What’s a Chisel Worth

I looked for a chisel on eBay. I wanted a specific one, a W Marples 1 1/4″. It took me less than a minute to find one I liked even though it was the lesser common type on the larger size. I wanted a wider bevel-edged chisel made by Marples or Ward—what might now be referred to as a ‘vintage‘ model and not a more modern version. I didn’t want one for restoration particularly, more one that just needed sharpening and putting to task. I wanted those thin side bevels with slender tapering both Marples and Ward are known for; an original brass ferule and not something cobbled together from copper plumbing pipe; the solidity and density boxwood handles are revered for but without splits cracks and dog’s teeth marks chewed into it. The extra 1/4″ over my Aldi one inch ones and the lovely thinness created the perfect composition I was looking for. I have never liked socketed chisels particularly and many new alternatives just lack what these older chisels give, despite many spurious claims of better steels and such. It is hard to beat these chisels for the qualities they possess. 

Through the decades of using such chisels, using them alongside others both new and old, no chisel really compares with the aesthetic elements I find intrinsic to good value. So while I was typing this I went to eBay to look for individual Marples chisels with the same search criteria I put in for the 1 1/4″ above. I could have bought the standard four pieces to make a set for about £45 with the addition of a 3/8″ chisel for £12. Unfortunately these were being sold by different sellers so shipping increased cost by about  £3.50 per chisel. Even so, with a minimal amount of elbow grease I would have one of the best working sets for lifetime of use even if `i were 15 years old again for £75.

I have seen eBay make its essential changes through the years. Whereas the first spivs did indeed practice deceitfully,   since the advent of quick and easy photography the information package is about as good as it’s likely to get. Carefully examining the photographs will give clarity for your decision making. In the case of these chisels, good steel, good wood and good brass means any lack can be worked out as needed. It’s easy to recover your money if indeed you do end up suffering the inconvenience of a bum deal.

I sharpened the bevel as per my favourite macro camber and because it was indeed previously well ground this took about twenty rubs on the coarse plate, ten on the medium and ten on the fine, followed them by buffing on the strop. The picture above is now what I have to work with. I will stamp my name into it and use it for the rest of my working life.

My wooden handled Aldis are refined to a level I like and they have been truly well proven at my bench over the  best part of a decade to date. There is nothing snobby or pretentious about them and I am hoping that Aldi will recant and restock periodically with them as in past years and not consider the ugly plastic handled versions above as a legitimate replacement for the better. Steel capped, they may work for some in the construction trades,but for the amateur they are far from appropriate. I say that without wishing to offend anyone. By that I mean some chisels will be used for hacking out pressed fibreboard and MDF mouldings amidst concrete and brick dust, places where I would not want my Marples chisels to be.

So Fibonacci lives on in my working of waste removal by virtue of a fine cutting edge and a slender chisel vintage 1930. Don’t rush to buy, let the prices die down over the next few weeks and they will be affordable again after my article.

 

 

44 comments on “What’s a Chisel Worth

  1. Just so you know, I bought two wood handles sets at Aldi last week, after seeing your post on Facebook. So at least in America we had one more shot at them.

    • I found them on the shelves last week in the US as well.
      Nice long wood handles, but in metric equivalents of standard inch measurements (25mm = 0.94in), 18mm, etc.
      Still, looking forward to putting them to use.

    • Same here – Aldi’s in the US seem to be stocking a few of the wood handled chisels. I purchased two sets. I’ve been looking for two years, and it seems they only stock a few at each store, and then only once in a blue moon.

      It will be too bad if they replace them with the plastic handled ones only. Glad I got some before they went away if so. Only $6.99 for the set of four. What a bargain!

    • Me too. Got my third set of wood handled chisels from Aldi’s last week for $7. For another $7 I got a set of six #2 files in various forms. Haven’t used the files yet – they have those horrible plastic handles – and cannot speak about quality; but for 7 bucks (quid? in the UK) I couldn’t resist.

  2. What’s a chisel worth?

    Well, I’m lucky enough to have my Grandfather’s sets of Stanley 5001 bevel edge and morticing chisels which are both a joy to use – wondefully balanced – and of enormous sentimental value.

    As you always point out, get good tools – often cheap in monetary terms – then look after them and use them – over time they become priceless.

  3. That last point you made is a good one! We potential buyers thank you for the information and inspiration; the sellers thank you, no doubt, for the increase in demand, and thus increase in bidding ceiling.

  4. I just hope Lidl don’t follow Aldi in replacing the handles, but I don’t hold out much hope given in my opinion its the same item just with a different stamp.

