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I looked at some of my chisels this week and thought that despite today’s advanced industrial technologies and engineering, many modern makers seem unable to match the simplicity and qualities that give me what Sorby, Ward and old Marples chisels gave the craft a century and more ago. Why that’s the case I am not altogether sure. I am often told of better steel alloys to give better edge retention and edge establishment but have yet to find a match for these old ones either in taking an edge or holding it, but perhaps that is just me. Actually, my Aldi chisels have still proven about the best in the modern day range when it comes to taking and keeping a good edge. The process of making new chisels like these takes only a matter of minutes and very minimal skill. On the other hand, this chisel took care and skill that is proven through a century of use at the bench. Even so though, handles in boxwood take seconds to turn even by eye and hand and of course making brass ferrules about the same. I once watched a man make a 1″ auger bit in under three minutes too. The speed, dexterity and skilfulness seemed wholly impossible but there he was, a man working by eye replicating one after another for hours on end whilst the whole time talking to people around him about everyday topics affecting their lives. I looked at my chisels and saw how well I was provided for by the men that made them. Each one has its difference and in that difference a loveliness of individuality, strength and quality about it.
The chisel set alone above is a chisel I use and like that stops me every day to ask why the modern maker seems awkward in matching such levels of fineness. By fine I mean unfancy, without machine marks; and I conclude that at some point they become somehow just rigidly mechanical––soullessly replications. My chisel has no maker’s name and likely never had. The stamp just says warranted cast steel. I have others like that that I do like well enough but this one I found some years back and almost passed it by. I of course know that manufacturing processes have changed and that more technical methods of engineering replaced the hand eye coordination skilled chisel making work once demanded of smiths and such. Even though I might recommend one more modern chisel over another I do lament the loss of seeing skilled work when I see chisels come from manufacturers with identical grinder marks that speak of being mass made. There is something about this chisel that goes beyond the pale for me. The older Marples and Sorbys do the same and so too Wards and others. Truth is the old chisels have aesthetics often sadly lacking in the ones available today. This one, and others I have picked up, are superb chisels to work with. The handles never turn loose, rarely split if used as intended and that edge retaining quality, well, what can I say?
With a little abrading work I can make this chisel suit me more, but it will always be a product less cared about than those of days now long past. Oh, I know, the chisel will work just fine. Of that there is little doubt, but it is how it feels in my hand that I really care about. Will that sense of sensing be gone when people like me pass from this world? Will it really matter if a new generation thinks it has bettered through the industrial evolutionary processes? Or will someone pick up a chisel from the guttered cellar and marvel at the simple words, WARRANTED CAST STEEL and the feel of the steel and the brass and and the boxwood handle and go “WOW!”