No experience with Sorby except their lathe tools, which have always worked
fine for me. I can imagine Douglas fir giving you a problem with a good
chisel. I have one set of Stanley butt chisels [circa 1970], but I seldom
use them. I prefer a set of Greenlee socket chisels from the 1930's that I
bought at an auction. A couple of them are getting rather short, so I don't
know which of us will wear out first. I also have sets of socket chisels by
Witherby, Belmont, and Winchester -- all very old from auctions -- that seem
to hold their edges better than new ones I have tried. harrym
I have two sets of good chisels. I use a set of Iyori japanese chisels for
cutting dovetails and some mortices. I have them sharpened around 35
degrees for the smaller ones and around 30 degrees for wider chisels. If
you get a chance, get ahold of Leonard Lee's book on sharpening. He
explains how to go about choosing and appropriate sharpening angle
depending on what you are doing with a chisel.
Oh, my other set of chisels is used ONLY for paring. They are sharpened
between 20 and 25 degrees, depending on size.
the Sorby is not a mortising chisel and its lack of performance in this area
is not entirely surprising. The right tool for the job applies here as
chisels ain't just chisels.
Note that nowadays mortice and mortise are used interchangeably. The term
originally came from the middle English "mortaise" which may have come from
the Arabic "murtazz" (fastened) which was derived from "irtazza" (to be
fixed [in place])
Go back in time to 1993, some of the original discussions on this topic were
Or, for the cut & paste impaired: http://tinyurl.com/m1hh
To reduce the chopping required with bevel edge chisels, drill out as much
wood as possible first, then clean up with the bevel edge. Steve Knight used
to make the mother of all mortise chisels, he may still do so. Note that a
younger Steve is involved in the thread referenced above, and Patrick Leach,
and . . .
Bevelled, firmer, paring and mortising chisels discussed here:
Again, for the cut & paste impaired: http://tinyurl.com/m1iv
Middle English, from Old French cisiel, from Vulgar Latin *cisellus, cutting
tool, from diminutive of Latin caesus past participle of caedere, to cut.
That's it, I'm done. Pardon the ramble, I do that sometimes.
And now a word from our sponsor:
Just say It's all in the way you beat your chisel.
"Christopher" chipped in with:...
First, thanks for the links and the lessons. I learned from both. I
thought when I bought these that the mortise chisels and firmer chisels were
simply thicker to handle prying forces and heavier blows from a mallet than
my bevel chisels. The links you posted seemed to support this in general
unless I read something wrong. Is there something else about them that
would help the edge stay sharp? I tried not to use the chisel as a lever
too much while doing the mortises.
I've got a new Marples 1/2" bevel chisel also that I just finished lapping
the back of but haven't done any work on the bevel yet. By the way, lapping
the Marples back flat and mirrored was FAR more work than it was on the
Sorby so there certainly is a quality difference in that respect. I think
I'm going to try the Marples beveled at 25 degrees like I have the Sorby and
see how it does and then redo the bevel at 30 to see how it cuts and how
long the edge lasts there in the same type of wood I've been chopping with
the Sorby. If the Marples chisel stays sharp as long as the Sorby did while
doing the same type of work and being sharpened the same I am going to be
I'm already planning to return the 1" Sorby I bought over the weekend at
Rockler and buy a Japanese Chisel from Woodcraft instead. I also ordered a
couple of the Veritas Detail chisels from Lee Valley last night. I got a
1/2" paring chisel and a 1/8" dovetail chisel. They are supposed to come
fully honed so it will be interesting to see how their sharpening job
compares to the one I did. Anyway, I didn't mean to write so much in this
one post. Just started typing what I was thinking.
Sounds like you used a bench, or paring, chisel instead of a mortice
chisel to cut your mortices. A mortice chisel edge is designed for the
kind of abuse inherent in morticing, the paring chisel edge isn't.
Yes, I was using a standard beveled chisel. The edge started going away
before I did any mortising though and I'm still not understanding how the
thickness of the blade on a mortise chisel makes a difference in keeping the
edge keen. I'll get out my Complete Guide to Sharpening book I bought a
couple weeks ago and read some more though.
