Author Topic: Mortise chisels?  (Read 8290 times)

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Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3594
Mortise chisels?
« on: May 30, 2016, 09:35 AM »
Looking for a set of decent mortise chisels (in imperial).  I'm mostly happy with the Narex bench chisels I got, but just the other day found that I rolled the edge of one of them after only light use in some white oak, so I'm wondering if I should maybe upgrade on the steel for the mortise chisels.  The Narex mortise chisel set would still be the default, since the price/quality balance is pretty good.  I don't foresee knocking out mortises on a daily basis, so I'm not necessarily looking for something of heirloom quality -- it's just I have a project lined up where I have to make some deep through mortises, and so need the proper tools.
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Offline grbmds

  • Posts: 1798
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2016, 09:43 AM »
Not completely sure what you meant by "rolled the edge" but I doubt that mortise chisels are made of any harder steel than your current Narex chisels. If you are trying to get a squarer edge on the mortise, that might help, but I've never owned any mortise chisels. Over time, I just got better at chiseling mortises until I finally decided that was too much work. Now I have a Domino and don't need to chisel mortises out by hand (or rarely at least).
Randy

Offline waterloomarc

  • Posts: 107
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2016, 10:25 AM »
I've tried several variations f mortise chisels over the years. I've found that for my work the Lie Nielsens are my favorites. They're stout enough for almost all my work yet light and nimble for easy control. I have some Sorby's for heavier work.

Offline danbox

  • Posts: 70
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2016, 10:32 AM »
I don't own any mortice chisels. If your doing oak framing then ok as green oak needs a good whack but fine work a bevel edge chisel will work fine.




Offline HarveyWildes

  • Posts: 785
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2016, 11:38 AM »
Here is the traditional wisdom:

Mortise chisels have tall, square sides to help locate them in the mortise while you are cutting.  Apparently someone who is good at cutting mortises can start a good square hole and then use the shape of the chisel to let the mortise cut itself.  If that works for me on occasion, it's because of luck, but I don't do a lot of mortising either.  On the flip side, if you don't start the hole right, the mortise can wander out of your lines.  It takes practice, which I need more of  ::).  If you're not going to cut enough mortises by hand to get the practice, a mortising chisel might just make things harder.  That's kind of where I'm at, to be honest.

The conventional wisdom that I've heard on chisel angles is 20-25 degrees for light paring chisels, 25-30 degrees for bench chisels, and 30-40 degrees for mortise chisels, assuming an additional 1-2 degrees for the secondary bevel.  I recently got a set of PMV-11 bench chisels from Lee Valley (which I love so far) and they came with 30 degree angles on sizes less than 1/2", and 25 degrees on 1/2" sizes and greater.  Their rationale is that the force of a mallet is concentrated on a smaller length of blade on the smaller sizes, and a steeper angle is need to protect the blade against the force.  In my experience, whacking away on a mortise with a bench chisel really is harder on the edge.  Plus I'm scared to just really let loose because I don't want to damage the handles.

At any rate, you want to pick an angle for a particular chisel and stick with it, as you don't want to be continually reshaping the bevel depending on what you're using them for - that's a quick way to end up with short chisels.  So if you want a 35 degree angle on a mortise chisel, I'd bite the bullet and either get firmer chisels or mortising chisels for mortising.  I use a Mk II narrow blade attachment from Veritas and it gives me very repeatable angles.

Mortise and firmer chisels also usually have some kind of hoop at the mallet end of the chisel to withstand heavier blows.  Hoops just get in the way when you are trying to use a chisel by hand, so you won't find them on paring and bench chisels.  Japanese bench chisels have hoops, and the tradeoff is that they are less comfortable to use by hand.  That's why if you buy Japanese bench chisels, you are more likely to buy dedicated paring chisels after a while - to get the comfort of a chisel without a hoop for hand use.

You can cut a mortise with a bench chisel, but you don't get any help from the shape of the chisel, and you're putting a lot more stress on the edge of a chisel with a shallower ground than is optimal when you're really whacking on it.

On the other hand, if you're just cutting an occasional mortise, and don't get carried away with the whacking, then the video from danbox clearly shows that you can cut a good mortise with a bench chisel.  I've done that as well.

