When it comes to paring chisels I have but one. It’s 1″ wide and I keep it in fairly good shape but I only using it now and again and only because it’s there. Come to think about it this may be the only paring chisel which my grandad, old man and I have ever owned between us. I expect this is because of our minimal approach to woodworking and the tooling but then again I could be missing a trick here. I’m wondering if it really is just one of those tools we can do without or if there are some more specific needs I’ve over looked?
This question comes to mind because there seems to be so many paring chisels being made; you can get a set from such a wide range of manufacturers. If they’re as specialist as I seem to consider then it may make it bit odd that they’re so readily available. Even mortice chisels, which when needed are a very valuable tool, are rather sparse if you want to buy new, especially until recently.
I can think of a few positives for the paring chisel but little which makes them come close to becoming essential. You can get a nice low cutting angle although this isn’t unique to them so I suppose the answer lies in the length. Good balance and aid to your eye for sighting square?
Regular readers will probably have picked up that I’m a big fan of butt chisels and I just love the nimble and agile nature of keeping things short. I prefer the butt chisel for a good 90% of my chiselling so perhaps I’m a little unusual all round. I use some lesser quality bevel edges for light morticing and heavier work and then a nice selection of firmer chisels for more hefty chopping. There are very few occasions that I reach out for the paring chisel and I’d love to hear how your own work compares. Would you be lost without yours and do you have a few pointers on where they shine? I’d love to hear about your own preferences when it comes to slicing the grain.
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Vic Tesolin says
We must be kindred spirits Richard because I feel the same way. My go-to chisels are butts and I only own one paring chisel (3/4″) that I use very infrequently. If I have to work mid-field I tend to get close with a fine saw then use a finely set plane to bring me to flush. The only time I seem to grab the paring chisel is when it enters my field of view and I think “…haven’t used you in a while”.
That is exactly the way I think, I sometimes use a tools just because I feel like it. Those new veritas butts are almost pornographic. I don’t need them, but they’re definitely on the list.
Dan Noall says
Richard, my friend-
I just recently purchased a set of Czech-made parers. I’ve been wanting them for some time as I had on numerous occasions found progress halted by my standard length chisels (Ashley Iles Mk2’s) and having to reach for a router (St’ly 71-1/2) or other method. I have no dado plane, and shoulder planes’ blades are too wide. Too many times I just needed a longer chisel! Simple as that. Yourself, on the other hand, apparently have not been in this predicament or have found another way around it. Try a 3/4″. If you have one around I’d wager you’d use it!
Hi Dan, I think I’m going to take you up on that. I’ll see if I can buy it without Helen noticing. 😉
Kevin Mello says
Richard, I own two paring chisels. One is an old 1/2″ that has been sharpened and ground during it’s life to the point the blade is only about 6″ long. But, I like the low angle it offers when cleaning up joints, and the old tool steel seems to hold an edge better than many of my newer chisels.
The second is a brand new Sorby 3/8″. The only reason I bought it is length. I discovered a need for it when trying to hand cut dados across a 12″ piece. Even coming from both sides, none of my bench chisels would quite reach without me having to lose contact with the front of the blade. The Sorby has a 12″ blade, giving me lots of reach. How often do I use it? Not a lot. But, since it is the only one of its kind in my arsenal, it wasn’t a huge investment. And it’s like car insurance, good to have when you need it.
Marty Backe says
Where did you get the ‘new’ 3/8″ paring chisel? It’s funny, that’s the exact size that I’m just about to buy. I need a very long blade, and I’ve decided that 3/8″ will be a good size for most of my needs.
I like the Sorby because it has the longest blade of any new ones that I’ve found. But the blade is 9-1/2″ long. You say that yours is 12″. Sorby’s website doesn’t show any chisels with a 12″ blade.
If it’s really 12″ long, I’d love to know where I can buy one. Thanks.
A foot long chisel certainly does sound a beauty, I’d have one that long just because.
Marvin McConoughey says
December 30, 2015. Amazon has had Narex paring chisels. My set arrived this evening and has yet to be unpacked. I never needed a paring chisel until the past week when I constructed a deep set of drawers and found my present chisels would not reach as far as I wanted.
Never thought about using a paring chisel for cleaning up hand cut dados. I do a lot of hand cut dados, but use a router plane to clean them up. Not quite sure how I’d manage without a router plane. It’s my go-to tool for cleaning up all sorts of things from hinge mortises to dados to lap joints. I can see how a long paring chisel could be useful in cleaning up dados however.
I love router planes too. I’m probably a little over reliant with mine….
Thanks Kevin, I know what you mean about insurance tools, I have tools I barely use once a year, but when you need it, you need it.