As I have found recently (after acquiring a proper mortise chisel for the
job), another advantage is that the immense thickness of the blade guides
the cut and ensures that your mortise is cut nice and straight, with a lot
less effort and deliberation than would be necessary with a bench chisel.
Start your cut square and you're almost guaranteed a clean, straight mortise
without the need to pare the sides.
For the OP - Geff Gorman's site (http://www.amgron.clara.net /) contains good
instructions for chopping mortises without the need to drill out first, and
once you get the technique it's a fairly quick and satisfying job.
Am now just awaiting delivery of a swan necked chisel which should speed up
the job of cleaning the bottom of the mortise....
email me at
richard at olifant d-ot co do-t uk
Although that may be true where such chisels have been deliberately
given different heat treatments, I'd expect the failures to be by
chipping (too hard) rather than this sort of bending and burring.
Sorby are rubbish. They used to be good, but the quality has
evaporated in recent years and they're just trading on the name. Sad
Tell me why you feel they're rubbish!?
I like mine very much and use them all the time. Rubbish? Convince me,
Poor heat treatment (assuming they haven't changed the alloy). The
edges seem inconsistent - lots of burring, occasional chipping.
They're also (some of them) bad for forming wire edges when
sharpening. The problem seems to be one of inconsistency and
unreliability, rather than them all being made from something
Maybe this is over-aggressive grinding drawing the temper ? It's hard
to tell without visiting the factory.
Very poor QA. Look through the boxes of new ones and look for lousy
grinding on the odd one. They pop up with non-square edges, tapered
faces, odd deep scratches.
If you want a good English chisel, look at Henry Taylors, not Sorby or
I was so impressed with the power of the Sorby Heavy-Duty, that I felt
they were the best thing in the world. You have some good points which
come from experience I haven't had yet. I have begun to suspect that
Marples (hey they're decent paring chisels) and Sorbys arrive with a
slight off-angle bevel. Used to think it was my fault somehow. It's
easy to correct though-. I see the wire edge, thought that might be
OTOH I once bought a pair of Crown chisels, the ones coming in left
and right-handed pairs, bent l. and r. to clean out mortises etc. They
royally stank. I took 'em back to the store where the salesman gave me
a line about "you always need to sharpen new tools" and when I pointed
out the "square" cross-section was distorted and variable rounded at
the corners, he said "new tools often need to be reground a bit before
use". I threw them away.
I know the Lie-Nielson chisels will be heaven . I also know they will
cost 60% of my soul, apiece :-(
I bought nearly a complete set of Sorby London pattern bevel edge chisels five
or six years ago (some from WC and one or two from other sources) - all were
disappointments, incapable of holding an edge in anything but basswood. They
are now 'display' tools - good for looking pretty on the wall, but useless
otherwise. Pretty much the same experience with the recent Blue Chips from
I ended up getting a set of Stanley 750s to supplement the old (circa 1979)
Double Cherries metric width chisels - the 750s sharpen well, hold an edge, and
can be had for about $10-$15 per chisel at old tools shows. L-N is supposed to
be coming out with his version of the 750 - time will tell.
I have not tried the Sorby mortising chisels - might be a bit better.
Thanks Todd. I'm going to take this 1/2 Sorby and sharpen it a few times as
Rob Lee suggested and see if it holds up better after a bit of material has
been removed. If that doesn't satisfy me I'll change my bevel angle to 30
or 35 and try it again. There is plenty of blade there so I don't see where
having it end up 1/4" shorter when I'm done is going to matter. I'll just
be careful not to get it too hot in the process. I certainly won't be
buying any more Sorby chisels until I see if this one improves though.
I think you may have overlooked that although Douglas Fir is classified as a
'softwood', it's actually damn hard!! The problem may lie in the 25 degree
angle being too fine. Try 30 to 35 degrees on the chisel with a very small
microbevel. This should maintain more backbone at the edge and stop this
happening. Also, straight grinding rather than hollow grinding may be better
for harder materials.
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