Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stanley Sweetheart Chisel

Well this damning evidence that I've, once again, failed to resist the lure of a chisel was going to be posted last week. Then I bethought to myself, "Self, just how often do the tool gods provide one with an actual Sweetheart to rhapsodise over on Valentine's Day?" So here I am. But first, a poem:

Roses are occasionally red,
Violets are inaccurately described as blue,
If you were a chisel,
I'd be all over you.

extract from "All The World's a Chisel" by Anon. Unpublished.

So chisels. Me and chisels, eh? Total sucker for them. Sharp onna stick to some; lifelong attraction to me. When the Stanley "Sweetheart" 750 Series redux version first hit the shelves, I inevitably came over all Gollum and wanted precious. But I resisted, and even thought I'd kicked the hobbit. Er, habit.

Yeah, right.

My helpless throwing of money to Tom Lie-Nielsen for those chisels of his in O-1 continues despite my best efforts not to be a slave to sockets, but if I was to wait for him to divvy up with anything over 1 inch I'd probably be looking at it only with a view to inclusion amongst my grave goods. If I was an optimist. So, somehow, I rationalised the purchase of a 32mm (nominal 1.25in) Stanley, to kinda match the L-Ns. Sort of. If you squint. And scratch that itch of curiosity about them at the same time.

Despite being well behind the times on this, naturally I felt compelled to share my first impressions of it. So here 'tis. And yes, it is 32mm and not 1.25 inches wide; the seeker of imperially exact sizes must look elsewhere. In fact it only just about squeezed into the box along with the instructions. The former bears a Union flag and the charmingly elusive statement that the chisel is "Made in England with Global Components ™". This may possibly translate to a bloke called Trevor sitting above a kebab shop in Sheffield with a stack of boxes waiting to be assembled on one side of him and a pile of "Global Components ™" made by Mr Li Ping of Chow-Down™ province, south-east China to the other. Who knows? I expect Stanley have a whole department ready to shift production to wherever is most financially beneficial on an hourly basis.

The instructions comprise a whole page of closely spaced text (a side and a half) thanking you for your purchase and brief advice on how to stop the handle falling off. Viz: Hit it. Or failing that, rough it up a bit. With abrasives, not more violence. But it is in twenty-five languages, so it's nice to see Stanley are upholding their fine tradition of providing virtually no information but dazzling us with their linguistics.

Now let me go forth and compare it to a 3/4 inch L-N - you can't stop me. They don't match. Well, I knew that. You can probably play spot the difference just as well as I can, so go ahead. I'll wait.

Yes, the handle's slightly shorter, bit rounder on the end, slightly different shape. Oh, and it's got a very clear and rather fetching Stanley Sweetheart mark on it. Which I like. The finish is not dissimilar to the L-N but it readily demonstrated why the only advice in the instructions concerns dealing with the handle dropping out of the socket - because it did just that. I whacked it back on and it seems to be holding thus far. Wood is unspecified; cynically I expect that's so they can change that on a hourly financially advantageous basis too.

Unfortunately this one's had a bit of ding, which is mildly sigh-worthy. I elected to let it go subject to the state of the blade; if that was okay, I can live with a dinged handle that I haven't had the pleasure of dinging first. Which is deeply unfair on the likes of L-N and Veritas, where I'd probably be all over them like a rash wanting my premium chisel to be utterly pristine and what were they going to do about it. Verily, one goes into a Stanley tool purchase with much lower expectations. Much.

Anyway, so much for the stick, on to the sharp bit.

Side on, Stanley to the left, L-N to the right, you get a better idea of how they differ at the operating end. The Stanley blade is quite a bit thinner than the L-N, explaining the less elegant transition between the blade and the socket. viz: It's a step because, well, there's a step up in thickness to the socket. Thinner it may be, but it seems sturdy enough. Ideally you'd want to compare like sizes to get an idea of balance and so forth, but it's probably an active advantage in the wider size to have a thinner blade to reduce the weight a tad.

The sides or lands are a little thicker than the L-N. Really I should have offered them up against an old Marples or somesuch *looks out of the window, where it's pi-, sh-, raining heavily, and decides to do without* Despite that I'd say it's still well within proper bevel edge territory, as opposed to firmer with the corners knocked off "bevel edge". Some folks might cavil and say it's still too thick, but personally I think they're fine unless you're deeply into the more pretentious narrower-than-a-supermodel's-ass DTs, in which case you're probably into more pretentious chisels too. And possibly into supermodels, but that's your lookout.
Outta the box, the machining on the backs is... noticeable. But even. The lines lengthwise are just from the plastic of the edge guard they thoughtfully provide. Already I'm thinking wistfully of the lapped-flatter-than-Lincolnshire backs of the Veritas chisels. The bevel is square to the sides and seems to be ground at 30°. I can't seem to discover what working angle is actually necessary for the steel (whatever the mix is), or whether I could grind it a little shallower and have my secondary at 30° instead, as I generally prefer. Alas, Stanley, my hombres, you fail to tell me in any language.

A minute, if that, on my coarse DMT and we can begin to see what we're looking at. High at the edges and low in the middle, which is the way you want it if it's not going to emulate Lincolnshire right out of the box. At this point I was much cheered and thus resigned to the pre-dinged handle remaining in my life.