    I looked at the new chisels from Aldi in my local store recently in Ireland and each one was out of square with one of two could actually be classed as a skew chisels.
    Now I’m still trying to master hand sharpening so I don’t need the manufacturer to already start the process of going out of square 🙂

  5. I find (large) car boot sales are a good place to pick up old woodworking tools for a bargain. No postage costs. Recently I picked up 2 Spear & Jackson wood-handled saws for half the price typically listed on eBay. I saw quite a lot of bevel edged chisels, though already having a few sets, I didn’t think to buy them. Maybe next time.

  6. Last night, while stopping at an Aldi’s here in Birmingham, Alabama I found the wooden handled chisels alongside plastic handled files. Grabbed one of each.

  7. Paul, any recommendations on carving chisels, or carving chisel sets? Pfeil, Hirsch, Two Cherries–or go vintage–Taylor, Addis, etc? Pros and cons of each?

    • I think generally most carvers go for old over modern. The reason mainly is they were ‘broken in’ by a crafting artisan. That’s my view too. The advantage of new ones by current makers is availability and set management of like makers and like kinds. Both will work and with new you are not taking in someones bad habits as in bad sharpening and maintenance.

      • “Taken in someones bad habits…” is a real issue I have discovered. Even after tuning up old irons, it will often take several sharpenings to get an iron to start readily sharpening for me. While the eye may not see it, the difference in posture between individuals makes a difference in how the iron and stone meet.

      • Thank you, Paul. That’s what I thought you’d say. I just purchased a 8 old Henry Taylor carving chisels from eBay for 50pounds (ouch!). Seller wanted 65, but I offered 50 and got it. Of course, the shipping from the UK to US is what hurts. Can’t wait to get them!

  8. Yesterday 9/16/18 I purchased a set of the ALDI chisels like you used in your sharpening video. My 40 plus year old Craftsman set has served me well so I have ordered the Veritas mk11 honing guide and a good ( I hope ) set of diamond stones. Thank you sir for being a craftsman not a tool salesman and bragging about your possessions

    • Be careful using the honing guide on the Aldi chisels. The ones I got last year had the top and bottom out of parallel so they were skewed out of the box. The chisels may still be skewed with the honing guide.

      • Yours may be the exception too, or it may equally well be your honing guide. I have sharpened hundreds of Aldi chisels flawlessly using honing guides and then too hundreds of my students have done the same.

        • It could be a one off quality issue but 2 or 3 of the chisels I got were definitely out of parallel with respect to the top and bottom. Looking straight down the length of the chisel you could see the one side was a little fatter. After grinding them square and sharpening freehand they have worked very well for me and I haven’t had any other issues.

  9. When I was a younger person, 50 years ago, I looked at guitars. My thought was why buy an expensive one, they are all made of wood, they all look alike. Alas, ignorance. I learned it’s more than just looking like a guitar, it’s the wood and how it’s made. The quality.

    So here I am 50 years later, wondering why buy an expensive chisel? Their all made of steel with some kind of handle. You whack em with a hammer. I don’t have anything special, just off the shelf from a HomeDepot type store. It works.

    But with all I have learned thorough life, I am now wanting to find a “good” quality chisel. To find out again why some guitars cost more. I’m wondering if at my level of experience, will I even be able to feel the difference? Will my work by some miracle become something fantastic?

    I believe everything Paul has said without personal experience of using such a chisel because too many times in my life, two look alike items have turned out to be as different as night and day. And he has 50+ years of whacking a chisel into a piece of wood. Experience. Best teacher of all.

    • Look at Ashley Isles, Small family owned and run company. Their web site has a couple videos showing how each chisel is still hand made. My wife bought me the basic set last year for Christmas, and they are truely remarkable. Being the small company they are not always in stock. I just ordered a 1-1/4″ that was not available earlier. $46.99 plus shipping. You might also look at Stanley SW chisels. I bought my grandson a complete set for Christmas and they are vert well made. I bought a Stanley SW 3/4″ last fall and used it for all the mortise and tennon work on my wood working bench and it performed great. Would recommend both.

