I never really enjoyed the benefit of what a good sharp chisel could do until around 2005 when Thomas Lie-Nielsen released his A2 chisels. A revolution for me. They stayed sharp & were tough. Why were they so good, and so expensive? Because they were CNC’d individually from A2 tool steel solid round bar, hardened & cryogenically treated, that’s why. My guess is, that given the success Lie-Nielsen had with A2 steel in their hand planes, using the same material in chisels would be a natural progression. I remember a tool review on the LN A2 chisels by Robert Howard in Australian Wood Review at that time, he thought they were the best western chisels he had seen.
Was this a new process for chisel manufacture?
Until this time English, American & Japanese chisels were pressed in a forge to shape using ‘forgeable’ steel and then ground. Some were (are) great (particularly the Japanese chisels) and some were Ok and the rest were you know what. Forging high quality tool steel is often problematic and sometimes impossible with some better end tool steel.
Enter Australian toolmaker, Trent Powrie. As early as 2002 Trent experimented with machining (not forging) high grade tool steel to make chisels. He started selling his bespoke Harold & Saxon chisels around 6 months after the Lie-Nielsen A2 chisels became available. Trent feels A2 steel is not always tough enough for our Australian hardwoods and uses steels with higher impact resistance. Later came two more North American makers using this machining process, but that is about all there is today in this specialised field.
Lie-Nielsen chose to replicate the old Stanley 750 ‘Sweetheart’ socket chisels. Excellent balance, simplistic style and very comfortable in the hand. To achieve the socket style they needed to be machined from round bar tool steel, not flat bar tool steel like others (that followed later). Much, much more steel needed to be removed to get to the final shape. Flat bar steel machining to make chisels is a walk in the park by comparison.
Flat bar tool steel needs a tang and a ferrule made from a third material to attach a handle. For me, it looses the classic one piece simple clean style of the socket chisel. Many makers use similar looking steel as the blade for the ferrule to make it look like it is one piece, it isn’t.
Those who own a socket chisel know that at times when they are picked up for use the handle falls out due to shrinkage of the wood taper, not really a problem, but sometimes frustrating for some. A sharp tap restores the grip of the handle in the tapered socket, some woodworkers use hairspray to keep their handles in place…
We have been working on Henry Eckert Firmer/Mortise chisels for a very long time now. Pictures of a prototype chisel and the handle timber source are above. We expect them to be available soon.
They are machined from PMA11V Powdered Metallurgy round bar tool steel. Socket style and ‘ferruleless’ they have a high tensile threaded steel rod in their centre to permanently attach the handle and to maintain sideways movement integrity. The handles are in select, straight grained, tough Spotted Gum. Formally first described in 1844, this wood’s Australian tool handle history is formidable, more on Corymbia Maculata later. Handle shape is influenced by the old English Carver Pattern, a joy to hold, it is a shape that suits large and small hands.
Henry Eckert Firmer/Mortise chisels available soon.