Monday, May 21, 2012

Veritas Bench Chisels

Coconut to Mr Chapman for correctly guessing the identity of the chisel in the last post. Surprise! Or then again...

So... I'm not going to do a review as such (despite the tag), 'cos chisels have to be just about the most subjective tool choice on the planet. It's not for nothing that manufacturers catalogues of yore were bursting at the seams with different permutations of blade and handle to try and suit all tastes. Instead, have some pictures to make up for not being able to see them in the flesh yourselves and, because I can't help myself, some personal observations thus far. Best have a link in order to get the basic technical info.

Oh, before we start, I've had absolutely nothing to do with the development of these chisels - I come to them fresh (and critical). Which is pretty much how I like it. And I've not read anyone else's opinions on them yet. With that; onwards.

Five sizes of O1 "bench" chisel. i.e. Yer chisel workhorse. You can pare with 'em, chop with 'em, you want to chisel something, these are all-rounders for the job. Supplied in reasonably robust plastic tubes, so you can store them in there if necessary, which is nice. As you can see from the 1", the LV chisel guards couldn't cope with the blade thickness and were tending to split, so alas, no chisel guards will be supplied now. But I'd already taken the picture by then, so...

Concise but informative instructions supplied. Um... not much else to say really. Oh, 'cept you'll want a nice sharp knife to run round the top if you want to get the lid off cleanly like this.

The handles are the infamous caramelised maple with a buffed wax finish, 1 3/16" diameter at the maximum. It's one of those "barely there" kinds of handle finishes, which I know some will love, and some won't. I kinda don't much. The ends stand up to mallet work very well (also comfortable to push with the heel of the hand when paring), but I've found the long grain has got a little dinged up in the normal give and take of bench life. I also found I was conscious of a sweet aroma. Now I reckon maybe I was unduly influenced to think this by the "caramelised" feature of the maple, but probably it's actually the finish. Whatever; personally it's driven me nuts. The handles have little flats, which work well in preventing the smaller sizes from rolling, but don't expect them to help much in registering the handle in your hand. I found I was conscious of them in more of an off-putting way than a helpful one - but then apparently I have some kind of reputation for handle issues... So obviously I'd be entertaining the idea of replacing them, right?

Wrong. Veritas have employed a Japanese-esque tang 'n' socket ferrule combo, so life's a little complicated. I asked The Elves if they thought it a practical option for the home woodworker, and got an answer that I interpret as "You'd go mad trying" (I think they've gone mad making them in the first place, to be honest) Now the Elf in question may not be familiar with all the terrible things I've done to their tools in the past, so maybe it's more doable than he thinks. Honestly, I'm tempted, 'cos I kinda fancy knocking about 3/4" off the handle length too. Past history has suggested that many of The Elves have hands like bear wrestlers, whereas I don't. Except maybe teddy bears. Small ones.

Anyway, these tangs are glued into the handles through tapered stainless steel ferrules. No actual bolster as such, just a step in the blade shape. Which as far as looks go, I'm not a huge fan of - but it's a cost thing. So some of the chisels end up with spaces between blade and ferrule, while some have glue filling up one side (presumably where it's been lying down as it sets). I got one that have evidently missed the trimming of squeeze out, so you can see what I'm whittering about more clearly.

It's an aesthetic thing, not a practical thing. After a while you do get used to it (how many times have I ended up saying that about something by Veritas?), and as an example of that kind of bolster-less solution, it's a very nicely executed version. Like I said - subjective things, chisels. Seems robust enough - but obviously that's subject to time and use. Come back in 20 years ;)

Continuing down them, we come to the business end. And they are flat. Flat. Heck, let me repeat that:

They are FLAT.

It's an entirely new experience for me to have a chisel face that I can only make less flat by doing anything to it. Marvellous. Of course, if you're not a devotee of the flat face/back, then you're probably getting ready to scoff and mutter. Save it. Move along. If you've spent any time at all labouring over flattening a chisel, you'll love these. I'm already having wonderful visions of long thin paring chisels with backs prepped like these by LV's Elves from Lapland. I only hope The Elves have the same vision and will realise it. Pretty please. With a hockey puck on top?

Other types of chisels are planned, but while I asked about smaller and larger sizes of these ones, the response was not conclusive. I suspect I might be all out of luck in hoping for a 3/16" (which is a size I happen to find terribly handy, and which L-N are also denying me in O1, the rotters). Even a 1/8" may be a no go. I don't honestly know what the plans are, but if you're the sort who likes their chisels in matching sets, that may be something to bear in mind.

