Results 1 to 14 of 14

Thread: Were Cast Steel Chisels made for Different Applications?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Kernersville, NC
    Posts
    135

    Were Cast Steel Chisels made for Different Applications?

    I have been hearing the older cast steel tools (thanks to Mel) will hold their edge quite nicely. I have been looking for a good set of paring chisels. Maybe you can help with a few questions that I have:

    1. On older chisels, did they call them paring chisels or just plain chisels?
    2. Is it difficult to take an older chisel and bring it down to a 20 degree bevel? I do have ceramic stones and a grinder but not sure of the cast steel chisels will hold a minimal bevel like 20 degrees?
    3. Besides general flea markets, are there places in North Carolina where I will have greater success in looking at cast steel chisels? I live between Raleigh and Greensboro.

    Thank you

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    PA
    Posts
    10,462
    You're unlikely to find any chisel that will really hold an edge well at 20 degrees, unless you're paring only softwood. A straight razor is only slightly less than that in total angle.

    You're looking for something visually when you look at old chisels. Jim Bode appears to reside on just about every ebay auction, charging prices between 4 and 10 times what I ever paid for a vintage paring chisel, it is to me disheartening what he and his copycats have done to the used chisel market on ebay.

    Generally, you're looking for a longer chisel that has a gray or dark patina (not shiny, that's a dead giveaway of a WWII or after chisel when makers started playing with alloys and didn't have a good handle on them).

    Longer with not a lot of thickness, and either a fairly light forged tang construction or a socket construction where the weight of the chisel stays fairly light all the way up.

    http://www.oldtools.co.uk/tools/wc186.l.jpg

    http://www.oldtools.co.uk/tools/W._M...isel_32mm.html (OK, that one doesn't have a forged bolster)

    http://www.oldtools.co.uk/tools/Jame...et_Chisel.html

    Not suggesting where you buy, just showing pictures.
    That Rug Really Tied the Room Together, Did it Not....

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Burlington, Vermont
    Posts
    2,210
    Yeah; I had an eBay notification up for "marples paring" for a while now - i get an email every few days when new items go up. I've watched Bode post the same chisels over and over and over - eventually someone bites, and now it seems like his price is the norm. Not just chisels, either.
    " Be willing to make mistakes in your basements, garages, apartments and palaces. I have made many. Your first attempts may be poor. They will not be futile. " - M.S. Bickford, Mouldings In Practice

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Kernersville, NC
    Posts
    135
    I have learned a tremendous amount from all of your posts. Thank you!
    Can you give me some names of highly regarded manufacturers for chisels pre 1940's? Companies that I should be looking for.
    Last edited by Glenn Samuels; 03-03-2013 at 3:00 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Longview WA
    Posts
    9,463
    Can you give me some names of highly regarded manufacturers for chisels pre 1940's? Companies that I should be looking for.
    Others will be sure to have other choices, but my favorite for paring are my Buck Brothers socket chisels. These are thinner than most of the other chisels in my shop. Their tanged chisels are likely just as good. My preference is for socket chisels since for me it is easier to make a handle for a socket than a tang. Maybe a few tries at making handles for tang chisels would change my mind.

    There are a lot of Witherby chisels in my shop. They tend to be a bit thicker than my Buck Brother chisels.

    There are a lot of different quality brands available from a century ago. Even though my chisels are rather eclectic across many brands, my desire is to someday acquire a few of the missing sizes of Buck Brothers chisels to have a completed set of one brand.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  6. #6
    There's noting magic about "cast steel" chisels. In the 18th and 19th centuries the term "cast steel" was a mark of quality in the steel, where the steel was made by the crucible process, rather than other processes. At the time those chisels were marked "cast steel" the crucible process produced the best steel. But "best" at that time would not be considered "best" today. The steel makers who used the crucible process did not have techniques to accurately control the final product. One batch might be good, another batch would be not so good.

    The advantage of the crucible process was that steel could be completely melted so the resultant product was essentially homogeneous. This is in contrast to the other way to make steel, blister steel, which could be turned into shear steel. Crucible steel was very expensive so you often see laminated products (chisels and plane blade) with only a layer of crucible steel. The rest of the product was inferior steel or wrought iron.

    Even after the Bessemer process was developed and could produce lots of steel, crucible steel was still used because it could produce steel with less impurities and give better control over the carbon content.

    But compared to modern steels, crucible steel is inconsistent. And the steel makers back then did not have the knowledge of what alloys to add to the steel to improve it.

