I have owned several types of mortise chisels over the years. I first started with a carefully sought out set of vintage chisels. They worked well but there were two problems with vintage chisels in my case.
One, the handles are either not there to begin with or will shatter very shortly after the first use and I hate making handles in the middle of a project.
Second, most have been sharpened enough over the years to make them not quite as accurate in width as I would like. For instance my 1/4" was just under 1/4" , and the rest were about the same. Now that isn't to important unless you have to match your mortise chisels up with a plow plane iron . For instance in a frame and panel door, it is better to have the mortise and the groove that is plowed to be the same size.
So, in my venture to buy better mortise chisels I purchase some new high end models. I purchase a couple of the Ray Iles chisels from Tools For Working Wood. Now those are some great chisels. They are very pricey in my book and it was hard to put that much down for something that just gets beat on half the time and used as a wood crowbar the rest of the time. But, at the time of the purchase the only other "good" mortise chisels on the market where made by Lie Nielsen and I wasn't sure about dealing with a socket style mortise chisel. Socket style sash chisels are a pain sometimes. For one you have no reference on the handle to help you direct the sides of the chisel for the mortise. That is important for accuracy. Second, sometimes in use you may have to stop the chisel from twisting, and what happens when you twist a socket handle, it comes off in your hand. Though they work and the handles hardly ever brake, they do pull out from time to time and that is annoying. But, at the time I was happy with my Ray Iles chisels. Well, for a little while. I really didn't like the LARGENESS of the chisels. I know that may sound weird, but they are just big and hard to handle. Now this is all my opinion I just never got used to the large handles and the overall length of the chisels. So, after a while I sought out some other options. After a while Narex came out with a line of mortise chisels, but I was reluctant to purchase them because I thought they might be just cheap chisels.
After seeing some reviews I decided to sell my Ray Iles chisels and purchase the Narex chisels. I will give you one word of warning though. There are two versions of these chisels on the market. One set is Metric and the other is Standard measurements. The Metric have the light colored handles and the standards have the dark handles. You can get the standard ones at LeeValley and the metric at Highland Woodworking.
Now, again I want to say it doesn't matter if you get the metric or the standard, just get what you need. It is easy today to work with all metric chisels or all standard. I happen to work with all standard sizes.
The first thing you will notice about these chisels is the price point. The average Ray Iles chisels sell between $65.95 - $99.95 a piece. So for the price of one Ray Iles mortise chisel you can buy a set of Narex chisels for either a set of 6 standard for $75 or a set of 5 metric at $64.99. So, if you are wanting a set of mortise chisels like I did, I would suggest you purchase the Narex chisels, you won't find a better deal on the market.
Now lets talk about the Narex chisels and why I think they are exactly what you need for furniture making.
First, the metal used for these chisels is of good quality. Specially if you know that you don't need high end steel to make a mortise chisel. They are not exactly a delicate instrument like a good pairing chisel, so they don't need to be high end to begin with. But, they do sharpen to a good edge and I have had no issues with the blades what so ever.
Second, the weight and handling of the chisels is just right. They are big enough and sturdy enough to take a heavy hit, but they don't weigh a ton either. Easy to handle with one hand and very sturdy. The shaft of the chisel is plenty thick enough for rigidity and also for keeping the chisel square to the walls of the mortise as you chop along. Some sash mortise chisels have the issue of twisting sometimes during use, however these Narex chisels are thicker, so they don't twist in the mortise while in use.
Third, I really like the handles on these chisels. They are made small enough to actually get your hand around them, but they are oval in shape to give you a good sense of direction. It is important to have an oval handle on a mortise chisel. The oval provides you with a reference point for the flat sides of the actual chisel, thus helping you make accurate mortises. Plus, the handle are made from Beech wood, so they are nice and strong and not made from some cheep wood that might crack or shatter under use. The metal ring on the chisel is OK. It could be a better piece of metal, but I don't know if it really matters. After using my chisels for a while I haven't mushroomed the top of the handle to even necessitate having the ring on them. But, time will tell.
Overall, I really like having this set of chisels. They match up with my plow irons and they do their job very well. I don't have to worry about the handle splitting over a tang and they don't brake my piggy bank either. I highly recommend these chisels and I hope that if you are in the market for them you will get a set. You won't regret it.
I also want to say that I don't get paid for my reviews, I don't make money off sales, I don't get anything for anything . I just like to spread the word of my experiences and what I have learned about different products.
If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. I would love to hear what others have experienced or think about these chisels and others out there on the market.