First Look: Blue Spruce Bench Chisels | Popular Woodworking Magazine
 In Chisels, Chris Schwarz Blog

Dave Jeske’s tool-making shop in Oregon City, Ore., is in exactly the same place as his new bench chisel: halfway between the islands and toolmaking traditions of Japan and England.

Like a Japanese chisel, the new Blue Spruce Toolworks bench chisel connects the blade and the handle using a combination of a socket and a tang. It also has a price tag that is more in line with a handmade Japanese tool (a set of five Blue Spruce chisels costs $435.)

But like a Western chisel, the chisel’s blade is long and flat on its face. And the handle is something else entirely. It has a Western feel, but it also has a high-tech secret (more on that in a minute).

This week I set up a 3/8″ Blue Spruce chisel and put it through its paces in the shop. It’s an impressive tool, and is different than competitors in many significant ways.

Blades for Chopping
The 5″-long blade is ideal for chopping out waste between dovetails. The sides of the blade are beveled perfectly to get the tool into the acute corners of dovetails without bruising your tails. The blade is A2 and comes with a 30Ã?° grind, also an ideal setup for chopping all day without having to rehone.

The unbeveled face of the tool I tested was fairly flat. It took about 20 minutes to polish it up from #1,000 up to #8,000. That time is a lot shorter than most garden-variety chisels from Germany but longer than the Lie-Nielsens, which are always delightfully flat right out of the wrapper.

The Tang and Socket
Many woodworkers will be delighted to see that Jeske adopted the tang-and-socket approach to attach the blade to the handle. This complex connection method gives you the best of both worlds. You get the durability of a socket and the secure connection offered by the tang. Pure tang chisels tend to split their handles after some abuse. Pure socket chisels tend to have their handles come loose when the weather changes.

Like all of Jeske’s tools, you can really see how he fusses over quality when you examine the transition between metal and wood. It’s a perfect mate.

The Handles
The 4-1/2″-long handles are longer than the Lie-Nielsen handles, which some people will like. This is really a point of personal preference. The longer handle tends to add weight, which some woodworkers don’t like. And indeed, the Blue Spruce chisels are heavier than the Lie-Nielsens thanks to the longer blades and handles. But they aren’t ungainly. You can still wield the Blue Spruce like a pencil when you are chopping.

The most surprising thing about the handles is that they are figured maple that has been infused with acrylic. At Jeske’s insistence, I beat the handle with a 16 oz. steel hammer about 20 times and couldn’t see a single dent. Impressive.

In all, I think Jeske has a winner here. After I get some more experience with the tool in our shop, I’ll report back on its edge life and overall comfort.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 16 comments
  • Martin

    A few thoughts:

    I own and use most of the tools available at Blue Spruce. The handle shape really fits my hands and the quality is supreme. In terms of value, comfort and function, you may find other tools that work for you – I stand by my choices (there are more and less expensive alternatives). In general, I have tried to use as many different tools as I can.

    I don’t think tools are investments, unless you are a collector. They are equipment that should be used and maintained until they cant be. I spend a lot of money and time on hand tools because the physical connection makes them very personal to me.

    Japanese chisels and brushes I have used are impressive and different, owing to a unique and sustained cultural heritage. Japanese cultural items can cost years of savings, but the shops survive for generations. The pursuit of perfection mentality helps in understanding why american toolmakers try this hard. If we are willing to support them, they will continue, improve, and teach. The questions are: do tools like these mean something in American woodworking culture and heritage? Will a better tool appear 5, 10, or 100 years down the line? If you do save the money on hand tools, take a trip out through Kyoto and also visit Ise Jingu (Rebuild in 2013).

    I have had good results cutting dovetails in some of the California native hardwoods: big leaf maple, valley oak, and live oak. I’ll go after some rising dovetails next.

    Chisel setup took longer for me (I am slow at it) – 30min+. Edge durability is good.

    The acrylic infused maple is extremely tough. They are not plasticy; rather, they are glorious. I have managed to make the surface finish slightly dull on the mallet, but the wood is untouched. The african blackwood handle is comfortable, although I tend to hold it an inch or so up on the handle. I keep the mallet out on my desk and fiddle with it when I’m thinking.