    A modern carbon steel chisel by a reputable maker will likely be a better tool than the average "cast steel" chisel. Of course, knowing that you're using a tool that was made over a hundred years ago has its own rewards.

    For more information on how old steel was made, you can read the two volume set "Steelmaking before Bessemer" by K.C. Barraclough.

    Mike

    [To a very large degree, cast steel disappeared shortly after 1900. Many tools that used to be marked "cast steel" began to be marked "best tool steel". But the crucible process continued in very small volumes until about 1962 when the last crucible steel foundry closed.
    Good steel, perhaps made by the electric arc furnace, became cheap and laminated tools were no longer made. My belief is that laminated products stopped being made shortly after 1900 but I have no source to back that up.]
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 03-03-2013 at 4:13 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Williamsburg,Va.
    Posts
    9,349
    Cast steel quality was entirely dependent upon the personal skill of the makers. They evaluated the quality f cast steel by taking a sample from batches. An expert would break the sample bars and look at the grain structure. The tool steel was sorted by how the fracture looked. IIRC,they only had 3 or maybe 4 grades of cast steel: Spindle steel was the lowest carbon content,then, spring steel,there was "Knife steel"(I think),and the highest grade was razor steel. I need to go re read my books on the history of steel making.

    The thing is,they had no way to evaluate alloys accurately because of a lack of knowledge of chemistry,which they only began to have about 1830. My civil war era chemistry book is about 1" thick. My 1903,by the same publisher is about 3" thick. In that Civil War era book,the phrase "this process is not clearly understood" is repeated many,many times.

    The OP question was if this steel was used for different applications? Certainly. It was what they had,and came in different grades.

    I did have a NEW Marples laminated plane blade made in the 60's,by the way.
    Last edited by george wilson; 03-03-2013 at 5:54 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Virginia
    Posts
    399
    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Henderson View Post
    There's noting magic about "cast steel" chisels.
    (snip)
    But compared to modern steels, crucible steel is inconsistent. And the steel makers back then did not have the knowledge of what alloys to add to the steel to improve it.

    A modern carbon steel chisel by a reputable maker will likely be a better tool than the average "cast steel" chisel. Of course, knowing that you're using a tool that was made over a hundred years ago has its own rewards.
    I've seen this type of explanation before, and it sounds perfectly logical, but it doesn't comport with my (admittedly limited) experience. The old tapered laminated blades I've recently started using are better than my O1 Hock blades (sorry Ron). They sharpen faster, get sharper, and hold an edge for a long time. And the few cast steel chisels I have are excellent. I've never bought a LN or LV chisel, so I can't compare to those.
    I certainly don't claim that cast steel is "magic." The point, for me, is that despite all the scoundrels on ebay, you can still get a cast steel chisel for 1/4 or 1/3 of what you'd pay for a LN or LV, and you're getting a good, serviceable tool.
    I share David's frustration with Bode and his ilk, but I think the thing to do is refuse to patronize those kinds of sellers. Be patient and wait for good deals; there are still sellers who are not vampires. I've gotten some good chisels for around 15$ each, which as I say is dramatically cheaper than the new chisels produced by the Tool Industrial Complex.

    -Steve

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Voigt View Post
    I've seen this type of explanation before, and it sounds perfectly logical, but it doesn't comport with my (admittedly limited) experience. The old tapered laminated blades I've recently started using are better than my O1 Hock blades (sorry Ron). They sharpen faster, get sharper, and hold an edge for a long time. And the few cast steel chisels I have are excellent. I've never bought a LN or LV chisel, so I can't compare to those.
    I certainly don't claim that cast steel is "magic." The point, for me, is that despite all the scoundrels on ebay, you can still get a cast steel chisel for 1/4 or 1/3 of what you'd pay for a LN or LV, and you're getting a good, serviceable tool.
    I share David's frustration with Bode and his ilk, but I think the thing to do is refuse to patronize those kinds of sellers. Be patient and wait for good deals; there are still sellers who are not vampires. I've gotten some good chisels for around 15$ each, which as I say is dramatically cheaper than the new chisels produced by the Tool Industrial Complex.

