I did! It was a review on some chisels a person bought. The commenter said it took her or him four hours to flatten the back of a chisel on a diamond sharpening plate. I thought to myself, ‘Is that really true or even possible? Can fine-grained, chrome manganese steel hardened to 59HRC be so hard it takes four hours of constant abrading on something as aggressive as diamonds to flatten a single face say 1″ wide by 4″ long and if it is is it even a viable chisel?‘ I mean, wouldn’t it be too brittle to boot? Every overly hard chisel I have ever owned has been to fractious along the cutting edge and needed tempering which alters the steel to a practical level of hardness, toughness, strength and then too its structural stability. It made me conscious of how any review can be in danger of substantially exaggerating the reality; unfortunately it ultimately becomes misleading as was indeed the case in the two reviews I did read. I have or am learning that to edit your own comments or review can discredit you even though it can be a grossly inaccurate and unfair version based on perhaps the inexperience or abject inability of the person reviewing. It’s also unfortunate that when someone thrashes out a quick statement they will generally go unchallenged because, well, it can be anonymous, perhaps seem that you are being defensive or offended. But the reality is, some things you do can be worth defending and also reflect the reality that the comment or criticism is intended to be offensive for whatever reason. Unfortunately your protestations can fuel additional fury from elsewhere as people add weight to the cause or take over your comments section or your review allowance and tolerance. I often think that generally people will use the phrase, “Why are you being so defensive?” or, “Don’t be so defensive!” or “Why are you being so precious about this?” The truth is that some people are indeed just mean spirited, arrogant or worse still ignorant in its negative sense. What really counts is truth. A review should be based on reality and if a novice finds a struggle flattening a chisel it can make a difference when they say it took me four hours to flatten a chisel. I have yet to find a chisel, unless it is severely neglected and, AND, badly abused, that took me longer than 20 minutes to get respectably flat. Respectably? Yes, I meant respectably and that’s because in most cases chisel backs, the big face, do not at all need to be dead flat and certainly not within a thou’. Getting flat is just something to aim for but does not improve your woodworking quality or ability unless for a particular one-off task you might need such a thing. Remember that some people indeed have an obsessive compulsive disposition that’s often referred to as a disorder. It’s a condition. That’s not always what we are dealing with. Some people self declare themselves to be “perfectionist.” This too is often a bit self delusional and seldom much more than a bit of pride. Mostly it’s a way of saying that they are not like ordinary people. Sometimes people are told in magazine articles and videos that they MUST get the chisel or plane iron dead flat otherwise it will not do the job well at all or it may not even work. Codswallop to them! Absolute rubbish.
My advocacy for the wooden handled Aldi chisels came to an end last year when some twerp in the buying department shifted to buy in some of the ugliest, clunkiest plastic handled, steel capped versions in place of them. It sent me on a search and actually the other brother in the German supermarket chain, Lidl, stocks the same chisel but with an ash handle instead of the hornbeam Aldi bought in. I’ve used my Aldis every single day since 2010 and they have proved as perfect as any chisel can get. I have tried other types and they all work mostly but, well, the Aldi’s (and the Lidl’s) equal the best if the rest for me. That said, what’s the point in recommending something that is only available twice a year or not now available at all?
Last week at a woodworking presentation in London there were some vendors selling their wares so I picked up a few bits and pieces including two chisels I liked the appearance of. These chisels made for or by Axminster under their own Axminster brand of Rider brand I suppose to their specifications. The price is middle of the road and very fair for the quality and they did look nicely made chisels for around £16 for the 1″. I bought their 1″ and a 1 1/4″ bevel-edged full sized versions.
At the shop I bench tested them and fortunately I was working on a bookcase with 20 housing dadoes made from redwood pine. Pine is one of the best woods for testing chisels on because the growth rings divide into extra hard and extra soft side by side Most hard woods don’t have this and the wood is evenly dense across the whole. Softwoods like Redwood pine or vintage longleaf pine from the virgin forests of the USA are often extremely hard. I have had longleaf pine from old beams have growth rings 1mm apart. Not that is some hard wood. But mostly it is the closeness of the hard and soft growth periods that sets the challenge and the too the knots themselves. In my project I had several knotty areas ideal for the bench test. Whereas I did not beat on the chisels I did push them to their limit and they held up well. One of the chisels did edge fracture but that often happens with a new chisel. After a second sharpening the chisel held its edge as well as any other chisel including my Aldi’s and every high end chisel I own including Lie Nielsen, Veritas, Sorby, Ashley Iles and all the rest.
Over the next weeks I will extend the trial and update you. My only modification is that I put a shallower dome on the end of the handle. This improves the matching of the chisel hammer blow to the handle and makes every blow economically effective.
OK, I’ll say it here. You certainly do not need to spend £70 on a single chisel by one of the more bijou makers nor even as much as £40 by the more mediocre makers. Not unless you want to of course, which is fine by me. Most of us can’t do that because cost makes £70-90 a throw prohibitive at £420 on up for half a dozen chisels. My Aldis will do everything these chisels will do at £8 a set of four, Yup! £2 a piece that is. Looks are not everything so don’t think that owning the upper-class chisel types will particularly improve your game stroke. It’s skill and the development of it that does that and nothing more. I just hate to think that anyone might think these will make any difference to your woodworking or that indeed you need them beyond just liking their looks. For the cost of just oner of the so-called premium chisels you can buy the whole set from Axminster but as per Axminster’s usual they also sell these high end versions alongside their own brand so they’re onto a winner either way.
I popped the handle off to see what’s inside and the square tang is very substantial and driven into the hornbeam handle tightly encircled by an equally substantial stainless steel ferrule; it’s definitely there to stay and unlike the socketed versions that do often turn loose at the wrong minute.
Is the chisel worthy of my name stamp? I don’t always put my name on tools I own. Sometimes because they are too fancy for me to want to own and sometimes because the quality is questionable. These are indeed users not posers, but they look good too so, yes, I stamped my owner name on two of them so far. I will update you on the other sizes shortly but in case you want to go ahead and order your own, remember if they do turn up with an adverse problem you can and indeed should always return them for a full refund and the tools are warrantied for twelve months too.