How Do Suppliers Do It…

…I mean, how can they get it so wrong?

There I was, prepping a chisel, brand new, straight from the box, about to tell people you won’t go far wrong with a set of Faithfull (UK), blue plastic-handled bevel-edged chisels. I don’t vouch for all of their tools because they tend to be more an economy level provider, but I’ve used at least one set of these for years and the set I have used are as good as many higher end ones. Then I pulled a new set from the package and started getting them ready.

Here I abraded the back to get to the leading edge and it is ready for the main bevel on the opposite face.

Flattening the back went great, ever so slightly hollow, all the better. Flipped over to work the bevel and there I saw the ugliest steepest secondary bevel on a cutting edge you ever saw! It made me wince; sick even! Not one of the chisels would cut butter.

At this point I’m so taken aback. I want to give a good report but can’t. I’m now thinking Kunz #80 cabinet scraper and Two Cherries “Professional Quality” gent’s dovetail saw. Just how do suppliers do such devastating things? I know, it’s a first-world problem here but the issue for me is that it was literally 5 seconds away from being really good with the equipment they have to do it with. One of two things happened here, either the labour making it couldn’t be bothered and there is no quality control or there is no quality control before it goes out. Nothing on the packaging said there was.

The issue is not so much the poor workmanship only, but if a new woodworker or DIYer had sought to resolve a woodworking issue using the chisels they would think that it was them that was the problem, or that hand tools just don’t work because, well, it’s just primitive. I felt so utterly frustrated because I’ve seen these chisels and know they have been good. I mean I know some people don’t like plastic handles, I get that, but I actually do. I like the weight of them and in this case the squared off rounds as an oval.

Then the bevels are nicely done and even. But how can I say go buy them but be prepared to regrind the bevel before you hone because by hand it will take you hours. Worse still, any new woodworker would think it was them and not the maker. When will these distributors that have the vast corner of the European market wake up to the reality that they have a responsibility and that they are ruining the good name of hand tool woodworking and their own hard-earned businesses. It’s such a small thing to get it right. No rocket science involved. I mean these have all the right ingredients to be good chisels.

Above is the result of two chisels, one from the maker as is (Faithfull)  and the other I have honed.  I was surprised I could get the Faithfull to cut, even with a chisel hammer but I did.

40 comments on “How Do Suppliers Do It…

  1. Maybe it’s just that people hear talk about secondary bevels and the supplier think they have to provide them. A set of Faithfull chisels was the first I got and it worked fine.

  2. Mine came exactly as you described, with an ugly torn secondary bevel, it was ground at an extremely high angle, not even close to being perpendicular across.

    The worst thing about this was, I didn’t have a grinding wheel at the time, so I have reground the whole set using nothing more than sandpaper and window cleaner. It took me around half an hour for a chisel.

    Yes, they could have done a better job if they’d simply changed the angle of the secondary bevel, or removed it altogether. It wouldn’t cost them a penny more than it currently does. But I still think that it’s a very nice set for the money they’re asking.

  3. Yes clearly the grinding wheel was in need of dressing, they have the setup to put on the secondary bevel and it only takes a few seconds to dress the wheel. The operator in this case probably doesn’t know what it’s supposed to look like , his main concern would be to get the quantity through in a day.
    One has to ask what was inspection doing ?

    Nevertheless with a bit of effort still worth buying

  4. I have seen consistency issues from many manufacturers over the years – from the “economy” brands to the “top of the line” brands. It can be maddening. You can at least possibly catch a defect or undesirable issue if you buy it in person, but with online purchasing becoming the norm, that is not the issue. Sure, you can return an online product but what confidence does that leave you when ordering again?

