Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paring, tool steel and other lessons

When I first became serious about hand tool woodworking, I bought a set of Lie-Nielsen chisels.  Overall, they are fantastic, but I made two mistakes.  Not knowing which steel I wanted, I bought four in A2 and only one, the 3/4", in O1.  I strongly prefer the O1 chisel and always reach for it first.  I prefer it so much that I have seriously considered selling the other four and replacing them with the O1 versions, but there is a big problem.  Lie-Nielsen only sells A2 chisels now.  I just cannot understand this because, in my opinion, A2 is obsolete.  In my opinion, you either want to stick to O1, like I do, or you should move to something like PM-V11 steel.  If you want longer edge life, this is a superior alternative by far.  Of course, this is only my opinion.

The second problem is that Lie-Nielsen sells an alternative long handle that they promote as great for paring and I bought it instead of the regular handle for the 1/4" chisel.  I guess I understand their reasoning, but just putting a long handle on a regular bench chisel doesn't make it a paring chisel in my opinion.  I have never liked it and never used it, so I have to use a handle from one of the other chisels when I need a 1/4" chisel.  It just sat in the chest for years.  Then I had a brainstorm:
I cut it in two, rounded over the top and, voila, a handle I really like for this small chisel.  To make it even better, I found a great use for the other piece.  Some years ago, I bought a cheap little brass mallet that I like to use with my chisels, but the poorly-made handle fell off.  For the way I like to use it, by holding the head with my thumb and forefinger, this is perfect:

It nests in the palm of my hand like it was custom-made, and it's Maine hornbeam!  When I was growing up in upstate New York, we had this common trash wood we considered useless which was called ironwood.  Apparently, it was American hornbeam.  Wish I had some of it now.

I love it when a plan comes together:


  1. Andy,

    This post brought a smile to my face, nothing like making shop lemons into lemonade. I've AI O-1 chisels that I like a lot (reach for them more than any of the other chisels) and of course the Japanese white paper chisels are hard to beat for "sharp" and comfort in hand.

    I've almost shed all A-2 iron in the shop, I'm still thinking about PM-v11. Using some in both chisel form and plane irons and yet to see a real advantage but it could be I'm just not good enough or smart enough to see the difference.


  2. Andy my LN A2 chisel set is in a nicely made box that my marking gauge caddy sits on. Since I got the Ashley Iles 01 chisels, I haven't touched them. To this day I still don't understand why LN stopped making O1. I think their A2 plane irons aren't that good. Especially when compared to their O1 or the Lee Valley irons in any flavor.