Sunday, November 11, 2018

Chopping Mortises

I've four through mortises to chop. The tenon is a one shoulder tenon that is close to splitting the stretcher in half giving a 20mm wide tenon and mortise. That presents a small problem. My largest pigsticker is 1/2", I could use the 5/16" pigsticker and do two rows inside the mortise and then clean out the middle. Or drill out most of the wood and clean up the "Vs" and sides with a paring chisel. I do not like either of those options, the double mortise is too slow and too much work, The drill and pare is also slower than just going at it with a correct sized chisel.

Awhile ago I bought a set of Narex firmer chisels on a lark, mostly because it is hard to find new firmer chisels and they were cheap. The handle shape and size sucks as with most Narex chisels so after a quick sharpening I stuck them in a chisel rack and forgot about 'em until today.

As mentioned earlier I needed a 20mm chisel and guess what, the Narex set had a 20mm firmer chisel. Well they are cheap enough not to worry about ruining. I thought about using a "chisel" hammer for a couple of seconds to protect the handle but rejected that thought, again because they are cheap. Out comes my normal mortise mallet, "lumpy", and off to the races.

While I use a lump hammer as a mortise mallet I do not go all Conan on the chisel. I find light taps gives better control and is faster than whacking it hard. The lump hammer just takes less energy than other hammers.

Anyway, after a quick mortise chop I'm pretty happy with the Narex chisel and for grins I looked at the Narex web site to see what they said about the firmer chisels:

The firmer chisel is a "Special tool for rough work. Blade tapers in width and lengthwise from tip to shoulder for sidewall clearance. Forged blade is made of traditional Cr-Mn steel and heat treated to 59 HRc. Ergonomic handle from hard and hefty hornbeam wood is strong enough to withstand heavy blows with a mallet."

Hornbeam handle is good but I expect if I use the chisel again I'll take a spokeshave to it and put a couple of flats to help orientation much like a pigsticker has.

The first of four mortises is finished:

The iron held up well, after finishing the first side I looked at and felt the edge. There were no chip outs, just a couple of shiny spots. I took a couple or three strokes on the medium India and a quick strop and it was back to work.



  1. I am doubly impressed--with you for chopping that mortise with a firmer chisel and with Narex for what is obviously a great value. Narex has an interesting article about this steel on their website. It is not separately hardened but is instead quenched in molten salt. BTW, they say that edge retention will improve significantly after the first few honings.

    1. Andy,


      There ain't no wussy joints in a bench. I finished the last of the middle stretcher mortises after work today. The long stretcher mortises come next. They are also long and wide, the good news is there are only four of 'em. Of course that is the bad news as well.

      After the long stretcher mortises almost everything else is reasonable sized. Other than wrestling the slab on and off a half dozen times the heavy work is close to over.


  2. Considering how many times you've written about chisels and considering how many times I've seen pictures of your seemingly limitless chisel collection, I guess it's not surprising you happened to have a 20 mm :) Glad the Narex worked out for you. The wood looks like beech - probably a good challenge for that size mortise, eh?

  3. Matt,

    You are correct, for some reason I can buy European Beech here in the desert for just a few pennies more per BF than Poplar. Go figure. It is a nice wood to work, hard and heavy but usually no surprises.

    I'm starting to cull the chisel herd but I was glad to find a 20mm one for this set of mortises. I think I've settled on a 32mm chisel for the long stretcher mortises and miracle of miracles I happen to have one of those as well :-).

    Just four more big mortises to chop. I hope the arm and shoulder holds up.


  4. Miracles of miracles, you just happened to have one... :-)
    And that is why, I own so many tools... just in cases like that .
    My story, me and Rudy are sticking to it

    Bob, where those kind of miracles seemingly happens

  5. Bob,

    Yep, some of my hanger queens are getting a workout with this build. "Yes dear, now you see why I have so many chisels"...Take one down and hammer it around, 99 chisels on the wall.