BTW, I think the choice of steel is less critical for mortise chisels since the angles are steeper.  I use Sorby mortise and firmer chisels ground to 35 degrees (~36 with micro-bevel) when I use them at all, and I've been happy with them.  You can be more selective about sizes when buying mortising chisels - just buy the size(s) you need.  That makes it easy to buy one chisel from one maker and see if you like it.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2016, 11:55 AM by HarveyWildes »

Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3594
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2016, 11:56 AM »
That's a really helpful video, thanks @danbox I guess I'll try with the simple bench chisel first before investing in some of the mortise chisels.
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Offline Cheese

  • Posts: 4925
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2016, 12:27 PM »
Interesting to note, that it took Paul almost 5 minutes when he used the mortise chisel but just over 3 minutes when he used the bench chisel.

Offline RL

  • Posts: 3039
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2016, 12:30 PM »
A 1/4" mortise chisel will do for 90% of your mortise work. Mine is a Lie Nielsen and works very well. I also have a slightly smaller vintage one about 3/8".

A lot of the vintage mortise chisels are deliberately slightly undersized because a bench chisel would be used to clean up the edges of the mortise.

I suggest getting a very good 1/4" chisel and then buying more sizes if you need them.

Offline Kev

  • Posts: 7651
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2016, 12:57 PM »
Being really happy with the mallet you're using is almost as important as the chisel. I don't think I've cut a deep mortise for donkey's ages. I've only got two proper mortise chisels and they're nothing exotic. You'd need to be doing a lot of mortise work to need a set.

I'd be hard pressed to know anyone these days that wouldn't route or chain mortise, then just square with a traditional chisel .. or even use a mortise attachments on a bench drill.

Offline RobNJ

  • Posts: 157
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2016, 02:51 PM »
I bought the Narex mortise chisels from Lee Valley and really like them so far. Just bought 2 of them instead of a set since they were my first mortise chisels. I definitely wouldn't buy too many to start - I've never had a situation where I wanted bigger then 1/2 or smaller than 1/4   

Offline Cochese

  • Posts: 294
    • The 144 Workshop
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2016, 03:47 PM »
I have the entire set of the Narex mortise chisels and haven't been displeased.

Offline WarnerConstCo.

  • Posts: 4076
    • Warner Mill Works
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2016, 06:51 PM »
I always called them pig stickers and most of mine are from the early 1800's or late 1700's.

Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3594
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2016, 07:34 PM »
Speaking of pig stickers, I bought this at an antique store a couple of years ago just Cuz it was a few bucks. It has the body of a 1/4" mortise chisel, but the edge is rounded rather than beveled? Is there a reason for the curved edge? Or is it just bad maintenance/wear?
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Offline jtwood

  • Posts: 227
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2016, 11:44 PM »
I have both sets of the Narex - bench chisels and mortise chisels.  I am happy with both.  I am a hobbyist, and my preferred style of furniture is Arts & Crafts, with a mix of Mission, Greene & Greene and Stickley.  I do mortises on most of my projects.

My preferred method is to mark out the mortises, and then either drill with a drill press or dowel jig, or rout out the main part of the mortise.  Store-bought or shop made mortise jigs for routers are relatively inexpensive (unless you get the Festool plexiglas one) and easy to use, and may be more convenient than putting a long piece on a drill press table.

Once most of the waste is cleared with a drill or router bit, virtually any chisel will work easily to square it up.  The Narex bench chisels would be  very adequate for the job.

Having used both types for cutting mortises w/o pre-drilling or pre-routing, I prefer the mortise type because of the 90°, taller sides that help to keep the mortises square.  They do not twist as easy as the bench chisels.  I also like a mortise chisel with the taller side for trimming tenons at the base of the tenon, because I can put the chisel flat against the end of the piece of wood.

As others have said, you probably won't need the entire set unless you are doing a lot of them, but the Narex sets are reasonable.

Steve

Offline Rip Van Winkle

  • Posts: 301
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #14 on: May 31, 2016, 07:38 AM »
Speaking of pig stickers, I bought this at an antique store a couple of years ago just Cuz it was a few bucks. It has the body of a 1/4" mortise chisel, but the edge is rounded rather than beveled? Is there a reason for the curved edge? Or is it just bad maintenance/wear?


The rounded bevel used to be standard on older English mortise chisels. In one if the way older issues of Fine Woodworking from probably twenty years ago, an article on chisels or mortise chisels mentioned the rounded bevels. From what the article author said, he was wondering why the bevels were rounded, and asked the foreman at one of the major British chisel manufacturers, maybe Robert Sorby, about why the company rounded the bevels. The foreman said they had always done it that way, but didn't know why. A few years later the author realized that the rounded bevels could help cleaning the bottoms of shallow mortises, sort of like a swan neck chisel, by that point though Robert Sorby had stopped rounding the bevels on newer chisels. I'm not sure any current manufacturers round the bevels either.


