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Thread: Best vintage chisels?

  1. #1
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    Best vintage chisels?

    Greetings to all!

    Quick question or two for you guys and girls that have used different chisel brands. Which vintage brand is your favorite, and why? I have a mixed lot, Barton, Stanley, Swan, Witherby, Berg, Buck Bros. etc, and would like to get a set of something. Which do you think has the best steel? Most of the work I do is paring, very little chopping, so I guess if you need it narrowed down, which vintage bevel edge bench chisel brand do you prefer?

  2. #2
    I have set of Witherby paring chisels (with flat sides) that I use with a mallet, a set of Swan bevel edge paring chisels that are for hand use only, and a set of Stanley Defiance bench chisels for heavy use. I can't tell the difference in the steel. They are all excellent. But I love the Swan's the best for no definable reason.

    Good luck with collecting your set(s). It is a slippery slope.

  3. #3
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    Erik Anton Berg if you can find them. I don't know why but most of the ones I see on the 'Bay are now located in Oz.

    Bruce

  4. #4
    A friend of mine who has a large variety of vintage chisels tells me he doesn't find much, if any, difference between them. I have a much smaller selection of vintage chisels and don't see any difference.

    However, certain brands seem to be in higher demand and will cost more to buy, but you'll get more for them when you sell.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Henderson View Post
    A friend of mine who has a large variety of vintage chisels tells me he doesn't find much, if any, difference between them. I have a much smaller selection of vintage chisels and don't see any difference.

    However, certain brands seem to be in higher demand and will cost more to buy, but you'll get more for them when you sell.

    Mike
    Agreed.

    I have a pretty motley collection of chisels, some by Ohio Tool, PEXTO, Union Tool, Whitherby, Greenlee, and a couple of no-names. With one exception (a no-name) they are great chisels that take and hold a good edge. I'll admit that I haven't done any real testing between them, but in my regular use, I can't really tell a difference.

    You'll generally pay a premium for Whitherby and Swan chisels though... I sprang for the Whitherby chisel I have just because I wanted to see if the hype was justified. It is a fine chisel, but I don't think I would pay any extra for a Whitherby than a PEXTO or Union, etc... I could never convince myself to pay the super premium prices that the Swan chisels command though, so maybe I'm really missing out.
    "History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it." -Walter Bagehot

  6. #6
    Hi Steve
    For my contractor type work I pick up the used Stanley. They are cheap and at almost any yard sale with tools. Steel takes a good edge and if I hit a nail, screw or anything else that is not supposed to be there, no big sweat.
    As for dovetail work I am not sure if they would be considered vintage but I really like the stuff from Blue Spruce. They are the only chisels of which I have a full matched set. I like every thing about them. They look very good and were designed by a true craftsman. The steel is excellent. For bench chisels I have a mix. I have found that for me any of the “good quality” brands have good steel. It boils down to what feels good in my hand. The smaller the chisel width the smaller I like the chisel to be so I have a mix. I also prefer shorter chisels they just don’t feel as unwieldy as some if the very long ones.
    It sounds like you have several types. Spend some time trying them out with the types of wood you like to work with.

  7. #7
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    Many of mine are W. Butcher "Cast Steel". Sweet if you can find 'em. Sharpen, hone, then chisel away. Most of the time I just strop 'em back to razor sharp.
    Bill
    On the other hand, I still have five fingers.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Haugen View Post
    Erik Anton Berg if you can find them. I don't know why but most of the ones I see on the 'Bay are now located in Oz.

    Bruce
    Bergs are very good.
    I think that they were also marketed in the US under the Beaver brandname.
    I have seen sets for sale over there and apart from the branding, they are identical to E A Bergs right down to the birch root handles.
    Perhaps an Ebay search will turn some up for you.
    regards
    MC

  9. #9
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    You guys are confirming a suspicion I've had for a while. My personal favorite is a 2" wide D.R. Barton firmer, with a handle I made. Fantasic chisel, just keeps going and going, but, the others are good too, and I can't see any obvious difference in the steel in my specimans, except for a few expected duds.

