English Mortise Chisels/Pigstickers/Oval Bolstered Mortise Chisels

The Brits really do get the coolest woodworking tools – Scottish infill planes, anything Preston and English mortise chisels, also known as oval bolstered mortise chisels, or pigstickers on this side of the water. These mortise chisels are apparently quite common in the UK, less so in the US, and even less so here in the Great White North…so much so that I never actually ran into any English mortise chisels in the wild here, and the old tool dealers in these parts don’t seem to have any either.

Pigsticker, Mortise Chisel, Oval Bolstered

(Most of) My set of English Mortise chisels

For the last couple of years I’ve been using Narex mortise chisels …they’re very reasonably priced (almost too much so) and the steel sharpens easily and holds a decent edge. I have the 1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″ sizes, and the first two handle most of my needs – I don’t think I’ve ever used the 1/2″ size. Despite their decent performance, these chisels lacked the fineness and spirit of an old tool, or a finely crafted new tool….so I found myself craving replacements.

Ashley Iles, Mortise Chisel, Ray Iles, Pigsticker

‘The Beast’ – a 5/8″ pigsticker chisel by Ward, beside it’s cousin from Sheffield, a 5/8″ Ashley Iles

I had my eyes set on the new Veritas PM-V11 mortise chisels or the Ray Iles pigstickers, but figured I’d check out ebay first. Long story short, I ended up winning 3 separate bids, and now have what is basically a full set of 11 english mortise chisels, ranging from 1/8″ to 5/8″…yes, you read that right, a 5/8″ pigsticker. Six of the chisels are Sorby’s, and the rest are Ward, Marsden Brothers, Thos Ibbotson and I. Cutler.

Some of the sizes seem a little odd at first, like the 11/32″ chisel, until I read Joel Moskowitz’s excellent 5 part article on this topic, which I suggest you read if you are looking into mortise chisels. I know some sizes will be used way less than others, but a benefit of having a wide variety of sizes is that if my tenon is off by about a 16th or a 32nd of an inch, I can still create a perfectly fitting mortise.

Pigsticker, English Mortise Chisel, Oval Bolster

‘The Beast’ – a 5/8″ chisel by Ward, beside it’s cousin from Sheffield, a 5/8″ Ashley Iles

The mortise chisels are wonderfully suited to their function – the blades are tapered to prevent jamming, the curve of the primary bevel helps lever out chips and the oval shape of the bolster and handle help align the chisel in the hand without looking. The handle tapers outwards in both directions, providing a wider striking area that concentrates the force on the smaller area of the bolster. The bottom of the handles are rounded to prevent chipping or cracking. And most of all they look super cool (my friends think I’m a dork for finding these things cool, but that’s another matter altogether).

Pigsticker, Oval Bolstered, English Mortise Chisels

English Mortise Chisels

Most of the chisels appear to have their original handles, which are things of beauty. I considered making matching handles for all of them out of jatoba, but the originals are so well made that I can’t justify it. A couple of the chisels will need rehandling however, and I will post about that soon!

Oh, and I’m really looking forward to using The Beast (the 5/8″) during my bench build!

 

2 comments

Andy Lovelock

I totally agree on their coolness and also with their being great for the purpose they were designed for. There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes from using a tool at the peak of it’s evolution. I have been collecting a set of I. Sorby mortise chisels for the last 6 or 7 years (mostly from ebay.co.uk). I. Sorby made 10 different sizes 1/8″, 3/16″, 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 7/16″, 1/2″, 9/16″, 5/8″ and 3/4″. I have managed to acquire all the sizes except 3/4″ so far but I keep looking. The 3/4″ chisel that I have is an unmarked brand with the military arrow on it. It is a nice chisel and matches the I. Sorbys well, but it would be nice to complete the set. I had to re-handle five of mine and I also replaced the leather washers at the same time. You can see my chisels over on my Flick account if you want to take a look. https://www.flickr.com/photos/54326381@N08/with/36339031940/

Prairie Artisan Woodshop

Wow, that’s an awesome collection Andy. I love the handles on your chisels, they make me want to reconsider leaving mine be…

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