Tool Test: Blue Spruce Firmer Chisels
By Christopher Schwarz
Perhaps the last tools I ever expected to come out of the Blue Spruce Toolworks are the most traditional set of modern bench chisels I have ever used.
After all, Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce has spent all of his toolmaking career building gorgeous tools that have a definite modern and West Coast flavor. His knives, chisels, awls and even his mallets are about as close to contemporary sculpture as you can get (and I mean that as the highest compliment imaginable).
But Dave’s latest chisels are complete throwbacks – they have 18th- and 19th- century design details, use old-fashioned high-carbon steel and they have thin blades that remind you of using an excellent old firmer chisel.
But like all of Dave’s tools, the fit and finish is taken to a level that few manufacturers (or even custom toolmakers) can ever achieve.
So let’s take these chisels apart and find out what makes them work.
These are long tools – about 111⁄4″overall – with a 51⁄4″-long O1 blade, brass ferrule and octagonal hickory handle. The handle is superbly finished (like all Blue Spruce products) and the tapered octagonal shape is comfortable and orients the tool so you always know where the bevel is. The slight swelling by the ferrule is the perfect place to push forward with your thumb and forefinger when paring.
The ferrule itself is worth note. Unlike most makers, Dave has always used a closed ferrule, which gives a neat appearance, increases its durability and hides the tool’s internal structure (more on that in a second).
The blade tapers gracefully from .195″ at the ferrule to .110″ where the bevel begins. This tapered thickness lightens the weight of the tool, which makes it easy to wield and makes the tool more sensitive and responsive during paring.
Even more important – at least for me – is that the blades are made from a fine-grained O1 steel that is hardened to about 58 on the Rockwell “C” scale. That means they won’t hold an edge as long as A2 chisels, but they are quite easy to sharpen on any sharpening media, including oilstones. The other nice thing about O1 is that it doesn’t chip like A2. So when an O1 edge gets dull it just becomes harder to push. An A2 edge tends to get “toothy” and scratch your work.
OK, now back to the ferrule for a second. The ferrule hides the tang of the tool as it enters the hickory. Inside, the blade has a significant rim where it enters the wood. This rim reduces the chance that you’ll split the handle when you strike the tool – a typical problem with tang chisels.
Overall, these tools are tied with the Lie-Nielsens as the best chisels I have ever purchased. While the Lie-Nielsen’s socket construction and short length make them unbeatable when chopping, the long and tapering shape of the Blue Spruce tools give them the edge when paring. Either brand of tool is an excellent choice for the woodworker who wants the best.
Yes, these tools cost a lot, but they will be appreciated for many generations to come. You might as well buy them when they are new.
From the February 2013 issue #202
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