new mortise chisel

 The work I do requires lots of mortises each year. A chest like this has 26 mortises, a joined stool 16. They are almost all 5/16” wide.

carved chest, oak & pine
carved chest, oak & pine

For many years, I have tried several different mortise chisels, English, French, modern, antique, cheap, expensive. Some came from who-knows-where. Most of them worked out all right, some better than others. But now I am packing up the bunch of them, I just got one that is just what I need – a nice stout old-style English mortise chisel, but brand-new.

 While I was at Woodworking in America earlier this month, I met Joel and Tim from Tools for Working Wood. Over the course of the weekend, we talked a lot about tools. No surprise there. In particular, I had wanted to see their Ray Iles mortise chisels.

5/16" Ray Iles mortise chisel
5/16" Ray Iles mortise chisel

 This tool is just as advertised. Its form is an old standard shape, tang chisel fitted into an oval handle. No ferrule. [here is the blurb from Tools for Working Wood, I’ll let Joel tell the whole story… ]

The shape of the beech handle is quite comfortable; and the chisel’s blade is thick and strong. I found that the amount of pounding I was used to is excessive for this tool. If I drive it as hard as I did my previous mortise chisel, it’s too deep…so not a bad thing to have it work a little lighter. I have only chopped about half-a-dozen mortises with it this week, so I plan on making another joined stool next week. Then I will chop all 16 mortises in a row and see how it works. My first impression is that this tool will sail through the task.

using the Iles mortise chisel
using the Iles mortise chisel

Here is the Iles sitting beside the one I mostly used, the Sorby sash mortise chisel. I’ve used the Sorby for years, (with a replaced hickory handle & hoop) – but the thicker shank of the Iles moves more wood up the bevel when you drive it in the stock. A friend of mine would say, “it has something to do with physics” and I would add “geometry” as well.  

Sorby (top) and Iles (bottom)
Sorby (top) and Iles (bottom)

So, the Sorby, Goldberg, no-name Garret Wade – all boxed up for posterity. This one hangs behind the bench, ready to go…

If anybody asks me now, what mortise chisel should I get…I’ll send them to Joel & Tim, no hesitation. There are many amazing tool makers out there now, I got to see many of them while at the conference. To my eye, this tool is in a different category from some of the others at the show. It really is a “tool for working wood.” It has no glamor, its “art” is quite subtle. Clearly there is great attention to detail in its manufacture, and it does just what it’s supposed to do. Just a good, old-fashioned tool made nowadays, for getting a job done efficiently. I don’t mean to imply that the “other” toolmakers these days are making tools just for show; I’m in awe of some of the tools I saw…but the simplicity of this one appeals to me for the type of work I do.

12 thoughts on “new mortise chisel

  1. Peter,

    I have a set of Ray Iles mortise chisels there a top quality tool. Soon after receiving them I was using my ½ inch chisle on a work bench I was constructing using reclaimed oak. As luck would have it I managed to strike a nail that was hidden in the wood and chipped the edge. After some colorful langauge and a considerable amount of time grinding I was back in buisness. I very carefull now when I use any used lumber.

  2. And when you are next in England you need to go to Horncastle and see the Iles Brothers – they have separate factories (and look at Joseph Bank’s Horncastle and Revesby- wrong century I know, but…). Just an extraordinary insight into how tools are made and what is important.
    You can do Lincoln Cathedral the same day.

  3. Peter,

    Let us know what you think after you sharpen this chisel. There has been much talk about it’s D2 steel, which is possibly better suited to a crow bar than a chisel. If you find it to be no problem, I’m sure folks would like to know about it.


    • Hi Adam: I’ve chopped about 2 dozen mortises with it, so I have honed it on a hard Arkansas stone a couple of times. Have not noticed a problem. I have another joined stool coming up soon, so will have it out again shortly. I’ll let you know how it feels.

      • I’m interested in the follow up to that last post regarding the ILes chisel holding an edge. Can you post an update?

  4. Okay, I need some feedback from you guys. It’s a stoopid question but, here goes …

    First I need to tell you, I’m a newbie. I’m just learning. I really like this blog and the work Peter does. I’ve purchased the Peter’s Joint Stool book, Jennie’s Make a Chair from a Tree book and DVD. I want to do all this stuff someday. :)

    I also purchased a Ray Iles 5/16″ mortise chisel. It just arrived today, I haven’t used it yet but, it looks like a really well made, awesome tool.

    Here’s were my inexperience comes in. The packaging on the chisel said it’s 5/16″, just as I had ordered. But, when I measure the blade (tip) and, measure a small indentation in a piece of wood (created with slight hand pressure), the measuring tools read 3/8″ (6/16″).

    I guess that ain’t really a bad thing, I can still use it but, is that normal for a tool to be out of the advertised dimension that much? Is there a variance in the actual tool size that should be expected? Or, is it most likely just a mistake in the packaging? Maybe someone put the wrong tool in the wrong package?


    • I bought three Ray Iles pig stickers 1/4, 5/16, and 3/8. They were all somewhat over-sized (too wide) as measured with a micrometer. I don’ remember by how much, but enough to bother me. Some told me to ignore the size since the tenon would be made to fit. But if I want a 3/8 mortise/tenon then I want it to be a true 3/8. I ground them down using water stones. Quite a tedious job, but I am happy with the results.

  5. certainly like your web-site however you need to check the spelling on several of your posts.
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  6. I’m still learning from you, but I’m trying to achieve my goals. I definitely love reading all that is posted on your site.Keep the aarticles coming. I liked it!

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