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

P1050703I bought these mortise chisels on ebay for £6 each. Hard to imagine, but they are all Marples, virtually unused if used at all, and all top of the Marples-of-old mortising chisel line. Three of them are 5/8” and the other four  1/2”. Unbelievably good value and all with brass ferrules, leather washers, trapezoidal blades and boxwood handles. I want students to experience these and the heavier mortise chisels to assess for themselves how these chisels work. The main advantage of heavyweight chisels is mostly when you dig out deep mortises deeper than say 1 1/2″ or so. The need for deep leverage and enough steel mass to hold up to pressure becomes more important the deeper you go.


Working on the woodworking masterclasses videos build this last week we had sixteen 1/2” mortise holes to chop, four are small but the others are quite large at 4” and 6” long by 1 1/2 deep. You can see my 1/2” bevel-edged chisel alongside the seven I bought for size comparison but there’s more. I chopped some mortises with the larger 1/2” Marples and some with the 1/2” Marples bevel edged one. I chopped some with my Thor 712 38mm driving the chisels and then some using my mallet, which is half as heavy again as my trusted Thor.DSC_0504 Have you noticed now how many people are using the Thor hammers for woodworking these days since my blog began? Here is what happened.


The mortise chisel took 17  chisel hammer blows to deliver the depth. The next cut adjacent to the one just made with the large mortise chisel was done with the 1/2” bevel-edged chisel and that took just 6 chisel hammer blows to go down to the 1 1/2″. The bevel-edged chisel was indeed far more effective, efficient and much easier throughout. Just worth considering. No one else will tell you these things.


Much of this of course has to do with Newtons law of equal and opposite forces. Briefly, and from a novice, Newton’s Third Law talks about action and reaction, which basically means that for ever action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Oh! And you might want to watch this video we did on YouTube to show the patterns we use.


  1. Joe Eberle on 20 April 2015 at 10:38 pm

    I am not surprised by your results. My belief is that the friction along the sides of the mortising chisels is the culprit. I have both and prefer the bevelled.

    • Paul Sellers on 20 April 2015 at 10:46 pm

      I guess you mean bevelled, Joe?

      • Joe Eberle on 20 April 2015 at 10:52 pm

        Yes Sir
        Fat fingers on my part

  2. Case Gallagher on 20 April 2015 at 11:07 pm

    I did watch the video you made on mortise vs. bevel edge chisels some while back and found it to be quite enlightening.
    I’d been hearing, over the years, that most mortises could (and were, are and will be…) cut with bevel edge chisels. An often repeated addendum noting the preponderance of bevel edge chisels vs. a derth of mortise chisels on the open market.
    Since I’m on a budget (and cheap by nature,) I’ve acquired almost all my hand tools at tag sales and secondhand shops, avoiding the ‘collectable’ and focusing on good usable tools that were true in the right places, or that could be made true -your video on straightening saws was a delight and confidence builder, in that the techniques were similar to what I’d been doing with saws, and so ended up with a number of paring and firmer chisels, a bunch of bevel edge chisels from an US maker that used the sweetest steel in all the tools they made (not Stanley,) and armed myself with a number of Hayward’s excellent texts.
    Enter the internet and the ubiquitous You-Tube, videos on how to use hand tools and that was me nodding sagely and thinking (and utterly discarding, all the advise from actual woodworkers and carpenters over the years,) that I’d need to invest in mortise chisels to do anything in the way of mortises by hand.
    I found a firmer chisel cut mortises fairly well, but seemed lacking -a bit rough, time intensive and generally indifferent. Having watched your video, I grabbed a bevel edge and had at a piece of wood. I found you were entirely correct in all particulars. Kudos and Thank You.
    Most of my problems (at the time I was making a bunch of mallet heads -the irony… I’ve switched to one of those plastic mallets as well…) were based not on the tool itself, but with my inexperience in sharpening, holding, adjusting and just plain using a chisel.
    Your no-nonsense approach to the craft, and your attention to details in your videos -in particular the few things you do not directly mention which become apparent after a try or two at the bench and a replay of the video, are a boon and a genuine help to the novice.
    While, I’m sure some mortise chisels will at some point be quite useful (when affordable,) it is really nice to feel able to tackle many jobs with just what’s at hand -the essence of true craftsmanship. Note that I am not referring to cobbing, or slapdash work in this context.
    Thank you for your time and effort, they are both appreciated.
    All the Best,

    • Paul Fowler on 27 April 2015 at 8:05 pm


      You should have your own blog! I find l find I take more naps wit the longer blogs, they put me right to sleep, LOL

  3. Richard on 25 November 2016 at 11:29 am

    I have noticed that when I cut small mortices ( 3/16 or 1/4 ) that it is easier with the mortice chisel to keep perfectly aligned with my gauge lines and also to chop accurately straight down, I tend to find the bevel edge chisel is more prone to twisting although that may be just my skill level !

    I have both now ( got the mortice chisel for a few euro ) and intend to use them alternately to discover which works best for me.

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