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For all wood carvers, from beginner to veteran, we examined, tested, and thoroughly researched the best wood chisels and found the Stanley 16-401 Bailey 5 Piece Chisel Set to be the unparalleled set for quality, lifetime expectancy, and variety of application!
Chisels are utilized in conjunction with various woodcarving techniques, each having their purpose of use. Size is the most distinguishable feature for recognizing what a tool can and can’t handle. Some wood projects require a lot of roughing, and a sufficient tool is needed. Others, like Irwin Marples 6-piece, thrive on fixing fine details. Both might even be needed, in which case you will want a larger set similar to Narex 12-piece.
Recommended Best Wood Chisels
About: The Stanley 16-401 Bailey 5-Piece Chisel is a brand of hand tools perfect for a serious woodworker who demands perfection in their craft-work; these high-quality chisels will help an experienced craftsman to achieve his full potentials. Stanley 16-401 is designed with characteristics stained beech handles and an upgraded brass ferrule; these chisels have a new grinding center with an improved blade finish.
Stanley 16-401 Bailey chisel has a dimension (L x W x H) of 15.25 x 10.80 x 1.70 Inches with tip sizes of 0.25’, 0.5’, 0.75’, 1’, and 1.25’ inches.
Benefits: It comes with multiple Bailey-style chisels and a leather storage pouch. Each tool features a micro-precision grind for superior sharpness straight out of the box. Carbon chrome steel provides long-lasting edge retention and the lacquered blades are resistant to corrosion. It also comes with Hardwood handles which offer comfort and impact resistance. This chisel set with tool pouch features a limited lifetime warranty.
Stanley Bailey 5-Piece Chisel Pouch, 16-401 contains; micro-precision grind for a high-quality sharpness out of the box, High-quality carbon-chrome steel to retain its edge, Blade lacquered to prevent corrosion and Hardwood handles for comfortable handling and impact resistance.
The handles are extremely easy and comfortable to use. They are large enough to fill the hand, yet not so large enough for them to slip out. There are flats in front and at the back with a slight swell on each side that makes them fits nicely in the palm.
The 0.25 (6mm) and 1.25 (32mm) did well holding their edges and working well to their expectations.
The 0.75 inch seems to have stabilized out after sharpening past that one area and it will probably do just fine.
Disadvantages: Not designed for fine, precision woodcarving, or woodworking. It is better suited for roughing jobs, which are mostly at the beginning of a project when you are shaping out the design. The size of the tools alone should make this obvious, but it is most apparent when you begin to use them, and see how much better they are at removing bulk material.
The finish on the tops of the handles does not hold up when using a mallet, of course, the lacquer will come off, so does some of its brown stains, making the handles two-toned.
While the smallest and largest tools in this set’s performance have been admirable, the other three that should likely get the most use have fallen below their expectation. The edges of both the 0.5 and 1 inch chipped while chopping mortises in SPF construction lumber, while a small part of the 0.75 folded over at some point, indicating that the hardening and tempering processes were not controlled well.
About: Second best pick Stanley Sweetheart 750 Series. Its quality of build from a company with 170 years of experience in production of tools is superior to any other best wood chisel set of its kind. Their main lane of expertise is hand tools, however they’ve received a significant amount of recognition for their home improvement tools as well.
Benefits: Following close behind our best woodworking chisels the Sweetheart series is shares many similarities with the Bailey Set. The Sweetheart set is made with high quality carbon chrome steel for maximum edge retention against all woods. While testing both best wood chisels out, we found the handle on the Sweetheart set to be most ideal considering it has a traditional wooden end whereas the Bailey has gold rings around the indented ends.
Its better to have the wooden ends on a chisel because these tools are supposed to be compatible with mallets, or at least a comfortable end to push on with the palm of your hand. Using a mallet helps in situations where you need more abrupt precision with tapping techniques, something you can’t replicate with using just your hands.
Our edge retention tests proved near identical results with our top best chisel pick, which was to be expected since they both use the same blade material. Other than that, the Sweetheart came in second mostly due to its price and the fact that they are socket chisels.