Marker pen applied to the back and then a couple of minutes on some 240g wet'n'dry. Not a scientific choice - merely that a piece of it was lying about handy. The time isn't exact either, but generally I lose the will to care after anything more than five minutes, so it can't be more than that. Looks pretty good, huh? Noticeable dip in the middle, but if were Japanese we'd be giving that a fancy name, saying it was a feature, and going out for a saki 'n' sushi dinner without another thought, so I'm not unhappy.

At this point I'm reminded that I have sorely neglected to give the feedback on some honing stuff like wot I ought to have. I fear my heart is not in the mechanics of sharpening and never will be. But anyway, I followed up with one of those Veritas® Steel Honing Plates with some, um, 6ยต diamond paste, iirc. Works very nicely, although I have some reservations over having more than one plate and grade of paste because of the risk of cross contamination. I may not be a sufficiently tidy and organised w'worker to pull it off successfully...

Anyway, as you can see, it done good. But now you may also be able to see the right hand corner of the edge, and that it's still a little shy of being flat. Le sigh. I'm not going to fret about it just yet, as I may well be opting to regrind the primary bevel anyway, and by the time I've faffed with that, chances are I'll have gone past that dip anyway. We'll see.
Second bit of fancy diamond use now. Well if a girl can't dabble in diamonds for Valentine's, when can she? These are the diamond lapping sheets that Lee Valley are stocking now. Much, much enthusiasm for same from them about the wondrous nature of this miraculous stuff, and I was inclined to be a little "Yeah, yeah, boys and their toys". But it is incredibly fast, and what a polish. They're good, and I'm slightly surprised I haven't heard more ooo-ing and aah-ing over them round about the wooden corners of the interweb. Downside is twofold. One is applying the things to a substrate without any grit or bubbles. Rather like applying a protective screen to an iPhone or iPad, and not advisable in the dusty conditions of a woodworking 'shop. Secondly is the inherent issue with all things "Scary Sharp" - you can't push, only pull, or you can kiss the paper/film adios. So good for honing guide use; not so hot for the technique I naturally favour if free-handing. Upsides? Fast, uber sharp, very portable.

Once I had an edge inclined to split atoms, I fished out an end of pine from the scrap box and gave it a real world test on the end grain. Seems legit.

Well really, why should planes get all the wafer thin shaving gloatage anyway? Not bad for sharp onna stick. The end grain left behind is suitably smooth and polished, so all told, I'd say it passed the sharp test just fine.

Only time and use will tell how good or not the steel is, of course, but as things stand, I like this chisel. More than I expected to, actually. What I expected was to walk away, shaking my head and reminding myself that, socket chisel-wise, L-N pretty much own one of my kidneys by now for a reason. But the differences aren't as huge as they could be. It's not an L-N, but it appears to be a decent chisel, actually suitable for woodworking rather than a chisel-shaped device designed with opening paint cans in mind. Maybe I got lucky with the state of the blade, but you can only go on what's in front of you. The main niggle is probably the "Global Components ™" issue and use of "Made in England" when, most likely, it's not. Or not all of it. Or won't always be. Or might be sometimes, and then not. Or... Well, it's playing fast and loose with the tool buyer's understanding of what they're buying and I don't care for that. But that's not the chisel's fault. I'd send it flowers. Not a dozen red roses or nuffink; but definitely a mixed bouquet.

Y'know, somehow I don't think this method of tool rating is really going to catch on...


  1. Well done! Good to be reminded every now and again why Alf is the Master Tool Reviewer...

  2. Nice review Alf.

    I've considered buying the stanley chisels on and off since they came out. The mixed reviews probably had something to do with it.

    Interesting that you like the LV diamond film. I have the kit but haven't tried it out yet but now I probably will have a go as my marples need it.

  3. Hi Alf -

    Super read....well done!

    Cheers -


  4. Hi Alf
    I've just purchased a Stanley Sweetheart 62 low angle jack plane and found it amazing and fuctionaly just as good as a LN or veritas, just a tiny bit less well finished, which I can well live with for a cost of 76.00. Video review of it here
    Also got a Sweetheart no4 and the same goes for that too.

    George ( from Cornwall too )

  5. Ahhhh the joys of shared experience without the fees associated with actually purchasing all of the bright and shiny eye catching bits.
    Thank you for sharing on the Stanley Sweetheart chisel. I own but one. A pleasant flea market find not as bright, and without any shine, but it's the seed of a coll.. grouping.
    I'll probably stay with the thrill of the hunt for rust but I love your flair for reviews.

    Dave N
    aka Old Sneelock

  6. Nice review Al, but you're wrong about can pull and push to your hearts content, you just need to be careful and work down through the micron sizes each time. I use the 3M films from WH (the best I've encountered) and have never found a problem laying them onto sheet glass. The films will tear when you have a minute burr, or tiny piece of grunge sitting on the bevel being worked, i.e. between the film and bevel which is infuriating but something that has to be accepted if you use this system. SS is a great system (and I've tried them all) just need care.

  7. Good Review, As a cabinet maker / wood carver I was skeptical but found them to need a little flattening and sharpening which is not uncommon.. I actually don't really know what the big deal is with Lie Nielson. I have a few but in honesty they are not as good as my Ashley Iles chisels and gouges. Or, in that regards my Henry Taylors. I have yet to find any tool that I do not have to get to my liking prior to use anyway… Just my personal opinion


Owing to vast quantities of spam this blog is getting, I'm afraid only registered users can post. All comments are moderated before publication, so there may be some delay. My apologies.