Paul Chapman says
I’ve never owned a paring chisel and, so far, have never had a need for one.
My old man would say just that. 😉
John Walker says
It isn’t because you don’t need one Paul. It’s just that you don’t have one; hence you ‘think’ you don’t need one. 🙂 I hadn’t one for years, until I was tempted on ‘Oldtools’ to buy a one inch wide example. Obviously it hadn’t been used a lot because, old as it is it’s still a good 10″ long. I don’t use it much, but I like its London Pattern handle; maybe the main reason I bought it; to use as a pattern for re-handling some of my time-worn chisels! Cheers and pare away.
I don’t own a dedicated paring chisel, never really found the need for one in my woodworking.
I also use AL butt chisels for almost everything. I do have other AL chisels, the butt chisel is my chisel of choice though. They just feel right, I love them. 😉
Ashley Iles……..I need an edit button 🙂
I agree, I’d say they’re the benchmark for chisels.
I have a nice set of four parers that were gifted to me 8-years. Other than doing a quick assessment of each after sharpening them, I have never used them.
Ha ha, I’d imagine the same would happen to me…
Don’t have any paring chisels but I could see them being useful upon occasion. I’ve thought about getting a Narex to try out. No more than I’d use it it would probably be just fine. As for butt chisels I have a 3/8 I use for dovetailing all the time. It started out as a regular cheap bench chisel but one snap and lots of grinding later it’s now a butt chisel. Been thinking hard about getting some real ones as I’ve come to like the shorter length. I don’t think that garage sale one has many more grinds left it it. Besides, I spend more time grinding and sharpening it than actually using it. I’m still not sure if it was a quarter well spent.
Thanks David, there’s nothing nicer than recycling tools. Break one, and turn it into another. I don’t think you would regret treating yourself to a few new ones though.
Mike Holden says
Actually, a paring chisel is essential (in my view) for fitting the knee blocks of a cabriole leg. The long blade registers on the knee and fits the block precisely to it. This means of course that abominations such as the LN “paring” chisels with the long handles and short blades are useless.
Hi Mike, sounds like a very good use for them. It’s nice to see another voice speaking up for them. Maybe I should start making some more higher end furniture and I’ll start finding a use for them. 😉
Julien Hardy says
I use a few with 20 degree angles that I push with my shoulder to work on mortise walls, including a 2 inch wide one. Very useful for this and the odd far-reaching job. They’re great for precision hand work without a mallet. But you’re right, they’re more of a luxury than essential tools.
Hi Julien, so again it’s the extra length that makes them handy. I supposes its also a good excuse for having a dedicated chisel ground to a low angel.
Larry Jackson says
Perhaps I should work on getting a perfect fit from all my tenons straight from the saw. Gentlemen, the generous length of a paring chisel not only aids in sighting plumb and level,but also in feeling plumb and level, as does its ability to slightly flex, due to its relative thinness. Next time you need to flatten the cavity of a lengthy dado, or have to pare a broad tenon for a slip fit, compare the surface tension you feel with a typical short, thick cabinet chisel to the feel you get with a nice long, thin, vintage Sheffield parer. You will sense how receptive the parer is to very minute swings of its handle, due to the longer radius within which your arc swings, whether vertically for shaving thickness, or when skewing its edge to accommodate grain direction. Due to the flex of the thinner and longer blade, it is also much easier to achieve uniform surface flatness by pressuring the blade against the surface you’ve just leveled, while gently levering up, or backing off as needed, without having to stop to fiddle (fettle?) with a router’s adjustment wheel. And if you’re carving stopped chamfers, especially those that are curved, the flex, lower bevel angle and extra length of the paring chisel are invaluable. I will however grant you that it will not last very long when used as a pig sticker, but that’s the job of other chisels.
Thanks Larry, that’s a lovely description, and very convincing.
Gary P says
I have two paring chisels, 1/2 and 3/4. Have never used them. They sure are pretty though. I use the router plane to clean up dado’s and tenons. I spent about 2 hours flatting the back and bring the back and bevel to a polish. Put them in my tool drawer and just look at them every once in a while.
Typical, I had a plane that I needed desperately and used once!
richard arnold says
I have a few old paring chisels, and they do see some action. They are great for wooden bench plane making. I use them when making stair cases with winders, and would be lost without one when forming the reduced shoulder on a gunstock stile type door. Maybe they are more of a joiners tool rather than for cabinet making.
Hi Richard, it’s nice to hear from you. You have a good point there, the subtle differences between trades.