Disadvantage: A socket chisel is a type of tool where the handle and the blade can be separated to replace the wooden handle or the blade. The problem with this is that that wood has a tendency to expand, so depending on how well you take care of them will either be your demise or a blessing.
- Hand forged high quality German steel
- Hardened to Rc 61 for great edge retention
- Used for general wood carving and woodworking
- Well known and highly acclaimed tool
About: Two Cherries is a reliable and pretty well known professional wood chisel set, at least among woodworking and wood carving communities. Their tools are largely made from the same location in Remscheid Germany, even decades later. Skilled craftsmen maintain their due diligence to keep the steel they used at its highest quality to use across the product line.
Benefits: The blades are heat treated in a salt immersion bath in order to reach a Rc 61, making them take longer to sharpen. However, the result is that they blade will hold an edge a lot for a long time, and with the rich finish, it can be a really satisfying tool to use.
Two Cherries is often in competition with Pfeil tools, and rightfully so. Both are on the higher end spectrum in terms of quality of professional hand tools and price. They are the type of tool you would inevitably upgrade to once you wear out the set you bought to learn with. The choice of either one come up quite frequently, but just as frequent is there complaints about the amount of time it takes to flatten the back on the blades (must be done in order to sharpen properly) because they get rounded at the factory when they are polished. That radius goes all the way to the sharpened edge,and if you leave the radius and just hone the bevel, then the corners of the blade will be dull. You could profile them over similar to a smoother’s blade, although I don’t suggest it. Instead, a nice crisp corners on a firming chisel is a lot better.
Disadvantages: This is for only a 20mm Two Cherries chisel, and isn’t for those who want a whole set. The companies product line on average is pretty pricey, but the quality of the chisel is so good that you get the most out of it since it is a commonly used size for any kind of wood project.
- Perfect for precision, details, and tight corners
- Improved edge retention with high carbon steel blades
- Can be used for traditional fine woodworking
- Material hardened to 58-HRC
About: One of the best wood chisels set for medium coarse work is a 6-piece IRWIN set, a company that designs and distributes professional performance tools for a variety of uses. Their chisels are used most often with woodworking and wood carving,
Benefits: The blade is a high-carbon steel material hardened to 58-HRC for edge retention improvements. High carbon steel is the essential standard to use for any kind of wood work. It’s a bit more important for chisels though because they are often used with a wooden mallet, and holding an edge is necessary for a tool like this to maintain control. Additionally, the contoured slim style handles are plenty durable for a mallet or the palm of your hand.
Sizes in this set:
Although they aren’t specifically marketed to use it for roughing, they’re plenty capable of handling bulk material removal at the beginning stages of a project. That being said, they are phenomenally precise and accurate to use during stages where small movements have a huge impact on the structure of the project.
Disadvantages: Some people may want something completely different than what this option offers. Yes, it is a versatile tools, but its convenience lies in the price. It’s an easy go-to tool, although I would expect an upgrade to be inevitable.
- Diverse range of compatible applications (woodworking & carving)
- Budget-conscious set
- Tempered chrome-manganese steel hardened to Rc 59
- Work efficiently after applying preferred modifications
About: Narex 12 piece set is the most adequate for handling an entire project. The company first began early in the 20th century where their main focus were two things: screwdrivers and wood woodworking tools. Over the years the company has somewhat expanded to other areas, however their main roots are remain firmly established and thriving.
Benefits: Individually, each tool operates sufficiently and reliably for woodworking projects. It’s easy to firmly grasp the full body handle since they fit the hand in such a way that makes it really difficult for them to just slip out. The 25 degree angled bevel also contributes to its effectiveness by catching on to wood fibers pretty easily, and is compatible with both hard and soft wood. The metal material the blade is made out of is nicely tempered chrome-manganese steel that is hardened to Rc 59, so you can’t go wrong with steel like that.
