How Low Can You Go?
With the Christmas season soon upon us there are currently two lists running on the Popular Woodworking web site to tantalize your woodworking taste buds. The “sensible” Schwarz list and the “I can dream” Fitzpatrick list. My one and only contribution to the festivities will be this £8 ($12.50) set of four chisels currently available from the European supermarket chain Lidl. I became aware of this set via UK woodworker Paul Sellers’ blog. Although his were from Aldi I have a hunch they are the same but with a bit of a visual branding tweak. I don’t “need” a set but I was happy to take a punt and find out for myself how they shape up.
For £8 there are some compromises, luckily though not in the areas I feel are most critical. There is no expense spent on packaging, availability is seasonal, shop display is piled in a basket all of which keeps cost low. The flat areas on the handles with text must have been past a machine very very quickly as there are big ripples in the surface. Admittedly so easy to resolve it hardly needs mentioning, but it’s another pointer as to how costs have been kept low. The ferrules and handle hoops are light pressed items (nothing wrong in that as chisels from the Narex range have the same) and the steel is a simple chrome-vanadium. The various surfaces that make up the blade of the chisel have a coarse but acceptable finish. Should any of that put you off? Nope.
There is quite a bit of text on the chisels. The “VPA GS” you can see refers to a German certification standard for technical equipment. The DIN is the “German Institute of Standardisation” and the “5139” flows from that standardisation and defines the chisel as beveled edge. There is a bunch of text on the blades which turned out to be the address of the company that trades under the name “Master.” If you have a German pal and you suffer from OCD, then they could most likely help you out when you need other sizes as in the UK at least all you can get are four sizes, 8mm, 13mm, 18mm and 25mm. The handles themselves are FSC certified European Ash and the general proportions are OK. Comfort and balance are personal things but with the cost of these chisels factored in they are quite good. While being held for paring they rival my Stormonts and are more comfy than the Narex thanks to the wood above the hoop being broader. If I was being picky it would be nice to have them a touch greater in diameter but for £8….
I’m not someone who worries about ultra fine lands as you can see from my Stormonts so the Lidl chisels are for me a least a true beveled edge design. They taper down finer than the general purpose Narex 8105s and although not as fine as many brands they should offer plenty of control in tight spots.
Now I did do a quick search for other thoughts on these chisels and the only complaint I found was the backs were not flat and time was needed to sort them out. Tough call, this one. I will avoid bogging you down with how to prep chisels but what you see below is what’s I’m happy with. The primary bevel is very nicely ground and the backs are as I like them – hollow in the length to allow me to have them ready quickly. If you feel you need flat backs then you will need to put more time in but I spent about two minutes getting each chisel as I liked them.
In use I have no complaints, but I need them alongside me a little longer before I make my mind up – but it is looking promising. For those of you worried that the steel must be junk, don’t be. If it does end up losing it’s edge a little quicker than other types, then I’m not fussed. Sharpening and honing are all part of the natural rhythm of work and I’ll soon notice if there is a real problem and report back.
Conclusions: I’m impressed. For such a low investment you do end up with a pretty decent tool. Perfect for those wanting to get into woodworking for the first time and don’t want to commit to more expensive options. To the more seasoned woodworker who needed a set to adapt into skews or for some of the heavy work at the bench could do a whole lot worse. If I had these for Christmas I’d be pretty pleased and it’s refreshing to know there is more than one viable way to obtain decent kit.
— Graham Haydon