  5. Here in the US all the chisels I have purchased, both economy and top quality, were in need of extensive prep before honing. Mill marks are always evident on the flat sides and the bevels. I never shape a chisel on a grinder. That’s just me as many of my woodworking friends always do. I have flat irons milled to within one thou for flatness to which I affix 220 wet sandpaper for the shaping process. I then go through the lesser grit process and finally end up using diamond paste right on the bare steel for honing. It works for me but I always expect to spend considerable time on chisels right out of the box.
    I make guitars and there is a lot of delicate work involved so my tools must be beyond razor sharp.
    Paul mentioned scrapers and I have used cabinet scrapers for years. However, recent development of arthritis in my hands has made using the thin metal scrapers a thing of the past for me. Not long ago a fellow luthier developed a small, 1/8 inch thick scraper made of very hard steel and then tempered to retain sharpness. I bought one even though the cost was prohibitive. I was amazed at how well it worked producing onion skin thin shavings even across the grain. In addition it holds an edge far, far longer than the thin scrapers. Sharpening is a snap as well. I use a very fine stone on my bench grinder. The tool rest is set a precisely 90 degrees and at the center of the grinding surface of the stone. To test I lightly touch the scraper to the stone to insure the stone is cutting equally across the edge of the scraper. When the cut is perfect it’s simply a matter of passing the scraper edge lightly in a smooth motion. That’s it, there is no burr to be turned with a burnisher. When the scraper starts to dull I touch it up by passing the entire edge over thousand grit wet/dry sandpaper. Since the edge of the 1/8 inch thick scraper is slightly hollow ground from edge to edge I can go weeks of heavy use before having to go to the bench grinder to resurface. This type of scraping is similar to the effect of using broken glass to achieve a smooth surface except the cutting edge is super consistent and long lasting. Since getting this little scraper I have made several of my own of different shapes using steel from a pair of heavy scissors and from a couple of high quality chef knives I picked up at a second hand store. Those I have made work very well though loose their edge a little sooner due to not being tempered as is the one I bought from a luthier supply house. I highly recommend this type of scraper. Much easier on the hands and don’t get nearly as hot as cabinet scrapers.

    • I use the sandpaper method as well when I need to reshape chisels or get past nicks in plane blades. I’ll go as far down as 60 grit for big jobs. It works quickly so I’m careful to keep the bevel even to the edge.

      It also saves my poor diamond stones from unnecessary wear and is economical enough that I don’t mind going after any stray tooling marks left in the tool steel.

  6. I had something kind of similar with an Aldi chisel. Just started woodworking, was happy to get it sharp as per Pauls instructions, and when I made my first mortise it was difficult, the chisel would stick and the mortise came out crappy. So did the next one.

    Per chance I found that on face view, the steel was shaped like an parallelogram, so that the steel behind the cutting edge would be wider than the cutting edge itself. And indeed, the feeling of being inadequate at this new hobby is really really disheartening (which relatively easily fixed when working with a properly set tool).

    Paul, I’m glad you put out articles like this to warn aspiring woodworkers to watch out for alternative facts on tools and woodworking in general, and to persevere!

  7. Unfortunately by patronising these suppliers without feeding back the problems evident in their products they will continue to supply at that “quality” level.

    Education is the key. If the person responsible for grinding the bevels knew what the tool did and how to use it properly they might possibly do a better job…

    I don’t buy cheap any more. Parsimony is commendable but just buy from a reputable independent tool supplier, of which there are at least two in the UK, where you can be sure the goods will have been inspected before posting.

    I know Paul’s ethos is get people woodworking as inexpensively as possible but quality tools can be sold on at little loss if a person finds woodworking isn’t for them.

  8. It’s not just in woodworking tools you see this.

    A couple of years ago I moved across the USA and when I got to my new house I ran to a local store to get those small items so necessary to set up housekeeping. In less than a month nearly everything I bought that day had been thrown out either because it had broken or was simply not fit for purpose. Most of the plastic stuff (it was nearly all plastic of course) broke when I tried to use it. I particularly remember hanging my shower curtain with cord and how my arthritic hands tore the handles (both of them) off the laundry basket that wasn’t even half full. I finally realized this local store was stocked with items that were INTENDED to go straight to the land fill.

    The floor mop didn’t last long enough to break. It had an “ergonomically designed” handle that meant I couldn’t hang it up to dry. The dustpan had an edge so thick I couldn’t get the dirt to sweep over it AND it had a curve in it that meant any dirt not stopped by the edge shot under the dustpan and had to be swept up again. Not fit for purpose either one.

    The only thing I have left from that day is a couple of waste baskets. I appreciate the irony that the only thing that store sold me that wasn’t a complete failure were the cans meant to collect garbage. I guess they realized I’d have plenty to discard and took some small mercy on me.

