Monday, February 25, 2008

Round Backs

Ha hum. The chisel itch failed to clear up before my resolve broke. What can I say - I'm a weak, chisel-lovin' tool fool. As another tool fool observed (name withheld to protect the guilty), twelve step programs have a different meaning for tool fools. "To us it's the number of steps from the curb into a tool monger's establishment." Not, in this case, helped by excellent customer service from Matthew at Workshop Heaven, who will only feed my habit by taking the twelve steps for me, and at the double so it gets here in time for the weekend. Damn you, Matthew...

Anyway, as you can see, it was the still-fairly-new "round back" dovetail chisels from Ashley Iles that were gnawing at by chisel lovin' nerves. (US distributor page chosen to protect the guilty (me) from instant revelation of full financial madness). Cast your mind back to October and those who know me will probably nod wisely and point out that curiosity was almost bound to get the better of me and they could see it coming all along. Yeah, so could I really...

So here they are, on their spiffy (and to me, somewhat unwanted) leather chisel roll, posed next to LN and Marples carver-handled cousins in the hope that'll give the interested some idea of scale. They're pretty light in the hand and the blades feel surprisingly delicate. Not in a "eek, if I hold this too firmly it'll bend" kinda way, but more a "this is going to go exactly where I want it to when I want it to". So that's a good start.

For the statistically-minded; 9" long overall, the handle is 4 1/2" long from ferrule to butt end and 1" diameter at its thickest, and all bar the 1/4" seem to actually be the nearest metric.

Now I can see why the purveyors of these chisels are having difficulty photographing how they really are, 'cos it's not easy. But I tried. As you can see, the round back nature of the 1/8" is a bit academic; to avoid the "eek, if I hold this too firmly it'll bend" effect it inevitably has to be pretty hefty in thickness compared to the larger sizes anyway, so the roundness just seems to result in (more or less) a curved firmer to be honest. 

On the largest 1" size, you can see the curve does actually make quite a difference. Yes, there's still a definite thickness of side on the blade, but no worse than most of my old bevel edged chisels. And the proof of the pudding will be in use, not theory.

The thickness of the side is more obvious in the 3/8" size. It almost looks like it bulges out and then in again, but it doesn't, honest. The edge of the side, if you see what I mean, is sharp.

The fishtailed skews I'm less enamoured of as far as their looks go, despite my initial reaction in October. Frankly they look a bit weird to me; the transition from the shaft to the wider fishtail is somewhat clunky.

Out of their plastic sleeves (as opposed to outta the box) the backs seem fairly well finished, although there's plenty of sign of some back flattening required. At least what I'd usually call back flattening. But they're round backs so, erm... Face flattening then?

So that's what I did. After a few passes on the coarse diamond paste the 3/8" was showing definite signs of work needed.

The 1" displayed a most unusual scratch pattern though. The last 3/16" or so of the back (sorry, face) was as flat as a pancake. Never had that before and then two come along at once in the shape of the 1/4" as well. If it's deliberate, and it's an amazing coincidence if it isn't, I ask myself why a) they're not all like that, and b) what a pity they couldn't do the whole back!

If it did one thing, it was to remind me that one of the joys of the LNs is the flat backs. They almost justify the price tag just for that, imo. However, I much prefer the o1 steel of the AIs, so I persevered. It was hard though, as my precious limited workshop time was ground away. That's perhaps why I was annoyed out of all proportion by finding that 3 out of the 4 square bevels weren't square to the sides. I mean backs I expect (though it shouldn't be like that) but bevels ground out-of-square on a brand new chisel? Too bad; black mark AI. It's no mean feat correcting them when the back is rounded either; one needed grinder treatment it was so out of whack and I struggled. So there's a drawback to the round back I might not have otherwise considered, but not how I would have wished to find out. On the other hand I found out the Veritas MkII honing guide coped okay with all but the 1/8", and luckily that was the one that was square anyway. Besides which narrow chisels are always a pain to deal with so it comes with the territory.

The fishtail skews I have more reservation about. Judging by the "2" marked on the shank and the label on the plastic sleeve I'm guessing they are converted (?) carving chisels. Judging by the noticeable dip in the back (erm, face) at the all-important sharp point, it's possible they even got to the buffing wheel stage before the conversion and the dubbing hasn't been ground off while the skew was put on. Humph. Now one of the reservations I have with fishtailed skews is the fact that, with time and use, the fishtail naturally gets reduced anyway. I really don't relish losing some of that length so early in the game getting rid of the dip, but equally it's sufficiently deep that the idea of grinding down the back to that level is, to say the least, daunting. I've done my best (you should just be able to make out the difference in reflection at the points in the pic above) and we'll see how they work as they are before I decide what to do.

And there's the rub - I ran out of time to actually use them. So this is just the initial look-see/sharpening opinion. Hopefully the fun bit will follow shortly. I mean the important bit. Ha hum. No one noticed that slip, did they? Hard work this, ya know. Yessir.

I'm going now before I completely blow the gaff on my life of tool using partying...

P.S. No affiliation to any vendor or manufacturer involved; a straightforward tool fool purchase opinion, this 'un.


  1. Handles look nice, Al. Decent proportions (unlike their bench chisels).

  2. I didn't know that there was a twelve step programme.
    Can't see myself getting past: "Hi, my name is Dan, and I'm a tool collector. It has been a week since my last chisel.........."
    beautiful chisels Alice, I hope they are ".....most efficacious in every case...."
    Thanks for the pictorial.
    kind regards

  3. Alf,

    I have seen this set recently and agree with all your observations.

    Lack of flat backs, is a pain and time consuming to fix.

    Don't think I will be recommending these.



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