Talking of L-N, about time we did a little comparing and contrasting. Let us bend our minds to the sides or "lands" of these chisels. Or rather where they'd be if they had any. The things are knife edges. Seriously, the very first thing you'll want to do is stone off those sides some, or they will make you bleed. Given how much time I seem to spend holding the blade of a chisel, I can't say I'm the world's biggest fan of knife edges on the sides of same - except for select "special purpose" chisels. Can't honestly see the need for them on an all-rounder chisel such as this. Perhaps it's a Japanese saw-user thing, I dunno. Adds a level of necessary care to chopping too, as you're as like to cut sideways as you are forwards if you're not careful. Have a look; top is the Veritas, middle is the L-N (also in O1) and bottom is a classic boxwood handled Marples c.1960s.

I should have put them the other way round, then I could have said "Going, going, gone" about those lands. Ah well. But you can see how chunky the Veritas is - and, it seems, the L-N. Honestly, I thought the Veritas was a heftier blade by far, but calipers proved there's nothing in it. It's all in the appearance of the bevels, I suppose. Calipers also showed the Veritas were either dead on, or fractionally (like gnat's whisker measurement) under the given width.

Again, Veritas top, then L-N, and finally Marples (and yes, I was slightly horrified at the Marples' shape too - but it works, which is the important thing). The Veritas has beveled sides at 30°; the L-Ns at 40°. 10° doesn't sound much, but the Veritas looks significantly less, well... bevelled.

Practically speaking, I haven't found the bevel angle too steep for anything yet. Doubt I will, but I suppose someone'll find something to do that does and go "Ah hah!". 'Cos us woodworkers are annoying and do that kind of thing to tool makers for kicks and giggles.

Who? Me? Good heavens, as if I would...

As far as sharpening and such goes, these things take a wicked edge all right. Seem to hold it pretty well too; no sudden or catastrophic edge failure, just well-behaved blunting of the edge as you'd expect - and I've asked them to do some pretty mean and evil things. Again, The Elves have opted for including the craziness that is an additional 2° "micro bevel", which I really wish they wouldn't, but it's eliminated easily enough.

Finally, a final comparison of overall sizes with Some Chisels You May Already Know. Top is a 3/4" Marples; then the 3/4" Veritas; 3/4" Lie-Nielsen; bottom a 1" Ashley Iles Roundback Dovetail (the only Ashley Iles type I have available).

Most interesting observation to me was the overall metal section of the Veritas and the L-N are the same length - just the handle's about 3/4" shorter on the L-N. Which happened to be about how much shorter I fancied the Veritas. Hmm, methinks there may be a bit of craving familiarity happening there.

I've given them a bit of work, although not as much as I'd have liked. It's kinda on-going. And they work just fine; nicely balanced, reasonably comfortable, easy to hone. I'm finding the combination of hefty build with the "delicate precision" vibe of the fine lands and supremely flat back slightly disconcerting, if I'm honest. However, I imagine that's actually going to be much of the appeal to many prospective purchasers - they'll do a bit of everything. They're not what I expected when El Presidente said they were going to introduce them, but they have brought Good Things to consider for prospective chisel purchasers.


  1. Nice review, Alf (even if it wasn't a review).

    Cheers ;-)

    Paul Chapman

  2. Um, yes - it may have got a little more reviewy than I anticipated. Old habits... :)

  3. Alf:

    Thank you for the close-up pictures of the production chisels.

    I got to see some prototypes last fall and at that time the socket ferules were more like thimbles with a small square hole for the tang to fit through. It made for a very clean look but must have added more cost to the production (or left no space for glue squeeze out).

    I know that they couldn't have a bolster on the chisel itself and still be able to flatten the backs using those amazing giant turntables they have. Some of the earlier prototypes on display last fall tried to lift the handles up out of the same plane as the back of the chisel (sort of like a crank neck chisel but much heavier). It didn't look like a very workable solution and they abandoned it fairly quickly I think.

    I myself am very interested in the promised butt chisels in very wide widths (up to 2") and the long paring chisels.

    Rick in Oakville (Canada)

  4. Nice, informative review. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I'm waiting for the powder metal paring chisels! By the time they arrive I should have accumulated sufficient point with Senior Management and I can bring something new into the shop without grief and pain!

    Oh, yes...nice "evaluation".

    Ron (Ottawa, in the old Dominion of Canada)


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