    Sometimes I think about the folly that led our economy to explore for oil, drill for oil, ship the oil to a refinery, send the plastic to a factory, truck the items made to a port, ship them half way around the world, load them on another truck to haul them to a store a block from my house, with the requisite wasted energy, labor, and pollution every step of the way, just so I could buy it and send it to the local land fill. We’d all be better off if we just passed the money down the line for doing nothing and left the oil in the ground!

    When I think on that too much I retreat to my garage to work on wood with steel and the odd bit of leather. Any mistakes or waste I make go to keep my neighbors warm in the winter and when I manage to put something suitable together it will last me for years. I’m not going to fix the world this way but I’ve found a refuge for my soul.

    • Walking through a home-improvement store I find depressing. Very high prices for very low quality products. And everytime I walk past the wall of screwdrivers I can’t help but wonder, ‘how ergonomic can a screwdriver get?’…. Never mind the ‘highly trained sales people’ to offer advice. Today they sell tools, tomorrow cell phones, the day after that office supplies. ‘General experts’, I call them. Most people fail to spot the joke.

      And as to the shower rod…. I’ve made a stainless steel rod that’s custom made for my shower. Cost me 5 euro in material and two days of enjoyable work, bending, welding, grinding and polishing. But then I have something that will outlast me and the house. 50 euro in a big box store gets me two flimsy thin-walled aluminium rods, loosely coupled with silvery-metal-coated plastic angle-pieces and two plastic flanges to mount to the walls. Just give me some stainless steel pipe, a saw and a file and I’ll make my own, for much less and of much better quality.

      All my tools are bought 2nd-hand from fleamarkets, 2nd-hand stores, private ads, etc. Thus many (but far from all!) tools need some repair and maintenance to become usable again. It’s what I enjoy, repairing and restoring tools – beneath the layers of rust one can usually still see that it was a quality product in its day (and even more so in this day and age).

      If I can buy large Bessey glue-clamps for 0,50 euro per piece; not-rusted Gedore boxwrenches for E. 0,25-0,50 /pce (even the large ones of size 32/36), Bahco and Nooitgedagt chisels for E.0,25-0,50/pce… I have a collection of 15-16 handplanes that has cost me less than 35 euro for all combined. A few #4s (one new in box – never used), a #4 1/2 from the early ’20s, a #3, (alas, no #5 yet – seems a scarce item – I think over here most people used a #4 for what in the US would be done with a #5), 30″ Nooitgedagt wooden jointer with nothing wrong but a loose handle that a bit of epoxy cured, a few ECE/Emmerich wooden planes, #G12-065 (=65 1/2), #110 (annoying thing), #101, and a few more I’ve forgotten. It’s not as if I’m actively hunting for them either – I have enough as it is. (though a #5 is still on the wish-list). All this for less than 35 euro!

      Saws for 0,50-1 euro per piece that need nothing but a good sharpening and some linseed oil on the handle (and I usually give the handles a more ergonomical handle and a few decorations whilst I’m at it, just as mr. Sellers showed)

      I’ve plenty of planes and saws and chisels… but what is a guy supposed to do when you walk past a Stanley plane for 1 euro, a saw for 0,50 euro, or chisels for 0,25 euro? I know I have no need of them, I’m well supplied in that department. But at the end of the day I take them home with me. (I think I realize now how old cat-ladies end up with all those cats)

      It usually costs me more in sandpaper to clean and sharpen the tools than the tools have cost in the first place. I kid you not!

      Though this also saddens me; it shows how little value we attach here to honest, good-quality hand tools. Very telling of the kind of society I live in. Where a cell-phone with a broken screen costs more than a box full of Bessey glue clamps. And the sand-paper to restore and re-sharpen the tool costs more than the tool itself.

  9. Thank you for this blogpost. I bought a set of blue-handled chisels a few years ago (Irwin Marples brand) from Lee Valley Tools and I have been unable to get the backs flat. There is no secondary bevel on the bevel side, but I can’t get them sharp until the back is flat. The backs are so curved that the chisel touches a stone only on both edges of the stone with a gap between stone and chisel for most of the chisel’s length. I’m now putting only the first inch from the chisel’s edge on the stone to try to flatten only that portion. I’ve given up trying to flatten the whole back. If I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent on these chisels, I could have bought a nice set of Veritas chisels instead.