The machined edges of the chisels are sharp enough to slice your hand, so be careful when handling them, or you could just take the edges off. Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing because that means they have actually lapped the bottom at some point. The great thing about owning your own set is that you can modify them to your preference. Narex is just the reliable foundation you can build your house on. Very few modern tools offer what Narex does, and it’s even more difficult to find ones that are perfect out of the box. If they are, they’re set at a premium price. It’s roughly around $10/chisel, and most options have a higher cost per chisel.
Sizes in this set:
- 1/8″ (3mm)
- 3/16″ (4mm)
- 1/4″ (6mm)
- 5/16″ (8mm)
- 3/8″ (10mm)
- 1/2″ (12mm)
- 5/8″ (16mm)
- 11/16″ (20mm)
- 1 1/6″ (26mm)
- 1 1/4″ (32mm)
- 1 5/8″ (40mm)
- 2″ (50mm)
Disadvantages: The tools work great when they are tuned and ready to use, but require a little more maintenance to them to that point. I have other budget-conscious options and, although a bit pricier, they only needed a few minutes to set up properly. The back of the chisels had machine marks which took some time to flatten before they could be sharpened, but that is to be expected from any option in this price range, plus it’s just a one-time thing.
Guide to Using Chisels
Preparing For Use
Flatten and hone the chisels to a razor’s edge. Flattening the back will take quite a little amount of time and effort, it was not well machined at the factory, it takes at least 10 minutes on a coarse diamond stone to flatten the chisel, and takes more time on finer stones plus a consistent scratch pattern on the cutting edge to get a mirror finish.
After you eventually get the back flat, time is now set to work on the bevel. It comes from the factory with a 25-degree bevel. It is a simple matter to hone the steeper angle and this is much quicker than flattening the back.
Care & Maintenance
Below is a short list of safety precautions and maintenance tips to keep you safe while using the chisel(s) and also provides you with information needed to keeping them in a proper condition for as long as possible.
• Keep chisels sharp at all times, a dull chisel is a dangerous tool, as it will require more effort in pushing your tool through your work materials.
• Always put on your protective eye goggles to protect your eyes from dust, debris, and loose particles which may become airborne.
• Cut always with the blade pointing away from your body.
• Ensure that your work materials are held firmly in place and will not move away from you upon the impact made to the chisel.
• Break-up sharp or machined edges with sandpaper to prevent getting yourself cut.
These best wood chisels can be used to create woodwork joints, make detailed and complex designs, sculpt art, cut dovetail joints, clean grooves, and much more.
• Clean your chisels after usage.
• Sharpen the chisels as needed to keep them working properly.
• Check the handles and replace broken or splintered handles before using.
• Store your chisel properly in a cool dry place to avoid being damaged by weather and potential rust or corrosion.
• Apply oil to wooden handles as needed to prevent drying.
Styles of Relief Carving
Purchasing your pair of best chisels doesn’t mean you’re good to go ahead and hack away at the first panel of wood you get your hands on. You’ll need to find out what style of relief carving you’re wanting to do for your project. Here are a few different types of styles to go with:
- High Relief: a carving that is between 1/2″ and 2″ in depth.
High reliefs are a bit dramatic visually, and because of the popular trend to create realistic and over-the-top pieces of art, high relief is more often used.
The process of this style is a little different than low relief. High reliefs start out as low reliefs, but because of a special cut that is used (the undercut), depth and perspective is added to give a dramatic projection from the wood.
- Bas/Low Relief: This style is usually under 1/2″ and is not as dramatic, yet still allows for more detailing.
Shallow depth gives the appearance that the pattern has been cut into the wood, but in reality it has been cut out of the wood. Although the depth is significantly less than high relief, the skill necessary to create such stunning visuals is in no way diminished. In fact, it is even more so difficult to supply perspective to the onlooker when carving a low relief project. To achieve the proper perspective, the carver must level his/her work to make objects visually close up or far away. Leveling is making overlaps in the pattern to provide a certain illusion, such as leaves behind a flower pedal.
- Deep Relief: Deep relief carving is any carving over 2” in depth.
Something to be conscientious of, especially when considering carving a deep relief, is to understand how thick your wood is. Reliefs should only be carved into about half the thickness of the wood.
