Friday, December 4, 2009


With a resurrection of hand tool usage in the last few years, it should come as no surprise that the number of hand tool manufacturers is also on the rise. The obvious upside to this is that all of a sudden there multiple options and price points to choose from. The tragedy in this is having to weed through the seemingly endless array of poor quality tools. So I would like to help those needing some clarity by giving you my opinion on some different tools and price points.

First lets get into one of the most important tools you can never have too many of, chisels.
Low price may not necessarily mean low quality when it comes to chisels, in fact there are several brands that are more than acceptable even though the may seem cheap. Irwin/Marples chisels have done me right for years (although I hate the plastic handles). If you need wood handles Narex and Footprint chisels will truly get the job done. There are also many low priced Japanese style chisels that I find very nice. I recommend these brands for beginners that do not want to spend a fortune getting started.

In the over twenty dollar range I really like the Two Cherries chisels. They make every size and shape of chisel for any and all tasks. I especially like their mortising chisels ( a bargain at $60)
Ashley Isles is another fine moderately priced tool, and you can hardly go wrong with any Crown chisel (although I think footprint is making thier stuff now). These tools are good for the more serious wood worker.

Now the big boy chisels in the above forty squid category. Boutique tool makers are coming out of the wood work at a frantic pace, with an outrageous price tag to boot. As far as i am concerned there are only two options at this price level, the first is Lie Nielson, an American tool works making outstanding tools well worth the price for the serious wood enthusiast. My personal favorite although is Robert Sorby. There is just something magical about well produced Sheffield steel and theirs is remarkable. Holding one of their chisels you can immediately feel how substantial they are, and seem to sharpen up quicker and hold an edge longer than any of my other chisels. Either of these two brands are money well spent, and an investment in an heirloom quality tool.

Now hand saws on the other hand are different all together. Any good hand saw is going to automatically set you back $60 minimum. Many Japanese saws in this area of price and up are good purchases, but they cannot be successfully resharpened. I prefer western saws because they can be sharpened for ripping or cross cutting. Veritas makes a strangely beautiful hand saw for dovetailing or tenon work that is very high quality and at $65 each the obvious choice for beginners as well as serious wood workers.

But..... for my money no one even comes close to Lie Nielson in this category. I have a dovetail and a carcass saw from them and are phenomenal performers. If you think $140 a piece may be steep for any tool, until you have used one , then there is no debating or justifying the price tag.(they are that good)

I can sum up hand planes pretty quick.
Anant's premium planes are good for beginning to moderate woodworkers for a reasonable price.
Old Stanley planes are better for the same money.
Veritas planes are excellent premium planes with an attractive price tag.
Clifton and Lie Nielson planes are a bit pricey but worth the money if you have it.

Now.... despite any reviews of the new Stanley sweet heart planes you may have read take it from me. My new No.4 Stanley was well machined with a dead flat sole! It required no honing or tuning up straight out of the box. It is a heavy beast , which is what I want in a hand plane. The Asheville Woodworking school where I teach is outfitted with LN planes, a high quality plane for sure, but at a third of the price I could not tell much difference in the two. In fact I actually much preferred the new Stanley due to it's weight and the Norris style adjuster which allows very fine micro adjustments to the blade depth. It is a whole lot of tool for $180 (LN planes from $240 and up!)

I hope this post will be helpful to everyone and please feel free to let me know of any names that I did not drop here or of any I should pick back up!

1 comment:

  1. What about Wenzloff & sons saws? Bad Ax Saws? The Veritas line of back saws are supose to be the best tool for the money. Also there is Blue Spruce tools for realy good chisels. The best mortising chisel IMO are from Ray Ilse(available thrue TFWW)
    The Gramecy line of saws are fenomenal, way better than LN saws IMO! An other good place to start with saws is places like Mark Harrel from Techno Primitive, Mark have from time to time restored vintage saws like Disston #4 back saws and some long saws as well. He is also the best saws sharpener I kinow! He is also the artist behind Bad Ax Saw tools.
    Just my 2 cents.
    Cheers, and thank you for an other good blog to read!