I know there is nothing out there in the tool world that stirs up controversy like bringing up Harbor Freight so here goes. I just bought a set of the wooden handled Windsor Design chisels, number 62641. I picked these up ( you can never have too many chisels) as a beater set and out of curiosity since they were labeled as “new” and as chrome vanadium steel. I have some experience with this steel alloy on some other edged tools and wanted to see how they compare.
Handle material, balance, overall shape, etc. are personal preferences that everyone has but I have always been able to work with nearly every style I have come across so I will leave it up to you to decide if you like these or not. For me, I found nothing truly objectionable or unworkable on the new set. Let me also say that I have a couple of sets of the older similar style chisels that have been around for several years that have been my carpentry beaters. I can’t say a lot of good things about the older ones except to say that they will do the work if you can keep them sharp.
Out of the package, I noticed that they are heavily coated with lacquer that I removed with thinner. The grind marks are coarse and there were sharp edges where there should be no sharp edges. The side bevels on one chisel were noticeably uneven but nothing that would make the tool unusable. There were some nicks on the tools and on the edges from rough handling at the factory. A couple of the tools were ground so that the edges were not square with the chisel bodies requiring some minor grinding. The backs flattened fairly well and the rest of the work was pretty much standard chisel sharpening work.
The real surprise was in the change of quality in the steel. I could tell pretty quickly that the blades were harder than the older sets, requiring more effort in the flattening and sharpening and leaving less black residue on the stones. Even at that, in an hour all six chisels were ready to work and some test time at the bench against some maple and old oak showed that the chisels are clearly superior to the older sets. Even after several minutes of paring end grain they were still able to shave arm hair and had no curled edges. I have never been able to recommend Harbor freight chisels before but they have definitely upped their game with these. I have over a couple of hundred chisels now from European, Japanese and high end American makers ( new and antiques) and while the Harbor Freight chisels are definitely not my favorites for bench work, they represent a good beginner set or “beater” set for the money, certainly better than the big box store offerings. Any of the “old timers would have been tickled to have a set of these for their bench. Just be sure that the set you pick up are marked as chromium vanadium.
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