Glenn Ingram says
I have a 1 1/4″ crank neck paring chisel that I love. It is an antique I picked up so I don’t know how long it originally was, but it is only about 4-5 inches now. But it doesn’t really matter because the of crank neck. I mostly use is to clean up tenons or any flat expanse that I can’t get at with a bench plane. I basically use it where many would use a router plane or shoulder plane, but there is no setup. It is wide and long enough to register really well and sharp enough that it takes little effort. The crank provides just enough clearance so my fingers don’t scrape on the wood. I’m accurate enough with it that I’ve never bothered with the expense of a shoulder plane. A thinner one would obviously be required to clean out dados but I would probably rather use the router plane.
That’s another tool that I have never used. I can see the benefits of having a cranked neck. A chisel thats infinitely long.
Steve V. says
Larry is the only commenter who has correctly identified the main point of the paring chisel: it is thin, and can be advanced by flexing. You can’t say that of any other chisel. How many times have you wanted to pare a spot, and then rammed your chisel into something that lies a 1/4″ past your spot? With the paring chisel, it doesn’t happen. You position the tool where you want to cut, then flex the blade, either by levering with your strong hand, or pushing in the middle of the blade with your weak hand. The flex moves the chisel, and then the chisel stops immediately. That’s a control you get with no other tool.
Most of the chisels sold as “paring chisels” today, like the narex, are much too thick to work. I think only the Taylor and Sorby are thin like the old ones, and sorby’s have a reputation for softness…
Your best bet it to find a 19th c chisel, 13″ or 14″ long, 1/8 thick, preferably with the super-comfy London pattern handle. Over here in ‘murica, I’m screwed, but they should be easy to find on your side of the pond.
Loved the recent post on bench height, btw.
Hi Steve, thank you for such a great explanation, you made it very clear. I checked mine and there is no flex so I think I’m gonna have a little trawl through ebay and see what I can find. I’m intrigued now. Cheers.
Dan Noall says
Uh-oh. Same here.
Though I’m certain my very pretty Narexes’ will find some use.
Hi Dan, how do you find the Narexes chisels? They seem to be very popular all of a sudden.
Dan Noall says
I find them to be very pretty, Richard.
I’m sorry for that. -Couldn’t resist.
I haven’t had much experience with the Narex parers yet, but I have had a bit with their bench chisels which are just terrific as back-ups for my AI’s when I don’t want to “sully” them, which is why I didn’t really hesitate to get the Narex brand. Good tools.
I hope I answered your question as I understood it.
Bill Anderson says
When doing dadoes by hand, a combination of the hand router and paring chisel is the best approach (excepting dado planes). Set the router bit to the final depth of the dado. Mark the fore and aft ends of the board with the router cutter. Saw the shoulders, rip out the waste with a nice long, narrow paring chisel (1/2″ or 5/8″ is perfect for 3/4″ dadoes), then use the router to get a clean, flat bottom. Makes quick work of it all.
Hi Bill, thanks for the tip. After many of the comments here I’m really keen to give the paring chisel some more time.
Rhodri Morice says
Hi Richard, I have a Robert Sorby 1.5″ paring chisel that I use on almost every job that I have done. I bought it new eight years ago. Over the years my work has ranged from small items of furniture to staircases to green oak buildings.
I find this chisel invaluable on all sizes of work, for removing glue and paring joints. Due to its width it ‘floats’ well and so doesn’t dig into the work. I discovered this chisel working for my father in law and couldn’t put it down so had to buy one. I now have someone working for me and the same happened to him, he has bought one too!! p.s I bought five other sizes of paring chisel at the same time and rarely use any of them. Hope this is of use.
Jason Young says
Being a woodworker with a touch of obsessive compulsiveness (don’t we all) I began purchasing the Robert Sorby Paring chisels and thought i wanted to get the whole set of 5 available at Lee Valley. I made it to three before I re-evaluated that idea. The Sorby’s are ground from the factory with a very low bevel angle of about 15 degrees I believe. Add to this a relatively soft steel and I found I was chipping the cutting edge pretty regularly and having to take off a lot of steel to resharpen them. Since then I’ve tried a 20 degree and now a 25 degree angle which seems to help edge life considerable but kind of defeats the purpose of a paring chisel. I do like the length and the flexibility though. I typically use it for removing glue in tight places or cleaning up the cheeks of tenons in a wide panel. I really think you only need one paring chisel though. I often wondered what the purpose was for the long handle option on the Lie Nielsen paring chisels?
Marty, sorry for the late hit, but I haven’t been able to get back to the blog lately. I went back and re-measured, and I guess I fell into the male habit of bumping up lengths. The Sorby blade measures 9 1/2″ to the handle. It still is plenty long, and I used it just the other day on another long dado project.