One of my favorite chisel manufacturer has just come up with a redesigned bench chisel. Ashley Iles, based in England, is mostly known in Europe for their carving tools. But for a few years now, the large bubinga handles on their oversized, good quality bench chisels pictured below has gained popularity in North America. Good steel, good looks and a relatively affordable price make this brand a favorite for many.
Ashley Iles standard bench chisels feature a huge bubinga handle.
The average price of an Ashley Iles chisel today is around $30, compared to $50 up to $90 for other high-end offerings from the likes of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Blue Spruce Toolworks, Barr Tools, Robert Sorby, Henry Taylor and most Japanese chisels offered in North America. Cheaper alternatives include Lee Valley's made in Japan Bevel edge chisels, Irwin's Blue Chip chisels, Stanley's Fat Max, and numerous other Asian-made home center offerings.
These cheaper options typically share a common trait : plastic handles. And while there's fundamentaly nothing wrong with a strong, nearly indestructible butyrate compound or polypropylene handle coupled to a good quality hardened steel blade, it's just not wood.
Czech Republic's Narex has been selling cheap wooden handle chisels for a while now. Reviews are mixed, although the recent feedback is pretty positive. Their relatively small size, utilitarian looks and I'm guessing the very low price probably contribute to the overall beginners' chisel or 'beater' vibe surrounding the brand name.
The closest competition to Ashley Iles likely comes from Germany's Two Cherries/Hirsch Firmer, who offers good-quality, wood handled chisels (and carving tools for that matter) at virtually the same price point than Ashley Iles. Their highly polished steel raises a few eyebrows though, and requires extensive flattening/lapping to get a working edge along the whole width of the blade. Buying a brand new tool just to spend hours tuning it into a useable shape isn't something most woodworkers look forward to. This is in part what Ashley Iles wanted to address with their mk2, but more on that in the following pages.
A better Ashley Iles chisel?
Published online February 1st, 2009 - Joël Rainville - firstname.lastname@example.org - Montréal, Québec, Canada