For example, if your entire panel of wood is 4”, you should only carve to 2” in depth because of the natural warping of wood from the varying moisture in the environment. As a result of the warping, it can cause stress and break down the weakest points of the pattern. Keeping the carving depth to only half of the thickness of the panel will prevent any serious issues by allowing the background enough support for the design.
- Pierced: A pierced relief is an extraordinarily amazing way to do relief carving.
Per its name, pierced reliefs have holes in the wood that have been carved completely through the wood.
These type of designs are extremely intricate and require great expertise.
For example, if a tree was part of the design, there could be empty space between branches, allowing the onlooker to see through the wood carving.
With each style of relief carving comes different techniques and cuts used with best chisels to achieve the illusion the carver intends to create.
Here are some of the most common:
Types of Cuts
There are several different cuts a carver can make with their best wood chisels, so here are a few basic and advanced cuts that can be made:
- Basic Cuts
- Gouge Cuts: This is a simple cut which is done for shaving the background area with a gouge. Other types of gouge cuts can be used to round out areas and model the objects in the pattern.
- Back Down Chisel Cuts: Using the back side of a chisel will allow the carver to create thick cuts.
- Back Up Chisel Cuts: Using the thinner side of a chisel will allow the carver to make more detailed, thin cuts.
- Technical Cuts
- Stop Cuts: A stop cut is a cut made by a chisel that will prevent other cuts from penetrating past a certain point. The chisel makes a cut through the wood, and then cuts are made moving towards the stop cut to model the pattern.
- Undercut: The undercut is used primarily in high relief carvings. Undercuts are done underneath areas of the design, out of sight by the viewer, adding depth and shadowing. This is an extremely necessary cut to create successful high and deep relief carvings.
V-Cuts: The V-cut is done with the corner of a chisel, first making a cut with it angled to the left, and making the same cut in the same position again, but angled to the right. This cut creates a V shape in the wood panel.
These cuts, along with many more, help create the amazing relief carvings seen done by past civilizations and modern-day woodcarvers.
Next, we’ll go over some tips and tricks to help beginners get started with their best wood chisels.
Tips and Tricks for Beginners
Here are some tips and tricks that beginners will find useful in quickly improving their technique with their best wood carving chisels and overall woodcarving practices:
- Choose easy to carve woods:
Be knowledgeable about the wood you have chosen to work on with your best wood chisels. Knowing if a certain piece of wood will be soft enough to get the results you want as a beginner is essential to not becoming frustrated.
Also be sure not to pick up random lumber you have lying around as these will only break and crumble underneath the blades.
- Notice the wood’s grain:
In some cases, you will want to carve along the grain and others against it. To get a glimpse of how the grain runs in a certain piece of wood, carve a small piece out of the corner or along the side.
Once you have determined how it runs, consider the pattern you are wanting to make. Depending on your wood and design, carving with the grain can lead to splits in the pattern. Take the time to research if you are unsure which path to take.
- Always keep tools sharp:
A common mistake beginners can make is not sharpening their best wood carving chisels when they become dull. A dull blade can not only lead to poor craftsmanship, but also bodily injury from the extraneous force being exerted to produce the desired result.
- Shorter is better:
This principle is especially important when cutting the background. Attempting to make large cuts in the wood can lead to unwanted penetrations or gashes into the wood.
Taking the time to make small, short, continuous cutting strokes will result in a cleaner and more refined design.
Relief carving delivers some of the most incredible wooden artworks the world has ever known. The detail and precision that is required to make such life-like and dramatic designs is unbelievable.
Now that you have a basic understanding and appreciation of what relief carving is, you too can make fantastic works of art with your best chisel set.
Best wood chisels will provide sharp blades and secure handles to provide precise and clean finishes to a variety of materials. The designers of these chisels did a good job, especially the handles. Chisels are unique and versatile tools which can be used to perform a large number of tasks and jobs. These handheld tools are not expensive for beginners, they are light in weight, easy to use, easy to transport, occupies a minimal space, and can be used both by the amateurs and the professionals alike.