Chisels come in a variety of guises. Bevelled, mortise, gouges, cranked gouges, cranked bevelled, paring, , the list goes on and on.
Two things I love about vintage chisels though, are beautiful boxwood handles and the fact most of the good makes were made from ‘carbon steel’, or what was known as ‘forged’ or ‘crucible steel’. Meaning the blades were forged, ie hammered under heat, and the resulting edges and steel composition reflected that in the quality of the blade and the edge it can hold. And these old chisels really do hold their edge. Put a standard bevel of approximately 25 degrees on them, with a further honed edge, and they are sharp!
There are many different modern varieties of chisel out there now, some of them excellent, like the Lie Nielsen range. The debate over A2 steel or O-1 steel really comes down to whether you want to sharpen your blades more or less often. O-1 steel can be sharpened to a higher degree, with a more shallow bevel, but you will have to sharpen more often.
I’ve started here collecting decent English makes with boxwood handles. Basic bevelled chisels will be good for the majority of jobs, and various sizes will allow you to work on variously sized work, such as finer dovetails. If you really want to get specialized, you can get special ‘dovetail chisels’ which have almost non-existent shoulders, ie the narrow flat along the edges of the chisel. This allows you get right into the dovetails to pare very cleanly. If you’re really smart, you can make your own!
There are a million videos about creating your own dovetails on the web if you want to experiment. I’ll be doing a long post on this at some point when I start making my own. However, here’s a decent video on ‘Woodtreks’ of Craig Vandall Stevens doing a decent job.
Paring chisels are, well, for paring. They are much flatter in profile, which allows you to run flatly along the workpiece much more easily, paring away small amounts of stock.
Mortice chisels are obviously for making mortices. Here’s Frank Klausz, doing it properly. They are designed to be hammered, they’re much more solid, with a square section blade, rather than flattened.
For the time being, I’m collecting bevelled and mortise chisels, the types and sizes I think I’ll use the most for my particular work. From then I’ll move onto a couple of in-cannel gouges, for cutting out small curved sections, such as overlapping mouldings.