    The reason I ask, I have a lead on a set of Bergs, and I can actually afford, AND justify them now, so I was wondering if my thoughts on the steels used were shared with anyone else. I'd like to have a full set of something, and while I know Bergs are good, just wanted verification that I won't get buyers remorse when one of you tells me about that sweet Swan or Witherby....
    Last edited by Steve Rozmiarek; 01-11-2008 at 10:27 PM. Reason: can't spell

  10. #10
    Those are nice chisels. If you have a great deal in the works you will always be able to resell them if you do not like them.

  11. #11
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    Steve,
    you won't feel any buyer's remorse on the full set of Bergs. At least not on account of the quality. My Bergs hold an edge as good as anything out there. A whole set? I'm jealous...

    Bruce

  12. #12
    Steve

    I have a set of both Bergs and Witherbys (and a couple of others - its an illness ).

    The Bergs are quite thin compared to Witherby. They have a delicate feel, are great for paring and dovetailing, and hold a good edge (I have been using them on hardwood with a 20 degree bevel). Mine are the tanged variety. I do have a few socketed versions, but the tanged ones are a little lighter, which I prefer. I have also re-handled all mine because I use them for paring, not hitting, and prefer a longer handle.

    Here are the handles I made (chisels 1/8" through 1 1/4" - I don't like using larger than that for paring):



    The Witherbys are excellent as well. Just different. They have the best steel I have come across in vintage chisels (which is not saying that they are the best - because I have not used them all, not by a long way - but that they have really great steel). Theuy take a lot of punishment. My set is more of a butt chisel and I would not use them for dovetails as the sidewalls are not bevelled as shallowly as the Bergs. So I keep them as a general, all rounder. They are very sweet in this capacity. Nice balance.

    Here are Bergs and Witherbys (with original handles). Bergs on top, Witherbys below. The red handles are a cheaper line of Berg:



    As you are in a position to get the Bergs, I'd say "jump at them"! You will not be sorry. They are great chisels.

    Incidentally, the Canadian "Beaver" chisel is indeed Berg.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  13. #13
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    Derek, thanks for your post and photos, great job on those handles! I did go ahead and buy those chisels, and they will be flying north, from your neck of the woods this week sometime.

    Your "illness" may be in an advanced state if you've got a couple more pairs of good chisels laying around! I thought I had it bad, and I don't even have one full set of anything! (not counting planes....) Have a good one, and thanks again to all that offered their opinions.

  14. #14
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    Derek, thanks for your post and photos, great job on those handles! I did go ahead and buy those chisels, and they will be flying north, from your neck of the woods this week sometime.

    Your "illness" may be in an advanced state if you've got a couple more pairs of good chisels laying around! I thought I had it bad, and I don't even have one full set of anything! (not counting planes....) Have a good one, and thanks again to all that offered their opinions.
    I find there are favorites among my chisels. A recent usage of 3/4 inch chisel makes me think the different quality makers made similar quality.

    I have at least 5 different 3/4 inch chisels. Two Buck Bros, Pexto, Sandvik and Witherby. One of the Bucks is beveled the other is straight sided. Using them to hand cut some dados in cedar indicate they all work. The biggest difference was due more to the bevel angle used for sharpening and their length. The straight sided one does not work in this kind of job as well. Different lengths for different uses is a good reason to look for another set of users. They do not have to be a matched set.
    My group of chisels has most sizes either duplicated or at least bevel and straight sided. There are some sizes that would not find a lot of use. So when you get over an inch or so, you do not really need a lot unless you do big work.
    It is also useful to have a few junkers around, maybe even with plastic handles.
    My next project is to learn to make handles. Guess that means getting a lathe.
    Just had to replace my old computer, so it has to wait at least a little while longer.
    On the plus side, the wife wants to learn to turn too, so my knees get a rest.

    Jim

    If you could kick in the pants the one responsible for your problems,
    you wouldn't sit for a month.
    --Theodore Roosevelt
    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 01-15-2008 at 3:15 AM. Reason: misspelling

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