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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
— 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.
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