3 types of commonly available “mid-level” chisels
A good review would show plenty of close-ups of important details on the chisels and tell you how many mallet swings it takes to dull the tool in several types of wood. This is not that kind of review, so stop reading now if that is what you need. This is a more touchy-feely review.
I’m not big on reviewing multiple options of any one thing. The biggest problem is that it involves buying more than one of the same thing. No sponsors here, and no ironmongers sending me stuff to review (maybe this year?). For this instance I will make an exception because I recently decided to experiment with different chisels and I learned a little in the process that I think could benefit others.
Here are the chisels in this comparison. From left to right are Ashley Iles Mk2, Vintage Stanley Sockets, and new Stanley Sweetheart 750’s. The picture shows a 3/4 and 1/4 inch of each type, which are the sizes that I use most often.
Ahley Iles Mk2 bevel edge chisels (on the left)
These were my primary user chisels for a few years. They are excellent. I have no complaints and no cons. They are made from good steel that dulls without chipping the edge which makes them easy to sharpen and resharpen. I always thought they held an edge well. One really nice feature is the slight hollow grind on the back, which makes initial flattening really fast. Highly recommended. Buy them from Joel at TFWW and support a support a good business.
Vintage Stanley socket chisels (in the middle)
The two chisels in the middle do not really qualify as 750’s, but they are good vintage chisels. I bought these from a reputable tool dealer because I wanted to see what the fuss was about with socket chisels. Vintage tools are always the riskier option because you never know what you will get until you set them up and use them a while. The steel has a lot of history that can be checkered. As with all vintage tools initial sharpening took a while. Small pitts on the back had to be lapped out and the bevels needed to be correctly ground. After the initial sharpening I was really impressed. These chisels felt different in my hands than my AI chisels. Without thinking, I tend to hold these at the base of the socket in use. I generally held the AI’s by the handles. Overall they were great, except the time required to put them to work and the variability that is inevitable in vintage iron that may or may not have been abused by former
New Stanley Sweetheart 750 chisels (on your right)
I bought the 8 piece set on a splurge. I paid full price from my friends at the woodwork shop. They are surprisingly light, which feels great with the smaller ones but a little strange with the two largest. Why buy them? I liked the vintage sockets and I thought the new ones may be even better. I’d say they are a close tie, straight out of the box. As received, the Stanley’s all have lands (edges) that are too thick for my liking. The Ashley Iles chisels spoiled me, I suppose. Other than the lands, these are great chisels. Made in the UK, and priced in the “middle” of modern options. You can’t go wrong with them for cabinet work.
My improved Stanley Sweetheart 750, 3/4inch chisel
I decided to take a chance on a modification of the new Stanley’s. I asked a machinist friend who is good with a grinder to make the Stanleys look more like my AI chisels. He did a commendable job, don’t you think? After this improvement to the Stanleys, I sold the Ashley Iles. I learned that I really liked the feel and balance of the socket chisels and with the lands now even, the edge went to the Stanley’s. I sold the vintage Stanleys because I didn’t want to grind down the lands of the vintage chisels. It just seemed wrong.
The new Stanley’s are really nice and were easy to sharpen. The backs were all pretty flat. I will admit, that if I had not ground the lands down, the Ashley Iles would have won out. They are made to perfection, for a tanged chisel for cabinet work.
Why bother to post the “worst” review of anything? Because there is a lesson to learn. There is no perfect tool, there is only the silly desire for perfection in our possessions. The drive to have the best thing out there, or at least the best thing we can find today. If I could stop this stupid behavior, I would live happier and longer. I don’t think I can stop anymore than you. To perfection we will strive!