Cheap Chisels


I didn’t get a lot of advice and wisdom from my father. The majority of what was passed from father to son was highly inappropriate and would get me in trouble. But one piece I’ll share; “take care of your tools.” Actually, I don’t know if he was saying that to me or to remind himself, but it stuck with me.

Sort of? When it comes to the expensive woodworking hand tools I own, I do a good job of keeping them in top condition. But I have a bunch of “cheaper” tools that I use on job sites; stuff that I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over if they got stolen, lost, or destroyed. And I’m not that great at taking care of these.

In that lot are a set of Marples chisels. These were the first chisels I ever used for the purpose they were created (instead of paint can openers). When I bought them, I didn’t know anything about quality steel, a comfortable handle, balance, sharpening, or bevel angles. And I certainly didn’t care what anyone else thought about my chisels either. It was just a chisel. But these chisels have been good chisels; they’ve done all that I have asked of them and more.

I pulled one out of the site box this week and realized that I haven’t been treating them well. They had rusted, been chipped, and were in serious need of sharpening. Banging around in a tool box with no protection wasn’t good for them. Over the weekend, I brought them in and gave them a vinegar bath, flattened the backs, polished them up, sharpened them, and put them in a cheap tool roll.

At one point, when I “upgraded” to a different set of chisels, I had considered getting rid of these. But reflecting on what I’ve done and what I’ve learned with these chisels…I’m glad I still have them for traveling companions.

Cleaned up and ready for work.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Village Woodwright says:

    While I have some more expensive chisels that stay in the shop, my Marples chisels are my jobsite set, too. They live in a decades-old, slighly oily, partly torn canvas tool roll which keeps them happy. They do what I ask of them quite well. No complaints.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Darren Watson says:

    I am a timberframer by trade and have the same set of chisels plus an inch and a half that has proven to be an indispensable part of my kit for the last 15 years. I was truly saddened last winter when a sharp hammer blow, yes it should have been a mallet, caused the handle to split in two lengthwise and I have missed it’s maneuverability in doing finer work that my 17″ long framing chisel is just not made to do. Some day I will rehandle it but it will certainly not feel the same. I would just replace it with the current version but I am not a fan of rubbery co-molded handles and metal striking caps not to mention who knows what kind of steel Irwin is using these days.


    1. Eric Key says:

      I know how you feel about the new ones… Have you thought about resin casting for a new handle? I don’t know much about it but it doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult to use one of the other chisels you have to make a mold. And it might have a similar feel to the old handles.


  3. momist says:

    I have a set of those as well. They are VERY good chisels, if old enough. Later production moved to the far east and is not so good. I too use them for site work. I prefer my old boxwood handle chisels for the workshop.


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