    I’ll try to remember to write again about longer-term experiences.

    Take it easy,
    Martin

  • Neil Lamens

    Here’s the deal….I don’t believe in 2 cents …..doesn’t buy much, doesn’t say much.

    I come out of the woodworking industry, I understand the value of tooling better than most, specifically machinery. I’m not a hobbiest. I am a minimalist when it comes too tools and build to a style that uses what tools I have. When I find what tools I have on hand do not work, without hesitation I go get what will work. I have a few internet woodworking friends, who know how I purchase.

    Now to Blue Spruce Toolworks:

    I’m researching and experimenting with my woodworking right now, I have LN bench chisels so I don’t need bench chisels, they work fine, I can beat them up and they come back for more. About 6 months ago on a tip from an Ohio internet woodworker, I ground down some old yellow handled Stanley’s, Buck Bros. and made a few skew chisels. Short, clunky but they mixed well with a Sorby’s paring chisel so I’ve been using them. For Christmas my wife surprised me with a Blue Spruce Mallet, WWIA I guess. Over the past months, I been going to my skew chisels more and with gift cards, figured I would pick-up a pair of nice skew chisels. I looked around online, did my homework and based off the quality of the Mallet and skew chisel price, decided on a pair of Blue Spruce Toolworks skew chisels.

    Just last week they arrived and I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of product, how the skew’s worked out of the box (I was anxious), the presentation of my purchase, and the customer service, which my wife raved about and since refers to Blue Spruce as "Dave’s company". I even mentioned to a blogger friend from Portland, to get inside this guys shop and give us the skinny. He’s working on it.

    So I’m with Alessandro when he questions bench chisel value, I understand Chris when he mentions the blog being a vehicle for showing us good product along with his dreck. And we’ve seen both.

    I can attest…The Blue Spruce Toolworks Skew Chisels are a perfect example of a good value for Alessandro and a perfect product for Chris to makes us aware of a company producing an excellent quality product.

    Neil

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Alessandro,

    Sorry about the idiom.

    "Dreck" is an informal noun that means "rubbish or garbage."

    And don’t worry about offending my sensibilities. I encourage (and enjoy) the free exchange of ideas and biases. So I welcome your comments.

    Chris

  • Alessandro

    Christopher, i repeat, everyone spends its money as he wish.
    People who spend $100 for an hair brush think that it is inexpensive too.
    Everyone has his personal criteria when purchase something.
    Excuse me if i have strucked your susceptibility.
    I have only one small request: because i’m italian and i don’t speak english very well, could you try to explain the meaning of the phrase "brace yourself for more of my dreck"?

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Alessandro,

    I think these tools are inexpensive. They will last several lifetimes for less than the price of a laptop computer, which will be good for only a few years at best.

    I think each of us has a different concept of beauty and value. These tools don’t meet your criteria on those points, but they sure meet mine.

    And on a personal note, one of my goals with this blog is to support people who make excellent things (furniture, tools, ideas), so brace yourself for more of my dreck.

    Chris

  • Alessandro

    The first question should be: do they cut wood?
    And the answer is: yes, like any other quality chisel Rc59 or above.
    The second question should be: do they cost the right price for their purpose?
    The answer is obviously: no, there are many other quality chisel that do the same work for a fraction of the price of Blue Spruce ones.
    Only the third question could be: do they represent a good
    investment?
    In my opinion the answer is again negative.
    They are not forged by hand with complicated process like the beautiful japanese ones, they are machine miled from a piece of A2 steel. And the acrylic infused handle have to much a plastic look.
    By the way everyone spends its money as he wish. I know people who spend $100 for an hair brush so i an not surprised that there are people who spend the same for a chisel.
    Surely Dave Jeske is comforted by the presence of all these persons.

  • Chris C

    I think everyone would agree that these chisels are
    very expensive. The question is, do they represent a good
    investment for your dollar?