  10. Years ago when I started working in the building trade, new homes and remodeling, I was tool poor as most of us were. I tried the plastic handled, steel capped chisels from Stanley, they just weren’t very good (nor was I when it came to chisel work). I eventually purchased a steel chisel designed for framing and rough work to put in my tool bags. I remember purchasing it from Woodcraft Supply and in those days they sold quality tools. I still have the chisel. I picked up a set of Robert Sorby mortise chisels during a stint with a log home builder, they are not too bad. Later, I picked up a mixed set of bevel chisels at an auction, 2′ down to 1/2″ with a #6 gouge thrown in. These I dressed and used more than the Sorby as they were thin and more versatile. They are stamped “West Germany” and to my knowledge, no makers stamp. As you have stated and I have found, I do not use most of them much of the time having found that one or two become favorites. I now have acquired several Japanese chisels of various sizes through eBay and really like the edge retention and function, though I find myself going back to the Western design frequently. So, probably too many chisel (maybe not enough) and now that I’ve discovered your channel, I am learning correct chisel use to add to my own experience of their use. I am now in search of router planes and other hand tools to enrich my experince. Being power tool rich is good for on site projects suited for those but not nearly as satisfying as re-learning woodcraft using good hand tools correctly. Thanks Paul for the rekindling.

  11. I get my workaday chisels from boot fairs. One dealer in particular offers good quality used tools. He always has time for a chat and usually offers some curio or other, I usually lean something from him.
    He cleans his tools up and sharpens them and charges comensurately.
    All the well known old names, but often he has a few 1950’s WD ‘broad arrow’ stamped chisels for pennies.
    They have a solid handle, if a little large for my hands, and steel ferrules.
    But best of all, they are superb steel. Not for fine cabinet making maybe, but rugged tools.
    For fine work I was treated to a set of ‘Rider’ chisels by my family.

  12. ‘let the prices die down over the next few weeks and they will be affordable again after my article’ – the opposite actually, every tool you recommended become so expensive (e.g. Stanley router plane, Stanley saw set 42x etc.).

  13. Oh, Paul, I really kind of wish you hadn’t posted this. Every time you do, it boosts the prices. I’ve been acquainted with your amazing videos and your wonderful book for over a year now, and I’m a woodworkingmasterclasses member. I’ve been trying to acquire Marples/Ward chisels of the vintage you describe and I’ve found it difficult. They may be quite common in the UK, and even Australia, but they are much more rare in the US. Which means to get them we often have to pay intl shipping on top of what seems like inflated prices.

    A lovely set of six Marples (shipping from the US) recently went for over $240 USD, individual chisels going often for $50 or more.

    Here is a Ward&Payne 1.25” similar to what you just describe above, going for $70USD:
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Ward-Payne-1-1-4-Bevel-Edge-Paring-Chisel-Eng-Label-15-3-4-OAL-Fine/173511874680?hash=item28661d1878:g:DqEAAOSwxKNbjJlj

    We’re already on it, sir, and pickin’s are getting slim!

  14. I still consider my luckiest eBay buy a lot of assort chisels from the UK. It was extra postage since I’m in Canada, but well worth it. I still buy from the UK. It included everything from otherwise unmarked ‘Sheffield’ to well loved Marples and Ward. Even when first meeting these tools, the refinement in their design drew me over the others. Working with them, I’ve come to understand why they’re so well loved.

    I feel no need for newer chisels when I have this lot, and it showed me the difference between tools mindfully made for a lifetime of fine work and the cheap, steel capped set my father said would be ‘good enough’ when I was starting out. I’ve found this is one attitude where we differ greatly.

    For me, tools are an extension of you as a craftsperson, or even your household handywork.
    They reflect what pride and care you put into your work, and ‘good enough’ just doesn’t cut it… pun intended.

    PS I had to laugh at your acknowledgement of The Paul Sellers Effect at the end.

  15. Its torture to read these articles about the Aldi chisels when I no longer live in a state with Aldi’s.

    But, I’m happy for you.

  16. I usually buy Peugeot and E.A. Berg Eskilstuna, Woodpecker (Sweeden) chisels, however I have a couple of German or Czech old chisels that are beautiful and work very good. I like to make new handles if I have to. I don’t see english chisels very much for sale.

    I have an old chisel, equilateral triangle shape 12 mm what it was used for?

  17. My grandfather was the village carpenter but he had passed away long before I was born. Since neither my father or uncle followed him into the craft most of his tools were sold or given away. A couple of years ago I took up amateur carpentry. Although I started my journey into carpentry before I came across Paul’s internet output, since I watched that first YouTube video of Paul renovating an old Stanley No4, I have learnt so much and improved measurably.

    The few tools belonging to my tad-cu (grandfather) that were still in the garage are once again being put to use. Among them were a few W Marples chisels and gouges with boxwood handles identical to Paul’s pictures. So I had a big smile this afternoon as soon as I saw Paul’s blog in my inbox. Since taking up carpentry as a hobby I feel a closeness to a relative I never met. Through using his tools I am learning a little of the man himself. At the very least I know he obviously appreciated good tools!

