that enable people to strike steel on steel with heavy claw hammers – I’m not sure who these were made for really.

3 thoughts on “Conical Sockets, Chisels and More”

  1. Hi Paul, The steel striking buttons which supposedly are made for heavy claw hammers are unfortunately often promoted to people who do not have your ability and training and are yet in possession of a trade certificate in carpentry (in some sectors of Australia) or who do not appreciate or realise that the working of wood has been around for such a long period of time with the requisite understanding of good quality tools . I do not think it is a simple matter of pointing a finger at a particular culprit, I believe there are a number of reasons. Carpentry for project houses has been dumbed down in a lot of cases by excessive speed requirements, poor pay and a complete disregard for the trade/craft itself in terms of the practicalities of performing a good job. I worked with a younger fellow who complained of breaking chisels on a regular basis! I didn’t get the full details but I have seen many composite handles succumb to excessive blows with a steel hammer and fracture and others bent beyond repair due to their usage as a pry bar. An inability to maintain a decent edge does not assist. Your identification of the advertising spiels used so many times with “new” products with new technology has a lot to blame as well. Quick fix! This will overcome a lack of proper application ! You have spoken of texture and many elements that relate intimately with the actual doing that is immediately associated with working wood. The finer details and nuances which come with a broader appreciation and understanding play an enormous part as well to achieving a higher degree of proficiency. To my mind, the steel button screams smash me! Like a bull in a china shop. Not considered application where required. As one of my manual arts teachers used to say ” now present/introduce the tool to the job” Even the wording has a gentle appeal to it and connotes an element of respect and understanding. Your blog continually fills the void that is left from all the dumbing down, keep it up as long as you can please.

    1. Thanks, Gav, for taking the time to input this. I know we are agreeing on issues, but it also takes time to respond and even those in disagreement are most often really helpful. i think we are really making progress outside of the usual biased channels to present something of change without the big boys having anything to do with it.

  2. Noel Rodrigue

    OK, I’m bringing this back to life!
    I brought back some of these chisels from car boot sales (actually the equivalent in Canada) from the West last summer. Out of four with this type of handle fitting, three have fallen off and kind of go back in, but won’t stay. They look like good steel but the handle has to stick in there to make them work … currently, hum … nope 🙁

    What’s the magic recipe to fix them?

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