Some time back, I picked up a pretty complete set of Narex chisels from Lee Valley. I’d heard they were really good chisels for the price, and I was flush with cash for a bit, so I splurged and ordered a set of seven, plus two skew chisels.
Well, they sat and sat like all of my other tools until today, when I finally got around to sharpening them.
Oh, boy, where to start.
First, I don’t remember who said these were good chisels. I haven’t got a clue after all these years.
That’s probably a good thing.
To be fair, I haven’t really tried to use them yet, just sharpen them.
I started by lapping the back to make sure it was flat, and while that’s what you’re supposed to do, I wish I hadn’t. You see, every single one of these chisels has a hollow about 1/4″ from the edge.
Now, this isn’t the most horrible thing imaginable. A hollow is easier to work around than a high spot, mind you, but despite all the time I spent trying to lap it, I couldn’t get the back perfectly flat on the ones I’ve spent significant time.
Does that mean they’re junk?
Not necessarily. It would be great if you’ve got a motorized sharpening system or some other way to lap the blades.
As for me, though, this is just a pain in the rear.
Frustrated, I snatched up a vintage Shapleigh’s 1/2″ chisel and went to work. It took no time at all to lap the blade and sharpen it. No time at all. The same with my no-name Japanese chisels that were rusty as sin.
In fact, it took less time to sand through the rust and lap the back (something I don’t think I’d really done before) than to just lap the back of the Narex.
Look, I’ve said before that you pay for tools in two things, money and time. You usually pay more for tools you don’t have to do a pile of work on.
However, let’s do a quick price comparison:
Narex Chisel Cost: $13-$17 for the most common sizes.
Vintage eBay 1/4″ Chisel:$15
Now, the downside of vintage chisels is that they may need a little bit of work, but chisels are easy to restore. You just need a decent blade.
Luckily, vintage chisels are also likely to have been used. The result of that is that the backs have usually already been lapped, so it doesn’t take much time to get them ready to roll.
In other words, for the same cost, you get to invest less time into your tools.
For what it’s worth, I’m going with socket chisels, mostly because I can take whatever I have and replace the handles to make them look at little more uniform. Yes, I have a bit of OCD when it comes to tools, sue me.
Other than That, Are Narex Chisels Any Good?
Honestly, damned if I know. I haven’t had a chance to use them for more than paring the edges of a picnic table down. They did that job well enough.
The problem is, I don’t trust the flat as a reference surface.
Yes, yes, I know. Japanese chisels have a hollow in the center. This is true. But at least then the hollow is uniform and the edges are uniform in size as well. There’s no doubt you’ll have sufficient space to reference against.
With these, well, we’ll have to see.
But Aren’t You Replacing them Anyway?
Well, yeah. But I’m also a tool collector. Replacing them with socket chisels was primarily more of a collector’s decision than a utilitarian decision. However, I like the idea of having them as a fallback.
But what I will say is that if you’re looking to decide on chisels, don’t bother.
If you’re going to quantify time as money, these chisels are more expensive than a like-priced vintage chisel.
I’d start with 1/4″ or 1/2″ first, which is what a lot of woodworkers say they use more than any other chisels, then start filling out the rest of the set as you go.
You’ll pay about the same as the Narex and not have to deal with the lack of flatness on the back.