Chris Schwarz's Blog

Review: English M-Power Chisels With Replaceable Tips

When it
comes to powered machinery, I’m a fan of using carbide inserts in the
cutterhead instead of traditional straight knives. The cutters last
longer, they do a better job on figured woods and they make the machine
quieter.

M-Power Tools of England decided to put this same
technology to use in chisels. The company married a traditional-looking
chisel with a small insert that is made from High Speed Steel (HSS) and
coated in titanium. Does the marriage work? Let’s take a look.

The
chisels are lavishly packaged with a signed “certificate of
authenticity.” At first glance, the packaging appears fitting. Both the
plastic-handled MERC Pro chisel and the wood-handled “Fleetwood
Innovator” chisel were well-finished. The blades were highly polished
and the handles are finished as nicely as any chisel for sale today.

Both
tools have a steel strike button. It doesn’t go all the way through the
handle to the tang, however (I took both of them apart). But it does
help absorb the blows.

The handles are well-shaped, with flats
that are parallel to the bevel and face of the edge. This allows you to
instantly understand where the edge is at all times without looking at
the tool. And the flats also prevent the tool from rolling on the
benchtop.

The Insert Cutters
What really makes these
chisels different are the cutters. The HSS inserts are 1/8″ thick and
come in a variety of widths (1″, 3/4″ and 1/2″) and profiles (straight,
three-sided and serrated).

The straight insert looks like a
traditional chisel tip. No big deal. The three-sided tip is interesting.
It allows you to get into tight corners like a dovetail chisel, though
the tip is too wide for anything but dovetails used for assembling
carcases. It also provides a sharp corner that is handy for cleaning out
hinge mortises and stopped rabbets. I also found that when I used it to
pare out the corners of mortises, the tool was much less likely to
drift out of the cut as you worked deeper and deeper.

The
serrated cutter is intended to be used for gross material removal. It’s
like a toothing iron, with the serrations on the flat face of the tool,
which complicates things when you are mortising. As you drive down, the
serrations appear on the walls of your mortise – the result looks like a
fluting cutter in a router. I need to mess around with this cutter some
more before I decide if I like it.

On Sharpening
One
of the benefits of these chisels is that you can pop in a sharp insert
when the one you are using gets dull. Replacing the cutters is quick and
easy – just two screws.

Setting up the cutters can be a bit of a
challenge. All of the cutters I set up were significantly out of flat
on the unbeveled face. And flattening them with waterstones was no fun –
HSS is tough stuff. After an hour of flattening on the first one, I
remembered that I had this same problem when sharpening HSS chisels from
Japan.

The solution: diamond stones. My DMT diamond plates made
quick work of flattening the faces and the bevels. Once I got the faces
flat and the bevels flat (the bevels needed work as well), I could
polish the edges with waterstones without too much trouble. The HSS took
a decent edge. It wasn’t as keen as I would want in a plane iron, but I
could make nice paring cuts with the edge.

M-Power says the edge
will last up to five times longer than a regular chisel. I am always
skeptical of claims about edge life, and they are impossible to verify
in the real world. So all I can say to the claim is: We’ll see.

The Verdict
Sadly,
I suspect that many of the people who buy these tools will use up a tip then throw it away – they might not ever sharpen it. While the
insert cutters are reasonably sharp from the grinder, I wouldn’t use
them that way. To really see what this tool can do, you need to sharpen
it.

I don’t expect this tool to catch on with the traditionalists
who build furniture in a dedicated shop. Stopping your work and
sharpening a chisel a couple steps away is no big deal. Where this tool
could find favor is with people who work on job sites. Instead of
bringing your sharpening equipment, you could just bring a few inserts
along, replace them when your old ones dulled, and sharpen things up
when you return home at night.

The M-Power chisels are now available from Garrett Wade and Eagle America. The three chisels cost $50. The inserts range in price from $7.99 to $10.99 each.

— Christopher Schwarz

More Chisel Resources
• Visit the M-Power web site to read more about these tools and view a video of cleaning a hinge mortise.

• For more on sharpening, I recommend Ron Hock’s “The Perfect Edge,” which is available from our store. It’s an excellent reference book to have on hand when you get stuck.

• Lie-Nielsen’s YouTube channel has some great (free) videos on sharpening chisels.

12 thoughts on “Review: English M-Power Chisels With Replaceable Tips

  1. me.yahoo.com/a/S1JIb25xrY7apt1et9XORgcMjPWnPzNNKg--

    Anonymity was not my intent, and I’m afraid the wording became harsher with each attempt to post it.

    I am delighted I was smelling herring, but the review still doesn’t stand up in my eye.

    These aren’t budget chisels (the price of a LN), and as the conclusion is that they might be suited to site work, let me itemise the problems:
    1) A chippy isn’t going to faff around prepping the equivalent of a utility knife blade.
    2) On site, the screws will quickly become clogged, damaged or lost.
    3) How many normal beater chisels could be bought for the same outlay? Certainly enough to carry spares and forget having to mess with screws on site – and when (not if) one goes missing, replacement cost matters.

    That’s why I suggested a real world parallel test should be undertaken to justify the positive review.

    Steve Hamlin

  2. Matt Kleinschmidt

    me.yahoo.com, this blog isn’t just about high end tools. Chris covers a wide variety of topics; from old tools that can only be found at flea markets, to tools that cost thousands of dollars. His blog provides great advice and exposes people to tools and ideas that they wouldn’t have seen if not for the blog. This is another tool in which some people may be interested. So why not cover it? I see no harm in it. I wonder if your comment would have been so negative if his review were more scathing. I suspect not. I find it disturbing that you post on this blog attacking the author without fact checking your claim. Please consider the impact of your comments before posting them, especially when you do so while hiding behind anonymity.

  3. Steve

    As Jozef mentions above, it makes no sense to sharpen titanium nitride-coated tools (or, conversely, it makes no sense to put a titanium nitride coating on tools that you plan to sharpen). Anything with a titanium nitride coating is disposable, by design, and isn’t going to perform to non-disposable expectations.

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    As far as I know, M-Power has never advertised in my magazine. So I don’t know how they would pressure me — by continuing NOT to advertise? By the way, have you seen a magazine lately? There really aren’t any advertisers these days.

    Bottom line, I write about tools that interest me — good, bad, unusual, insane.

    No one above me has ever told me to give coverage to someone. No advertiser has ever threatened to pull some ad because of what I have or haven’t written.

    The day that happens is the day I resign.

    Phtt.

    Chris

  5. Jozef Babjak

    Thanks for the review! Please, can you provide a video showing the same job with flat and serrated cutter? I’m realy interested in.

    Are the cutters sharp enough from factory? I think any re-sharpening does not make too much sense – as well as back flatering – just because of titanium coating, which is destroyed by any resharpening attempt immediatelly. The titanium coating reduces friction, dissipates heat and generally improves edge endurance. All these properties are very important for metalworking. Yes, they are important for woodworking as well, but clearly not so challenging – the hardest wood is far softer than any average metal.

    Personally I think these chisels has no value for fine woodworking. But I believe the concept can be very useful for construction work, householding tasks or glue squeeze-out screaping. The product looks very similar to unility knives – nobody cares whether blades could be re-sharpened: the new ones are shapr enough … and cheap enough.

  6. DW

    Those things aren’t for me until they come out with a friction-drive spiral cutter version. Pull the chisel back real fast like the A-team van and then let the friction drive spiral cutter do the work.

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