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Thread: Soft New Irwin Chisel

  1. #1
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    Soft New Irwin Chisel

    I saw some Youtube dude proclaiming the virtues of the new Irwin chisels. I decided to try one. It arrived today.

    Before doing anything, I decided to see how hard the steel was. I took out a Kershaw pocket knife, and I scratched the back of the chisel. I made tiny microscopic scratches in it. When I tried to scratch the knife with the chisel, the chisel slid on the knife like a butter knife on glass. No scratching.

    I then grabbed a Home Depot Buck Bros. chisel and tried the same test. This is one of the cheapest chisels in the universe. The Irwin chisel could not mark it, but the Buck Bros. chisel could mark the Irwin.

    I'm sending the Irwin back. Am I being unreasonable? Seems to me that a good chisel should be nice and hard. I suppose the Irwin will take an edge quickly, but it will also lose an edge quickly.

    I don't feel bad about sending a scratched chisel back, because the next buyer will need a microscope to see the scratches, and he will want to flatten the back of the chisel anyway.
    Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of bench.

  2. #2
    I'm amazed at the logic of your process. That's great noodling! As to returning it because the steel is too soft, no, IMO that's fine.

  3. #3
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    It's also softer than a Narex.
    Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of bench.

  4. #4
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    I had a disturbing thought. What if I was slandering Irwin? Maybe the chisel had a thin coat of some kind of varnish on it, and when I thought I was scratching the steel, I was really scratching the coating? I remember seeing Frank Klausz take varnish off of a new chisel.

    I wiped the chisel with solvent and tried again. The Buck still scratches it.
    Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of bench.

  5. #5
    Too funny!

  6. #6
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    No,you are quite correct. Irwin USED to make good tools,and my current go to set of 29 drill bits from 1/16- 1/2" are Irwins. BUT they were made some long while ago,and I bought them unused from the used machinery dealer I frequented so much.

    I don't know who bought Irwin out,but they are now cheap crud. If I may say something polite about them(my own opinion,of course!)

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve H Graham View Post
    I then grabbed a Home Depot Buck Bros. chisel and tried the same test. This is one of the cheapest chisels in the universe. The Irwin chisel could not mark it, but the Buck Bros. chisel could mark the Irwin.
    Those Buck chisels are actually pretty good for the money, and US-made as well. I have a set that I keep around as utility chisels and they sharpen up remarkably well. They come with decently flat backs, that tend to be ever so slightly concave if anything. My Narex chisels were a lot more hassle to prepare (due to a few of them having convex backs) than were those Bucks.

    For all of the noise about Aldi I think that the Bucks are the best value in a new chisel that most of us can actually go to a nearby store and buy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve H Graham View Post
    I'm sending the Irwin back. Am I being unreasonable? Seems to me that a good chisel should be nice and hard. I suppose the Irwin will take an edge quickly, but it will also lose an edge quickly.
    Sounds reasonable to me.

  8. #8
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    One last question: How far back from the edge did you scratch the back of the chisels?

    Some chisels are only fully hardened for the first couple inches of the blade. For example the Buck in front of me right now is hardened over the first 1.5" (it's a butt-type chisel with a 3" blade, so you'd never grind it back that far anyway). You can often spot the boundary in the scratch pattern left when working the back flat.

    Is it possible that you tested an unhardened part of the blade?

  9. #9
    I actually quite liked my cheap Irwins for a while when I was just getting going. It was fairly easy to get them sharp enough to do basic work on sandpaper and they hold up alright enough when paring with them, something I had significant trouble with until I got a better sharpening setup. I don't care for them at all when it comes to any kind of chopping however.

  10. #10
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    I have to ask, did you try them on wood or just steel?

    They are wood chisels you know. From what you tell us, the chisel probably wont do well there either.

  11. #11
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    I really wanted to be fair, so I tried to think of every error I could be making. I made sure there was no coating on the chisel. I checked it in various areas, including the bevel, which is surely hardened.

    I did not see any point in trying the chisel on wood. To do that, I would have to sharpen it, and then I'd be stuck with what had already proven to be a soft chisel.

    This wouldn't be such a surprise to me if people didn't say such nasty things about Buck Bros. chisels. I haven't had any problems at all with the ones I bought. I wonder if the people who hate them are just bad at sharpening. I bought them because they were cheap and convenient, and I figured they would be fun to play with while I decided what I really wanted. They keep working. What can I tell you? I feel like I'm inviting abuse by saying Buck Bros. chisels work, but they do.

    Here's what I want to know: why can't Irwin make a good chisel in China? It looks like they got everything right except for the easiest part: hard steel. I'm a tool idiot, and if I wanted to, I could buy steel and make a good chisel.
    Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of bench.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve H Graham View Post
    This wouldn't be such a surprise to me if people didn't say such nasty things about Buck Bros. chisels. I haven't had any problems at all with the ones I bought. I wonder if the people who hate them are just bad at sharpening. I bought them because they were cheap and convenient, and I figured they would be fun to play with while I decided what I really wanted. They keep working. What can I tell you? I feel like I'm inviting abuse by saying Buck Bros. chisels work, but they do.
    The Orange Borg sells a lot of bad hand tools, so there tends to be an assumption that any hand tool they sell must be bad. I agree with you that this case is an exception, because as I said earlier I've also found those chisels to be better than their reputation.

    Also, let's face it, woodworking forum inhabitants can be a very snobbish bunch. If you believed everything written in some threads you might conclude that you can't do quality work without {L-N, Veritas, Blue Spruce, high-end Japanese, etc} chisels.

  13. #13
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    A "problem" with those ultra hard, un-scratchable chisels......BRITTLE.....like making a file into a chisel without tempering the steel. And, IF you can't scratch the steel...how the heck will you sharpen it?

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by steven c newman View Post
    A "problem" with those ultra hard, un-scratchable chisels......BRITTLE.....like making a file into a chisel without tempering the steel. And, IF you can't scratch the steel...how the heck will you sharpen it?
    The Buck that he's comparing to is optimistically Rc59 or so, estimated by comparison to other HCS tools I have that are billed as being tempered to that hardness. If the Irwin can be scratched by that then it's definitely on the soft side for a chisel. Nothing we're talking about here is "ultra-hard" or brittle.

    W.r.t. sharpening, as of the last time I checked we don't sharpen chisels with other chisels. Of the most common abrasives, SiO2 (arks, natural waterstones) is ~Rc69 and AlOx (synthetic oilstones and waterstones) is ~Rc76. Everything we're talking about here is way down in the "easy to sharpen" range.
    Last edited by Patrick Chase; 06-26-2017 at 11:36 PM.

  15. #15
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    I was at Home Depot today buying stuff I did not need, and I decided to fill out my collection of world-renowned Buck Bros. chisels with a 5/8". I had no problems sharpening it. The factory left an edge that was a little odd, so it took me a while, but the steel itself cut just fine on diamond stones.

    I guess the quest for longer bench chisels that don't come from Home Depot can wait a little longer.

    I should knock the plastic handles off of these, make fancy wooden ones, and stamp a snooty-sounding name on them. Maybe Neiman-Marcus.
    Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of bench.

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