    • I’ve had good luck with the Irwin Marples chisels. If you flatten the back enough that there’s a flat edge all the way across, perhaps 1/4 inch from the tip, it’s ok that there’s a hollow as Paul says. Then you can focus on the bevel. I’ve found the steel to be good and they sharpen up nicely (unless you got some lemons). Watch Paul’s chisel sharpening video. He shows the flattening process and explains this very well. It’s how I learned!

  10. I have had my “blue handle” chisels for 20 years or so and they say Marples on the handle . Still going strong at my level. Once long ago I got infatuated with the game of golf and bought a a set to include bag and a bunch of irons, wedges hybrids and woods. When ask why such a cheap set – my answer was when the clubs become the shortfall and not my skills it will be time to upgrade.. I learned long ago the same thing holds true in wood working.

  11. Paul, you may want to consider contacting Faithfull. I did once and, to their credit, they listened and acted. I own several of their leather chisel/gouge rolls – they suit my needs well, with a few tweaks. The first one was great. The next one, was inferior in several ways and worst of all the new thin leather strap was much too short to be usable. I was so disgusted that i returned it for refund and contact Faithfull. They fixed half of the problems (inc. the most egregious issue) that I reported and sent me a new roll. I was pleased with their response but also sad that they’d had not gone back to the superior original product design. Having got it right originally, they seemed to have settled now for second best. A bit like Microsoft Windows perhaps, sometimes they seem to feel they’ve got to change it, even if it means making it significantly worse. 🙁

    • I have a theory that both Microsoft and Apple hold regular meetings to discuss how to change their operating systems. Not how to improve them, just how to make them different. In fact, if it’s worse than before – like removing useful features once users have come to rely on them – it seems that change is more likely to get through.

      Perhaps this approach to design does spread much further.

  12. I’ve had Marples chisels for many years can’t remember when I bought them. They are the first ones I grab to do my work and no problem.
    I have recently bought two more, 5/8 and 3/8 they are as good as my original ones that I have had for years no problem again.

    • Do you buy from stores? I have 2 shamrocks I bought off eBay and love them. Although one of them might not be a shamrock because the stem of the chisel is not stamped shamrock.

  13. This reminds me of something I learned about a chisel I bought off eBay awhile ago except it was the opposite. I sharpened a chisel with not enough angle and quickly realized how low angle bevels can chip the cutting edge. So I added a cambered shaped bevel which strengthened the edge.

  14. Paul, when I bought my first set of Marples chisels and gouges some 60 years ago, they were not sharpened at all. Some rough grinding, many at skewed angles, was what you got.
    I didn’t complain.
    It’s the quality of the metal that counts. Bringing newly acquired tools up to specification is part of the process of the artist/craftsman!
    I still have mine and use them regularily.
    JIM

    • I doubt what you bought were as bad as these. In fact I would say I know they weren’t. When you see a company, as is the case all the more, producing something of good quality drop the standards then that’s not acceptable progress, it’s deficient. Were we all to continue accepting such things where would we be?

    • It doesn’t matter enough to me and I don’t have the time. They will find out when they and others read the blog. Contacting manufacturers and distributors has generally proven to be at best useless and actually is the least likely to impact them. A drop in sales will!

  15. I’ve been purchasing a loot of planes off eBay for the pas few months preparing to teach hand tool use. Many of the planes come to me in like new condition, save the long white streaks on the sole. Clearly someone tried to use it out of the box to plane down a sticking door, but the factory edge is so bad that they could have done a cleaner job with a steak knife.

  16. Hi Paul, I bought these a while ago and haven’t had a chance to prepare them yet but it’s too late to send them back. Should I write these off and buy better ones or can they be rescued by a complete beginner relying on your youtube videos?

    • Just use some coarse 80-grit abrasive paper to get the bevel to the edge and then you will be on your way. Also, you may find that your bevels are all the way up to the edge and only need sharpening.