    -Steve
    I have a complete set of Swan firmers marked "Best Cast Steel" and a set of Ward pigstickers which are laminated cast steel chisels. I've used them a fair amount. Neither will hold up as long as a modern set of carbon steel chisels I have (forgot the maker), or the LN A2 chisels, or the new LV PM-V11 chisels I have. Cast steel is, in general, simply plain old carbon steel. Some of it could be good carbon steel, while others may not be as good. But it's all carbon steel and (generally) not the equal of modern steels. (I've also owned a bunch of other brands of chisels marked "cast steel" on the way to focusing down to the Swans, Witherbys and Wards)

    If you know what you're looking for, you can sometimes get them cheap. But well known brands (in good condition) usually go for a decent price on eBay, probably because collectors drive the price up. I paid north of $30 (sometimes way north, plus shipping) for each of the Swans. I own the Swans simply because they're antiques, not because they're the best chisels. For my day-to-day work, I use the LN and LV chisels the most.

    Mike
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 03-03-2013 at 7:54 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Yokohama, Japan/St. Petersburg, Russia
    Posts
    726
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Voigt View Post
    I've seen this type of explanation before, and it sounds perfectly logical, but it doesn't comport with my (admittedly limited) experience. The old tapered laminated blades I've recently started using are better than my O1 Hock blades (sorry Ron). They sharpen faster, get sharper, and hold an edge for a long time. And the few cast steel chisels I have are excellent. I've never bought a LN or LV chisel, so I can't compare to those.
    I certainly don't claim that cast steel is "magic." The point, for me, is that despite all the scoundrels on ebay, you can still get a cast steel chisel for 1/4 or 1/3 of what you'd pay for a LN or LV, and you're getting a good, serviceable tool.
    I share David's frustration with Bode and his ilk, but I think the thing to do is refuse to patronize those kinds of sellers. Be patient and wait for good deals; there are still sellers who are not vampires. I've gotten some good chisels for around 15$ each, which as I say is dramatically cheaper than the new chisels produced by the Tool Industrial Complex.



    -Steve
    There are plenty of vintage cast steel chisels and plane blades that are duds. Whether it's laminated or solid piece is irrelevant to the issue. There are good ones, of course. I use quite a few good old cast steel chisels and plane blades, but I've also gone through bad cast steel chisels, too. It's not wise to generalize as cast steel composition can be really anything. While I would like to recommend vintage tools of quality and good brand, you can never be sure if the next piece of cast steel or vintage tool is of the quality you thought you were getting. For that, modern steel has advantage of relatively consistent in quality and you are most likely to get what you expect to get. The problem with going with vintage chisels and plane blades (or planes with vintage blades) is that a lot of times you are stuck with it even if the edge crumble at the mere sight of wood. To replace that useless piece of junk, you end up going for something safer, modern and paying the price for the piece plus the money you paid for the vintage junk. So it's a gamble unless you bought it from someone who is willing to take back the piece.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Williamsburg,Va.
    Posts
    9,349
    After using vintage planes and other vintage tools daily for 16 years while in public,and being the toolmaker(and tool fixer) for the rest of my 39 years in the museum,I can readily attest that there are great old tools,and bad old tools. I have posted here before how I have had to repair antique bitted chisels that were de laminating,and how I have had to properly harden and temper very old chisels which turned into a fish hook shape in use. I haven't seen that extreme a spread in quality among new tools(except Sorbys). But,I think Sorby has made the decision to make softer chisels due to liability. They were a good brand long ago.

    Understand that things in the old days were done empirically. People got tired from the excessively long hours,poor food and poor,crowded housing and bad bedding. They also drank a lot. Quality control was not what it is today. That's the reality. I know because I lived with it for many years,not just because I think so,or read about it,or someone told me about it. A company today can make a conscious decision on the quality they want to work to,and maintain it,good or not so good,at will.

  12. #12
    Yeah,if you want Sorby ,buy the old ones.

  13. #13
    Glenn,to answer your original question , there are tanged, socketed, paring ,and mortising. Design of some is a little different from modern . And ,of course ,turning .

  14. #14
    I inherited a set of "Ohio Tool Co." firmer chisels from my grandfather. He obviously discarded or traded off any poor chisels and kept the ones that he liked. Something to think about in your search. They are as David described: recognizable blackish color, long, thinnish, and thin of socket. I use them for restoration work on Victorian era apartments in San Francisco.
    I have an affection for them for obvious reasons. They're also probably exactly the chisels that were used on the 1902 Fir and Redwood buildings in the first place.
    I wanted to make a statement about Good and Bad steel. There's another way to think about it. Compared to, say, A2 chisels, a good carbon steel chisel will take just as fine an edge, but for less time. In compensation, it is considerably easier to sharpen. This calls for a shorter work/sharpening duty cycle. I'm suggesting there's possibly a "conservation of sharpening."

    So, I'm offering a second way of thinking about chisels. Short duty cycle or Long.

    russ

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •