Best Chisel Sets

Updated December 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

25 Models Considered
9 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
122 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best chisel sets

Last Updated December 2019

A good set of chisels is an absolute must for both amateur and professional woodworkers. The DIY enthusiast will also find them invaluable for dozens of jobs around the home and yard.

People looking to buy a set of chisels have a huge choice, from economical models for the home user and contractor to specialist tools for makers of fine furniture. You might not think there is much to consider – after all, a chisel is just a handle and a blade – but there are a number of options that impact tool quality and price.

BestReviews has been researching the market so we can offer practical advice, whatever your needs. Our top recommendations cover the most common types of woodworking chisel, offering both high quality and excellent economy. For those interested in more detail about the design and manufacture of chisels and what makes some better than others, we've put together the following chisel set buyer's guide.

If you do both quality cabinet work and general carpentry, it's probably worth investing in two sets of chisels. Keep the better set for fine detail work and the cheaper set for routine or everyday tasks.

Key considerations

Types

  • Bench chisels are the most common type, the chisel pretty much everyone recognizes. These have beveled edges on three sides and can handle just about every woodworking job you'll ever need to do. The other chisels described below might do the job more quickly and easily, but you can make do with a bench chisel.

  • Firmer (rectangular) chisels are a type of bench chisel and share the same blade shape. However, while a “standard” bench chisel is a hand tool, a firmer chisel is designed to be used with a mallet. As a result, this chisel usually has a handle with a flatter end for striking and a steel band to prevent the wooden handle from splitting. In practice, the name “firmer” isn't widely used.

  • Paring chisels are also much like bench chisels in overall design, but these have thinner blades and are often longer. Paring chisels are designed for taking fine cuts by hand, such as when tidying up decorative joints after most of the work has been done with a more robust chisel.

  • Mortise chisels only cut on the front edge. The sides are flat and they are much thicker than bench chisels. These are made for heavy-duty use (usually with a mallet) to remove material quickly when creating mortise-and-tenon joints. A bench chisel can cut this kind of joint, but if you're doing it a lot, you'll thank yourself for investing in a set of these.

  • Japanese chisels can perform any of the tasks of the tools above but are made differently. Whereas “Western” chisels are made from a single piece of steel, Japanese tools are made from multiple layers beaten together under extreme pressure. As a result, these chisels are a bit like a highly compressed stack of chisel blades. They reveal dozens of micro-fine edges when sharpened and tend to keep their edge longer. However, making them is very labor intensive, which is reflected in the price. These are beautiful but very expensive tools.

  • Carving chisels are a subject unto themselves, with literally hundreds of blade shapes and sizes.
     

Handle

  • Wood: For some woodworkers, there's no substitute for the feel and balance of a nice wooden-handled tool. Generally, the handle is made of a close-grained wood like hornbeam or boxwood. In Europe, beech is popular (and relatively low cost). Japanese tools often use red oak, which is quite different than the homegrown variety. Hand tools should have a nice rounded end that fits snugly in the palm. Those designed to be used with a mallet have a flatter end and should have a steel band near the end to help prevent splitting. You never hit a wooden-handled chisel with a steel hammer.

    The downside of wooden handles is their lack of durability. A protective coat of varnish can only last so long. Those struck repeatedly with a mallet will eventually split. If properly looked after, a wooden-handled mallet can last many years, but eventually it will have to be replaced.

  • Plastic and composite: Modern polypropylene (plastic) and composite handles don't have the luster of wood, but impact-resistant models are practically indestructible. You can hit them with a hammer all day and the only thing that will show signs of wear is your arm!

    You do need to be careful, though. Some cheap chisels have plain plastic handles that look appealing but can be fragile. They’re prone to shattering under heavy use. Check the description and materials. Avoid the problem by buying quality tools.
     

Blade

Chisel blades are invariably made of tool steel or steel alloy, but that description doesn't really tell you anything.

  • Molybdenum steel is used for many tools. It's hard and has a degree of shock resistance that's good for wrenches, for example, but it's not very good for edge tools. Some cheap chisels have molybdenum steel blades. We wouldn't recommend them.

  • Vanadium (or chrome vanadium) steel is a popular material for chisel blades. It's hard, so it takes a good edge, it's modestly priced, and the addition of chrome prevents rust. It's probably the most popular steel for chisel blades.

  • Manganese steel (Hadfield steel or mangalloy) isn't common, but it does have very low wear rates and can be made very hard. As a result, chisels made from it can be very sharp. It's also used in the production of modern Samurai swords.

  • Carbon steel is used in many high-end chisel sets, but it's an area where care is needed. There are many grades of this material, so just calling it “carbon steel” can be misleading. It's important that it's of sufficient hardness. Look for high-carbon steel or, better yet, a number that indicates hardness (there are a variety of scales and all can be checked online). High-quality high-carbon steel is, in our opinion, the best material for creating and maintaining a sharp edge.

    As with vanadium steel, chrome is sometimes added to high-carbon steel to prevent rust. This isn’t the same as high-tensile steel, which has other properties.