    Thanks Paul for all your efforts in inspiring others to take up what you love.

  18. Is it just the plastic handles one is complaining about? What would happen IF they were replaced by wood handle of one’s choice? Can’t be any worse that the ones Lowes sells as “Kobalt” brand chisels…..maybe a little side Project, change a chisel handle to suit the owner…?

  19. Over the years I have made up a set of socket chisels of various vintage brands. Stanley, Ward, PS&W, Witherby, etc. from eBay and yard sales, refurbished them all and re-handled a few. It is not a very pretty set, but I keep them sharp and they pare end grain as beautifully as Paul’s chisels.

    In the Aldi store today, I took a good look at the four piece wood handled chisel set and placed them back on the shelf. They look to me like they might be OK for timber frame construction or even carpentry or roughing in plumbing and electrical, but they are very large and club-like in appearance. They look like they would need as much work to make them usable and comfortable in the hand as it would take to refurbish a quality vintage chisel.
    I think if I was just starting out in woodworking, I would purchase one or two vintage chisels of good quality instead of the Aldi set. Then I would add chisels one or two at a time as I need them. That’s the way I acquired my entire tool set. But then I was not in any hurry.

    • I’m sorry you had a bad experience in seeing the chisels. My Aldi chisels are really quite beautiful now, each took me half an hour to polish out and I have been using them alongside the chisel type you describe and reach for them equally to my best chisels. Either they have downgraded standards or you had a bad batch to pick from.

      • Did not expect a reply, Paul. But thanks. By looking at the Aldi set, I confirmed, in my mind at least, that the vintage chisels I have chosen are best for me. Did not mean to challenge your promotion of them.
        As an aside, I do have a set of chisels that I got as a freebie from a USA mail order store. Metal capped, plastic handled, modern steel, and as large or larger than the Aldi set. Very sharp upon receipt. After fettering and honing, they are usable but big and clumsy to use. When I do try to use them I go back to my old chisels. I will probably sell them on eBay as they are just taking up space on the wall. I refuse to put them in my tool chest. LOL.

      • Did not expect a reply, Paul. But thanks. By looking at the Aldi set, I confirmed, in my mind at least, that the vintage chisels I have chosen are best for me. Did not mean to challenge your promotion of them.

  20. Stopped in to Aldis to pick up groceries on my way home from work, “Hmm wonder if???” and there was one set of the wooden handle Aldis chisels for which I paid 7 us dollars and some tax. Have two sets from previous issues , but it’s a good price for a chisel that stays much sharper than my construction, yellow handled Stanley chisels.

  21. Check out Ashley Isles chisels. Videos on their website are well worth the watch. Sometimes there is a wait to get them as they are a small family business, but worth the wait.

  22. After looking in ALDIs for several years, they finally had a set for sale. I bought it ($6.99) and started to work on the largest one, since my biggest chisel was 3/4″ and I always wanted a bigger one. It took me over an hour to get the back flattened and the bevel honed to create a decent edge. It was worth it. Fits easy in my hand and cuts with little effort.

  23. Dear Paul,
    In past days retailers talked about the Delia effect. When she brought out a recipe Sainsbury ran out of ingredients! I reckon soon woodworkers will be talking about the “Paul” effect. You mention a certain tool then the prices rise and the said tool becomes as scarce as hens teeth.
    Thanks for your inspiring work.

  24. I find it interesting that almost everybody I know seems to be able to tolerate shopping on the ‘net giant. I get so frustrated looking at horrible pictures, nonexistant descriptions and gibberish over shipping details including the upmark of charging $20 extra for shipping and handling. I know why it is all done but it seems another symptom of a society too impressed by speed and not concerned with details much at all. I take great satisfaction in seeing when many people seem to pull old beauties like this chisel off the ‘net. Thanks for posting, and while those workzona plastic chisels may be great for stick framing a building like we do here in the US they sure are ugly as a mud fence!

  25. I just purchased a set of Aldi new chisels and they are shockingly bad. Two have blades that are about 5 degrees off axis with the handle. The blade on the 24mm skews several degrees from right to left across the bevel. This one also has a significant areas across the back with no metal – approximately 3/8” long x 1/8” wide x 1/16” deep. The handles on all four are sanded to about 80 grit and poorly finished. It would take me hours of prep to get these to a usable, comfortable level so I’m not going to bother. Unfortunately I bought them on line (with shipping cost) and I don’t have the option think to return.
    On the other hand, I recent bought a new set of Buck Brothers from a big box store to use for framing. I can get a great edge on them with diamond stones, so will use them for woodworking until I get a better set.

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