Buy 4+ Bench Woodworking Chisels
The first woodworking chisels that I recommend that you purchase are bench chisels. Bench chisels are the most common type of woodworking chisels because you use them for so many woodworking tasks. They’re called bench chisels because they’re usually on your workbench, just like “bench planes”.
Bench chisels can either have beveled edges or normal, flat edges. The “bevel-edge” means that the sides move up at an angle to allow the chisel to fit more easily into joints (especially dovetail joints). This is the most common style of chisel, but I like the straight chisels as well (sometimes referred to as “registered chisels or firmer chisels”).
You can either buy a wood chisel set with five to ten bevel-edge bench chisels, or acquire different antique bench chisels in the common sizes. Yes, sets look nice and uniform, and I have several chisel sets, but you don’t always see the old school furniture makers with a shiny set of matching chisels. You see their chisel racks filled with random antique chisels, and their furniture doesn’t show a difference! Here are my chisel racks with a lot of mixed and matched antique wood chisels:
I have purchased many antique woodworking chisels, and the quality of steel is almost always superior to what comes in modern woodworking chisels. It’s like tool steel manufacturing processes were universally understood before World War II, which resulted in amazing chisels that hold an edge well, and then it’s like everyone lost the instructions in the hysteria of mass power tool production. And it seems like only a small number of manufactures have rediscovered the process to make great tool steel again.
Unless you can afford a high-end set of new chisels from some of these new tool makers (Lie-Nielsen chisels, Veritas chisels, Blue Spruce chisels, Narex Richter chisels, etc.), I’d recommend that you try and piece together some antique bench chisels, in useful sizes for furniture making. Either random chisels, or matching sets. Your choice. Start off with at least four bench chisels: 1/4″, 1/2″ (or 5/8″), 3/4″, and 1″ (or 1-1/4″). I would recommend scrolling up to the section titled, “What are the Best Brands of Woodworking Chisels?” and just have fun piecing together a motley crew of high-end antique bench chisels in the sizes just mentioned. Expect to pay $10-$20 per chisel. You can also try visiting a hand tool swap (like M-WTCA). Or you can try to find (or piece together) one of my favorite vintage bevel edge chisel models:
My Favorite Vintage Bevel-Edged Chisels: Stanley 750 Bench Chisels
If you are determined to purchase a matching set of bench chisels, one of my favorite antique chisels are the Stanley 750 chisels, which feature beveled edges. Years ago I pieced together seven antique 750 chisels for this set: 1/4″, 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″, 1″, 1-1/4″, and 1-1/2″. Buying a 1/8-inch chisel is also really useful if you can find one for a decent price. 1/8-inch Stanley 750 wood chisels are rare and somewhat expensive, so get another brand if you can’t afford a Stanley 750 version. You can certainly get along with fewer than seven chisels to start with (perhaps four, as I mentioned above) and add more as needed on projects. Click the below links to find antique Stanley chisels on eBay:
There are so many bad chisels out there (usually new chisels)…and a lot of “chisel-looking things” that I won’t even classify as a chisel. So you should really stick with well-made and proven chisel models (see my list of good chisel brand names earlier in this article). And if you can afford it, again I highly recommend finding some vintage Stanley 750 bevel-edge chisels. I love mine.
Christopher Schwarz said of the vintage (not new) Stanley 750 chisels, “Without a doubt, the out-of-production Stanley 750 chisel is one of the most well-designed cabinetmaking chisels ever made. The tool is finely balanced and comfortable for both paring and chopping – a rare quality in a chisel of any vintage. And I’ve always had a fondness for the long-term durability of its socket chisel design.”
If you decide to purchase Stanley 750 bevel-edge bench chisels, you can easily piece together different sizes (with handles) on eBay like I did. I found it easier (and cheaper) to purchase, on eBay, a lightly rusted (but not pitted) set of seven Stanley 750 chisels without handles. Then you can either turn your own handles or make them with a draw knife. But I went the simpler route and bought some beautiful (yet affordable) maple handles from this craftsman who sells his handles on eBay:
He turned the handles with leather pads on top to mimic the original maroon colored Stanley 750 handles. I had to shape them a bit on the lathe, but you can do it with sandpaper.
The Best New Wood Chisels? Narex Richter Extra Bevel Edge Chisels
Czech tool maker Narex recently released a new chisel set to the hand tool woodworking world called the Narex Richter chisels. Many woodworkers are hailing the Narex Richter chisels as the best wood chisels on the market. Many are even saying that this Narex chisel set surpasses the Lie-Nielsen chisels (see below) and the price is lower too. I have a set of 7 Narex Richter chisels and they are really nice. The prices have risen substantially since the COVID-19 pandemic, so you can compare prices at these retailers:
The Narex Richter chisels have a nice balance between maintaining an edge, but not being too hard. These chisels are forged from high quality Cr-V steel and cryogenically treated and tempered to at least 62 HRc. I like the thin sides that makes it easier to get into tight spaces. The handles are ash, which is nice, but they don’t offer much grip, like an octagonal handle would. Not a big deal. I’ve found the edges to hold pretty well, but I still want to give these a few more months of use with my woodworking students before I can give a big thumb’s up.
Lie-Nielsen Bevel Edge Bench Chisels. Worth the price?
Lie-Nielsen Toolworks makes a line of nice bevel edged bench chisels, patterned after the popular Stanley 750 chisels that I mentioned above. They’ve gotten really popular, but they do have their drawbacks. For one, I don’t like A2 steel. A2 steel does hold an edge a bit better, but it makes for much harder honing. And you’ll have to invest in water stones, because I haven’t had much luck with oil stones or sandpaper. That sucks, because I like to sharpen chisels right in my workshop with oilstones and honing oil, rather than having to go find a sink. Another drawback is that the Lie-Nielsen chisels are some of the most expensive on the market, at $55 per chisel, plus expensive shipping.
I still prefer O1 high-carbon steel, the steel found in vintage chisels. And as mentioned above, I’m still testing out Cr-V steel. Here are the buying options for these Lie-Nielsen woodworking chisels:
Inexpensive New Bench Chisel Option:
I have tested a lot of wood chisels with feedback from my woodworking students. Some of the lower priced wood chisel sets may work alright for you, if you keep them stropped on a leather strop every couple minutes of use. Here are a few quite affordable options for wood chisel sets that I’ve tried out:
Narex bench chisels
Years ago I bought a Narex 6-piece bench chisel set to try out as a cheaper option for my readers. I bought it because Fine Woodworking Magazine contributor Chris Gochnour recommended them as a best value set. Read more here. I liked these chisels, but not as much as my antique chisels, like my Stanley 750 chisels. They hold an edge longer than the Irwin chisels mentioned below, but not as long as many of my antique chisels. However, that won’t be a huge issue if you are diligent at using a leather strop quite often (every couple minutes of use). And at $12 per chisel (update: now $15/chisel) the price is right. These chisels have a nice traditional look and feel with wooden handles.
These aren’t even close to the nicest chisels I’ve used, but they aren’t bad for someone on a budget.
Irwin Marples bench chisels
If your budget is really limited, then you can try this set of four Irwin Marple bevel edge chisels on Amazon. I own a couple sets of these chisels (I purchased them for my sons), and they work pretty well….not perfect, but good enough for beginners. The edge doesn’t last as long as any of the above-mentioned bench chisels, but again, if you strop really often, then you may get by. Currently they cost about $10 per chisel.