Why are forged high carbon steel chisels more comfortable…

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Good quality woodwork chisels are normally judged on their ability to start sharp longer, why not, less sharpening time is a benefit for sure. But, what about use, are milled tool steel chisels in, say, A2, M2 or PM nice to use. Sure they are high on abrasive qualities (stay sharper longer), tough and hard. Yes hard, 63+ HRC. Hardness means stiffness, they can transmit vibrations into hands & arms, they do not have much ‘give’.

So, can a chisel be more comfortable than another, well yes it can. The age old method of hand forging high carbon steel produces a chisel that is softer (55 HRC) than milled tool steel but still certainly hard enough to carve, cut, shave all types of wood with a fine grain steel super sharp edge. And, it is comfortable to use, better feel, better feedback, and so easy to resharpen… An interesting and often ignored concept, chisel comfort.

Here is a simplified explanation of the forged chisel making process…

They are made using a traditional metalworking process that involves heating, shaping, and tempering the metal to create a strong, durable tool. Here are the general steps involved in making a forged woodwork chisel:

  1. Select the metal: High-carbon tool steel is the most common material used for forged chisels, as it is strong and durable and takes a super fine edge.
  2. Heat the metal: The steel is heated to a high temperature in a forge, which makes it more malleable and easier for the blacksmith to work with.
  3. Shape the metal: The heated steel is then placed on an anvil and hammered into the desired shape using a hammer and other metalworking tools. The smith may use different types of hammers and anvils to achieve different shapes and sizes of chisels. Experts make the best chisels.
  4. Quench the metal: Once the chisel has been shaped, it is cooled rapidly by being quenched in water or oil. This helps to harden the metal and make it more durable.
  5. Temper the metal: After the chisel has been quenched, it is heated again to a specific temperature and held at that temperature for a period of time. This process, known as tempering, helps to make the metal more resilient and less brittle.
  6. Grind and sharpen the blade: Finally, the chisel blade is ground and sharpened to a fine edge using a grinding wheel and honing stones.

Overall, forging a woodwork chisel is a time-intensive process that requires a high degree of skill and expertise, but quality never goes out of style.

A good reference book for appreciating forged tools & blades is Ron Hock’s book, “The Perfect Edge”

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