In the past this would be an easy question to answer. Stanley, Record, Marples, Ward and a dozen more. Not so today. Most of them are not made in the UK and those that are may not wear or fare as well as the imported counterparts anyway.
This question came up twice in the same day. “Should I buy Veritas or Lie Nielsen?” One of the questioners said. “I can’t afford to spend much,” said the other, and offered three types offered by B&Q, ScrewFix and Wilkes. Pretty much all of the cheap offerings will be Asian products and at one time I would have said the steel or the plastic or the wood would be inferior and would not take a good edge and if it did it would not keep it for long. I can’t any that any more and probably any chisel will do all of the above. Buying lower cost chisels will bring it down to the refinements or lack of them usually. If you need a starter chisel you can make the low cost ones work and they are good to practice on and with anyway.
I have used four chisel sizes made for the Aldi food chain for over five years and found them to work as well as the best I own. They cost £8 per set of four. Where they are made I am not certain. They have German details on them but not where they are made. The problem is that they are only offered in the UK and Europe about twice a year. I usually buy a few sets for friends and students to take away when they come to the workshop. If you want to refine them they will take it. Replace the ferrule, reshape the ash handles and you have a very nice chisel for an hours work and eight quid. In the US and the UK a mid range chisels that have proven well for me are the Narex bevel edged chisels.
So, what about the two North American makers?
Both companies have eh easily invested in their own versions of what existed before. Socketed chisels from Lie Nielsen and tanged chisels from Veritas. Both are very nicely made and carry the usual guarantees all chisels carry, even the cheaper ones. Customer service counts if you have a problem and both have a good standard of protocol in this area. The cost factor doesn’t mean you gain much more than with cheaper models but it does mean better refinement to the point that you will have no work to do when they arrive. They will arrive dead flat and sharp enough to start out with. Sharpening of course is something all chisels need throughout their lives so that then puts the cheaper chisels on a par with the best.
There is a compromise. As far as looks go both companies produce good looking tools and as far as functionality goes they are pretty much at a parallel level. One company copies the old designs while the other pursues the innovative new. There will always be a price to pay for good engineering and both have always striven for the best.
These are my favourites and no modern maker matches these so eBay and secondhand suppliers work best
Secondhand chisels are readily available here in the UK and the US but shipping costs outside of either country comes at a premium. That said, it is hard to beat a good old Marples or a Ward. If you don’t kind a non-set set you can buy individual ones and make a set for under £50 that will last you a lifetime no mater how old you are or how much you use them. That would always be my recommendation anyway.