  17. With our endeavors as wood workers, there is a presumptive requirement towards an ability to care for and maintain our tools and accessories we use day to day, along with our quirkie ‘If I change this, maybe it will work better’ concept.
    I think many manufacturers have evolved to provide a product that we ‘EXPECT’, and the ‘out of box ‘ quality reflects the concept that, as the end user, I want materials and design to be the apex of function, but I’m going to tweak it to my liking before I use it!
    There lots of high-end, -ready-out of the box- chisels and planes available, but most of the tools that we use, and sharpen, and drop on the floor now and then, and even make available to a daughter or grandson are not in that category.
    We are seeing a loss of tradition, a lack of knowledge handed from father to son or daughter, along with the influence of our “throw away” consumer concepts. When you bought a chisel in days of yore, you expected it to be ready to use, but you also knew you would have to maintain the sharpness, and even more importantly, the maker of the tool expected you could do this! Today the idea is “This isn’t working–try some thing else, or buy another that works- I don’t know how to fix it!’
    Many of today’s wood workers have the skills and equipment needed to personalize and maintain their cutting tools and the manufacturers meet that market.–We are not a large group of consumers, and we tend to buy long lasting equipment. When you consider the import tool market, I think we are lucky domestics are still providing good value in material and design. Maybe they could include information on preparation and sharpening with their entry-level product, or even a simple kit with an angle guide and good combination stone.
    When I see a 4-pack of chisels for 15 USD I assume the steel and handles are of good quality, but I know some work will be needed to put them to good use.
    If I wish to spend 45 USD for one chisel, it should be ready to make chips!

  18. Maybe some clarification: Quality Control is what methods/checks are incorporated into the worker’s process to ensure the product produced meets the desired plan. Quality Assurance is the inspections performed, by someone else, to assure the product meets the desired specification. In the example provided, QA was not performed and QC was not a consideration of the worker. Sometimes they don’t care, other times they are not trained; either way it is wrong.

    Side note: Why someone would believe that a manufacturer would care enough about the physical properties of the metal (which can’t be readily seen) to trust their product, when the maker doesn’t care about the appearance quality (that can be seen) is beyond me. My time is worth money to me; at the end of final tool preparation, I want to take satisfaction in my effort, not frustration it was all for naught because the tool maker didn’t care what they put their name on. I like restoring old tools, abused by the previous owner/time, but created carefully by their maker. But new tools, of dubious quality, that don’t care to do it right, I have no time for hoping they did everything else right but the finish.

  19. Maybe it’s not a secondary bevel. Maybe the intention was to keep the edge thick while hogging material off of the bulk of the bevel to reduce the chance of overheating the edge. The intention might have been to advance the “real” bevel all the way to the edge, but for some reason they stopped short, either in error or because that last bit is when you must stop more often to keep from overheating and they decided to cut corners and leave the last bit to the buyer.

    I hate to say it, but I’ll bet most chisel buyers have grinders and don’t care about this so much. Faithful may have calculated how much people care about lower cost vs. how much people in their market care about a minute on a grinder and chose accordingly. That might be a reasonable choice for them even while it is a reasonable choice for us to find something else, if doing this by hand.

    • Sorry Ed, you are too kind. These considerations will not at all be the case. Why if they held the accepted standards for two decades would they suddenly put out such inferior work??? I refuse to give these British and European companies any wiggle room to squirm off the hook. Mostly it is irresponsibility and they should always be held to account.

    • I’m always glad to be called too kind. If push comes to shove, I’d likely agree with you that they deliberately let their standards slip. As to why would they do this, it could be ignorance or greed, which would rightly earn our ire. But, it could also be that we as consumers are often looking for cheap prices rather than looking for fair prices. At some point, something has to give to stay in the market, whether that is cheapening materials, moving to cheaper labor, or cutting corners. That’s not to say they are right or that their decisions are admirable, but we should recognize our own *possible* role in the process when we try to get things cheaply. Materials for a piece of furniture can be hundreds of dollars, but we want a full set of chisels that will last the rest of our life for $10. At some point, our insistence on cheap will have exactly that outcome in the market- Only cheap (and shoddy) will remain, while fair, suitable, and equitable are extinguished.

      So, I agree. No wiggle room to squirm off the hook, but let’s agree that we may be on the hook, too. If this is just a matter of making junk when something suitable could have been made at the same cost, then I’m on your side. But QA/QC costs something and saving steps does, too. You’re probably right in this case. Grinding to the edge properly with adequate cooling shouldn’t have added much at all.

  20. Hi Paul,
    I’ve come across quality issues as well, especially on chisels… How would you address a chisel with non square tip? I find it difficult to try to square it with cheap honing guides…
    Thanks a lot, you are the best!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *