Chisels

Ashley Iles MKII Chisels- First Impressions

Ashley Iles MKII Chisels- First Impressions

I spent a pretty large proportion of my time as a beginner woodworker looking for, and restoring old tools. Probably way too much time, and it took away from time I should have spent learning to saw, chisel and plane properly. In recent months I went through a bit of a philosophical change, sold off most of my extra tools (I had a lot) and for the most part, started replacing them with new, high quality tools. I’ll be writing about what brought about this change and the tools I forsook and what I replaced them with in another post. Nevertheless, it’s actually very easy to find an old plane and turn it into a stellar performer. Old chisels are actually a bit more finicky (and boring) to restore. Not to mention some people (myself included) find mismatched sets of chisels rather unattractive. I guess I’m just shallow like that. Anyways, it was time to look for a new set of bench chisels, and after a lot of research, I decided to go with the set of six Ashley Iles MKII Chisels.

Ashley Iles, MKII, Chisels, Alfie Shine, Marking Knife

My package from the UK – Ashley Iles MKII chisels, Alfie Shine and Marking Knife

When I first started woodworking, I bought my first ever chisels from Home Depot. It wasn’t long before I outgrew them. I’ve tried a variety of chisels up till now, the new Stanley Sweethearts, mismatched vintage chisels, Marples blue chips, the red Footprint equivalents and a set of vintage German chisels to name a few. Some of these were great, and some not so much. Add to that the fact that every single forum thread on chisels seems to include at least a few references to Ashley Iles MKII Chisels, Paul Sellers used to recommend them(not so much nowadays), my lack of self control and my newfound determination to replace my old tools with top quality tools that require no work, and I found myself ordering the set of six MKII chisels before I knew it.

Ashley Iles, MKII Bench Chisels

The MKII chisels in the tool roll they come in

There are no dealers for Ashley Iles tools in Canada, so I purchased mine from the Ashley Iles website. They were out of stock initially, so I had to wait a little before I could place my order. The set of six MKII chisels and shipping to Canada cost me around $220, a very decent price for a high quality set of chisels. The website warns that these tools are in high demand, and may take up to 21 days before they ship, and they aren’t joking. Mine took 22 days, and was shipped using Royal Mail Standard, so it was close to two months before I finally received mine. These chisels are handmade in Sheffield, and Ashley Iles are a small family run business, so the wait is well justified.

MKII, Ashley Iles, Bench Chisels

Glue squeeze out from the ferrules

The chisels arrived in a rolled up jean tool roll. I don’t travel with my chisels, so the tool roll is extraneous to my requirements, but it’s still I nice touch. I believe they used to come with a leather roll before, but that’s just how these things go. This was the first tool I ordered from the UK, and something about it had me super excited. Upon unravelling the tool roll and taking out the chisels, I was…rather disappointed. The brass ferrules on most of the chisels were loose and coming off, which was expected, coming from humid England to dry, cold northern Alberta. However, the underneath the ferrules was a healthy amount of glue squeeze out, that was clearly not wiped off during manufacturing. The manufacturer’s mark on the chisels was stamped on without much care as to the orientation, making the overall fit and finish of the tools rather sloppy. This might seem nit-picky, but given that most premium, small tool manufacturers go over and above what is expected these days, this aesthetic lack of care was rather disappointing. Other than these issues the chisels have an understated beauty about them – the Bubinga handles are hand turned, in classic and simple pattern that is easy to hold and is hefty enough to be able to withstand striking.

Ashley Iles MKII, Bench Chisel

The manufacturer’s marks were stamped on without much care for the orientation

Anyways, given the disappointing first impressions, I was really worried about the flatness of the chisel backs. The chisels are slightly hollow ground, and this is supposed to make the backs easier to flatten. I decided to skip the 1200 grit diamond stone and head straight to my 4000 and 8000 grit Bester Imanishi ceramic stones to flatten and hone the chisels. Once I started I realised immediately that I needn’t have worried about the quality of the steel – the backs flattened to a polish in a matter of seconds rather than minutes. Honing the edges was similarly quick. The steel was befitting of a premium chisel, and ultimately that’s what counts the most.

Hollow grind, Ashley Iles, MKII Chisels

The flattened backs on all the chisels, showing the hollow grind

I used the chisels to build a dovetailed coffee box for a friend’s birthday, and they really excelled at chopping and cleaning out the corners of the pins and tails. The lands are ground down very fine at the tip, making them very well suited to the dovetailing tasks. In use the chisels felt balanced, hefty and well made.

Overall I wouldn’t list these chisels as premium offerings – they don’t have the fit and finish required to be considered in the same league as the Veritas, Lie Nielsen or Blue Spruce bench chisels. That being said, the set of six Ashley Iles MKII chisels were considerably cheaper – less than half the price of the set of five Veritas PMV11 chisels, and less than a third the cost of Blue Spruce chisels, so maybe it’s not a fair comparison. It should be noted that the price has gone up quite a bit since I ordered them. They’re currently around 40% more expensive than they were a few months ago. For the price I paid, I don’t regret the purchase at all – it’s still early days, but it appears other than the minor issues with fit and finish, the Ashley Iles MKII chisels are lifetime tools that are premium where it counts.

Posted by Prairie Artisan Woodshop in Reviews, Tools, 0 comments