    The answer, of course, depends on your value system. I tend
    to not put too much money into chisels because they are
    so simple. On the other hand, I have put a lot of dough out
    for hand planes in the past because they are not so simple.

    One thing I think most of would agree on is the fact that
    it is a joy to EVEN HAVE THIS CHOICE in today’s modern
    society. I am comforted by the presence of all of the
    companies making high quality tools…even if they are
    all not my cup of tea.

    Chris

  • John B. Dykes

    Perhaps the finest tool I’ve ever handled (at Berea). If you hold (use) one of these chisels, you’ll understand the quality – and that the price is fully reasonable. It is, without question (in my mind) several steps beyond the competition. I scrimp and save for every penny that I spend on tools, and am a fan of vintage tools – but these new chisels are worth saving for.

    My only regret is that I should have waited on my LN chisel purchase…

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Josh,

    The Lie-Nielsen and Blue Spruce are different animals.

    Do you like traditional or contemporary tool designs?
    Do you like socket chisels or the Japanese style?
    Do you like short handles or longer?
    Do you want to be able to swap out handles?
    Do you like a long blade or a shorter one?
    Do you like a little extra weight or do you prefer featherweight tools?

    Chisels come in a wide variety of shapes to suit a wide variety of work and users. Calling one brand the "best" chisel for everyone would be a mistake on my part.

    If you’re not sure about the answers to the above questions, buy one of each and then return the one you don’t like.

    Chris

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Tom,

    You’ll have to ask Dave Jeske about replacement handles. Also, I’m afraid I don’t have any details on his manufacturing process. I was more concerned with the results of it.

    Chris

  • Alessandro

    Wow, for that price i expect that they leave the drawer and cut dovetails by themself.

    No, seriously, what is a chisel? A tool to cut wood or a jewel to show friends?

    And what cut wood? A sharpened edge or a wonderfull figured maple handle?

    I think that any Kirschen, Pfeil, Bahco and so on quality chisel cut as well as Blue Spruce one but they cost the right price.

    The only interesting thing are the bevelled sides for acute corners of dovetails, but as far as i know any woodworker have a small chisel grinded by itself to reach those recesses.

  • Tom Mcmahon

    I have several sets of old Buck and Dr Barton chisels.
    The Blue Spruce handles appear to be based on those older designs.
    I would like more information on the handle impregnation process. Is it done with vacuum or pressure or what? Does he do it himself? Can we get it to make replacement handles?

  • Josh

    So, what’s the verdict, Lie-Nielsen or Blue Spruce? The longer handle does interest me, but it looks like it tapers a little at the end of the handle which to me would suggest a better fit for the hand and it would lend itself to paring more than chopping. Does the chisel seem top heavy when chopping?

    BTW, I picked up one of those EyeClops the other day to play with. Haha, lots of fun. 🙂

    Josh

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Though the edges are thin, I don’t think they’ll slice you. They seem relieved a bit.

    On my Lie-Nielsens, I relieved the long edges with #220-grit sandpaper. Worked great.

    Chris

  • samson

    When paring and chopping, I often find I grasp the top portion of the blade to control and place the blade. On the LNs, I have sliced myself (like a papercut)on these long edges (something I hav never had happen with various vintage chisels I’ve used for years). I ended up taking a file to the uppermost parts of those edges on the couple LNs I own. What are the side edges of these like? I don’t really see why the bevel had to go all the way to the handle (weight?). In our lifetimes, most of us wouldn’t go through an inch of blade. I should add that I have a set of Dave’s DT chisels and love them. I also have his marking knives, and sear by those too. And indeed these look awfully tasty! So I’m just sort of thinking out loud.

  • Narayan

    One thing I noticed in Berea and also with the set I received earlier this week 🙂 is that the blade and handle on Dave’s chisels really lends itself to both chopping and paring comfortably. I have some LN bench chisels as well, and though the handles on the LNs can be swapped for longer ones which suit paring more (for me, anyway), the BS bench chisels hit a sweet spot–ergonomically speaking– between paring and chopping, at least for me.

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