For mortising chisels you're probably better off using a chisel made from a steel designed for impact resistance rather than one designed to be honed to the finest edge. A finely honed edge will certainly help, but you don't want to use too acute an angle due to the edge rolling issue. The A2 steel mortise chisels from Lie-Nielsen and the D2 steel mortise chisels from Ray Iles may be better at impact resistance than some of the other chisel steels. A more acute primary bevel with a steep secondary bevel may give the advantage of being easier to drive into the wood while preventing the edge from rounding over. Way back when I read that Robert Sorby used some impact resistant alloy for their chisels, but I'm not sure whether they still do.

Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3594
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #15 on: May 31, 2016, 08:22 AM »
Thanks for the history lesson!

Speaking of pig stickers, I bought this at an antique store a couple of years ago just Cuz it was a few bucks. It has the body of a 1/4" mortise chisel, but the edge is rounded rather than beveled? Is there a reason for the curved edge? Or is it just bad maintenance/wear?


The rounded bevel used to be standard on older English mortise chisels. In one if the way older issues of Fine Woodworking from probably twenty years ago, an article on chisels or mortise chisels mentioned the rounded bevels. From what the article author said, he was wondering why the bevels were rounded, and asked the foreman at one of the major British chisel manufacturers, maybe Robert Sorby, about why the company rounded the bevels. The foreman said they had always done it that way, but didn't know why. A few years later the author realized that the rounded bevels could help cleaning the bottoms of shallow mortises, sort of like a swan neck chisel, by that point though Robert Sorby had stopped rounding the bevels on newer chisels. I'm not sure any current manufacturers round the bevels either.


For mortising chisels you're probably better off using a chisel made from a steel designed for impact resistance rather than one designed to be honed to the finest edge. A finely honed edge will certainly help, but you don't want to use too acute an angle due to the edge rolling issue. The A2 steel mortise chisels from Lie-Nielsen and the D2 steel mortise chisels from Ray Iles may be better at impact resistance than some of the other chisel steels. A more acute primary bevel with a steep secondary bevel may give the advantage of being easier to drive into the wood while preventing the edge from rounding over. Way back when I read that Robert Sorby used some impact resistant alloy for their chisels, but I'm not sure whether they still do.
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Offline Rip Van Winkle

  • Posts: 301
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #16 on: August 21, 2016, 09:11 PM »
Lee Valley/ Veritas just came out with a couple new sets of mortise chisels. The chisels are available in either A2 or PM-V11 steel. The designers chose to go with a rounded bevel like the above pictured older chisel.

Offline waho6o9

  • Posts: 1379
    • Garage Door Handyman.com
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #17 on: August 21, 2016, 09:26 PM »
Nice looking Veritas Mortice chisels from Lee Valley:
249836-0

Offline charley1968

  • Posts: 491
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #18 on: August 22, 2016, 02:03 AM »
I think the Narex mortise chisels are worth their money, so if you're not looking for heirloom quality tools, i'd stick with them. That said: i'm waiting for the Veritas mortise chisels to arrive in Sweden and than i'm going to get me a 1/4" and 5/16" (6 and 8 mm).
Do you happen to know the width of the mortises you're going to cut? If it's wider than 15mm, i'd probably drill and clean up with regular chisels..
Just for today..

Offline Holmz

  • Posts: 4010
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #19 on: August 22, 2016, 03:42 AM »
@Edward A Reno , how deep is deep? And width?

There are the Neeman jobs, and in your region the Barr Quarton.
Both are a proper "framing size", so they may be way too big for you through mortices(?).

The "wood is good" mallets are cheap enough: http://www.woodisgoodco.com/mallets.htm
And maybe too small for those chisels.

Offline derekcohen

  • Posts: 226
    • In The Woodshop
Re: Mortise chisels?
« Reply #20 on: August 26, 2016, 08:48 PM »
The new Veritas mortice chisels are very good. I've been testing them at a pre-production level for some time. The blade is deeper than the Ray Isles (which Inhave used for many years), which are also excellent. The deeper blade and very sharp lands create a lot of control and tidy work. Either of these are lifetime tools. However, should you only do occasional mortices, and have the Narex, I'm sure they will be good enough.

With regard something to wack a mortice chisel, no round mallets please. They lose energy. What you want is the directed force from a flat faced  - heavy - joinery mallet.

Regards from Perth

Derek