EXPERT TIP

You don't often need a chisel smaller than one-quarter inch or larger than one inch, so a set of four that includes these plus chisels of one-half inch and three-quarters inch will handle almost any task.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Some chisels arrive ready to use, but many need a final sharpening or honing. It's worth investing in a quality sharpening stone. It will pay for itself in the long run.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Sharpening a chisel properly isn't the easiest technique to learn. A honing guide is a low-cost device that makes the job faster and more accurate.


Staff  | BestReviews

Chisel set prices

Inexpensive

There are some very cheap chisel sets available – under $10 for a set of four – but you need to be very cautious. The steel on some is so soft that you can bend the blades with your hands! A tool like that just won't keep a sharp edge.

That said, we've also seen good-quality tools for similar money, so how do you tell the difference? For us it's all about the brand. If you don't recognize the maker, we'd pass. If they're made by trusted names like Stanley, Irwin, or Narex, for example, then great, you can save yourself a few dollars.

Mid-range

In general, a mid-range set of three or four woodworking chisels for general-purpose use will cost somewhere between $25 and $40. Again, stick with a known brand and you can't go wrong. You'll find some entry-level carving chisel sets in this price bracket, too, but beware of large sets that seem very cheap. The quality may not be what you hope for, and the ability to retain an edge is particularly important when you're carving by hand.

Expensive

High-quality bench chisels cost about $20 to $50 each. You can get a very good set of four that will last many years for around $90 to $100, but you could easily pay twice that. Japanese chisels also fall into the latter category.

Premium quality for the precision craftsperson

Stanley has been a leading manufacturer of hand tools for over 170 years, and these superb chisels are a perfect example of the company’s knowledge and attention to detail. Hornbeam handles are shaped to give excellent hold but tough enough for mallet work if necessary. High-carbon steel blades take and hold a fine edge. The four-chisel set comes in a beautiful leather roll. These are superb tools for those who take pride in their work.

Tips

  • Always work away from your body. Think about where you’re putting your hands. Never hold a piece of wood in front of the chisel or rest your free hand there. If you slip – and it's easy to do – you'll give yourself a nasty injury.

  • Always wear safety glasses. Wood chips and splinters are hazards that shouldn't be ignored.

  • Keep your chisels sharp. A blunt chisel is not only inefficient, it's hard to control and so more likely to cause an accident. Even a blunt chisel is still perfectly capable of slicing through your skin.

  • Don't use a chisel to open cans of paint! You'll ruin the edge.

Convenient and cost-effective

Here's a great example of an inexpensive chisel set that will suit most people most of the time. You get four chisels, a sharpening stone, and a honing guide, all in a convenient carry case. They may not be the finest tools ever made, but they're tough and functional, and you won't worry about occasionally dropping one on the floor. A superb value for the money for the occasional user.

Other products we considered

DeWALT is perhaps better known for its power tools, but its hand tools display the same high quality. The DeWALT DWHT16063 Short Blade Wood Chisel Set has hard-wearing handles, and the short blades are less prone to flex than longer versions. They come in handy either where space is restricted or when a lot of force needs to be applied.

Although we've focused on general-purpose models, many woodworkers like to include a few carving chisels in their toolbox. Flexcut is a much copied but seldom rivaled design, and the Flexcut Tool Beginners Palm Set is an ideal introduction to these razor-sharp tools.

Japanese edge tools are often touted as the world's finest, so we thought it worth including the Yataro 5-Piece Japanese Chisel Set even if few can afford this kind of hand-forged luxury. Definitely tools for the connoisseur.

A case or tool roll isn't just convenient, it protects your chisels’ edges when they’re not in use and guards your fingers against accidental injury.

FAQ

Q. Is it better to use a rubber or wooden mallet with my chisels?

A. Woodworkers love a debate – and this is a popular subject! In our opinion, you should always use a wooden mallet on wooden-handled chisels. You get better “feel” and thus more control. The same is true when using a wooden mallet on plastic-handled chisels.

That said, a rubber mallet is usually heavier and so can impart more force. If you're chopping a big hole in a piece of lumber with a 1.5-inch chisel and you just want “quick and dirty” results, a rubber mallet has its place. Rubber mallets are often a lot cheaper, too. Bottom line? Wood on wooden handles; either on plastic handles.

Q. What is the correct angle to sharpen a chisel?

A. The simple answer is to mimic the angle provided by the manufacturer. That's 25° for most general-purpose woodworking chisels. Many craftspeople will sharpen most of the chisel at this angle but hone the very edge to 30°, which keeps it sharper longer, though not everyone agrees that the extra effort is worth it.

Q. Is it a good idea to use a strop and honing paste?

A. A leather strop is similar to what barbers use to sharpen straight razors and, in combination with honing paste, allows you to put just as keen an edge on a chisel. If you're doing highly detailed hand work, it's a skill well worth acquiring. It does take a while to master, though, and it's not really necessary for general carpentry.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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