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.
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.
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… ]http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/Merchant/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=toolshop&Product_Code=MS-MORT.XX&Category_Code=TBMC
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.
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.
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.