Recommending chisels for beginners is difficult. Excellent chisels cost money – or a lot of time searching for nice vintage examples and setting them up. Most beginners just want to buy a tool and get to work.
Here are two options. Buy a 1/2” Lie-Nielsen chisel. It’s $55, but it is the best $55 you will spend this year. And you can get a ton of work done with a 1/2” tool – it’s the most-used size chisel in my tool chest.
Second option: Buy a whole set of Buck Bros. chisels from Home Depot. Get a 1/4”, a 1/2”, a 3/4”, a 1” and an 1-1/4”. The total bill will be about $44.
These chisels are made in the USA from drop forged high-carbon steel. They take and hold an edge quite well. And the side bevels are (usually) quite slim so you can use them for dovetailing. And they are easy to get – they’re in stock all year round and are easy to get from your local Home Depot. Oh, one more detail, the little plastic guard that protects the edge actually works and works really really well. That’s the good news.
Here are the compromises: The chisels have plastic handles that are indestructible but too heavy in my opinion, making the tool a bit unbalanced. Plus, I don’t like plastic tool handles because I am fond of wood (surprise). The flat backs may or may not require a lot of work. It’s the luck of the draw. I’ve had examples that were dead perfect and others that were high-carbon bananas. Return the bananas to the store.
On balance, the Buck Bros. chisels are quite good tools. Not great. But good enough for a lifetime of hard work. Sad to say, few hardware store chisels are up to even that bar.
— Christopher Schwarz
Read other entries in the Anarchist’s Gift Guide.