What is a Mortise Chisel and How Do You Choose One?

If you have your basic set of bench chisels, you may feel set and ready to work. However, when you get started, you may wonder if there are easier ways to accomplish certain things. I know I felt that way the first few times I cut a mortise.

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Narex

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Editor's Choice

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Robert Sorby

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A Nice One

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Two Cherries

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If you’ve even done basic joinery, you know how frustrating a mortise can be. Could a specialized mortise chisel be the answer? Possibly. In this blog, I’ll take a guide you through what this tool is and who should buy one.

Sound good? Let’s dive into the wild world of mortise chisels, shall we?

Mortise Chisel Reviews

So what brands are worth the investment? There are plenty of great craftspeople out there making incredible mortise chisels. Here are my thoughts on five popular choices:

Narex 4-Piece Mortise Chisel Set

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For many years, you could not buy a set of high-quality mortise chisels for less than a few hundred dollars. Narex changed all of that with this set of four.

Narex crafts the blades on these tools from Cr-Mn steel that receives a 59-degree hardness rating. The manufacturer takes beech wood and stains it dark. Then, they cover it in wax for a smooth grip. Finally, Narex finishes the handle with a steel hoop and ferrule. The chisels are in the following sizes: 4mm, 6mm, 10mm, and 12mm.

Narex is a well-known brand in the woodworking world, especially for beginners or craftspeople on a budget. Don’t be fooled by the low price; these chisels are built to last for a long time. You may be surprised to see how sharp these tools are right out of the box.

Pros

  • Great price
  • High-quality
  • Four different sizes
  • Wood handles

Cons

  • Not the hardest rating
  • Must sharpen them when they arrive

Two Cherries Swan Neck Chisels

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Remember when I said that mortise chisels come in a second shape? That’s what this tool is. When you look at it, you will notice the hook shape right away. This unique design helps you clean our blind joinery.

There are plenty of different swan neck chisels, but this one comes from the reputable brand, Two Cherries. This name is known for making high-quality tools with excellent steel. Some people believe that this type of chisel in unnecessary. However, if you want a perfectly clean notch, it can help a lot.

You can get this chisel in either 6mm, 10mm, or 12mm. All three are standard sizes that can make your woodworking easier than ever before. Like other products from Two Cherries, this swan neck chisel comes for a factory in Germany. You get that world-famous German engineering.

Perhaps the best thing is about this tool is how long it can last. You can hammer and beat it all the time, and it will keep on keeping on. Overall, this is a wonderful tool for people who want to make joinery easier.

Pros

  • Makes mortising much easier
  • Well-made
  • Lasts a long time

Cons

  • Can be costly for some
  • Need to learn how to use properly

Sorby 5/8" Mortise Chisel

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This 5/8-inch mortise chisel is a popular choice for many woodworkers. It seems to be made of concrete! You could pound this into hard wood all day long and it would’t have a mark to show for it. And that is really the point of a mortise chisel.

I like the wooden handles of these chisels and it has a big ferrule on top to make it extra strong. The balance is also very nice on this one.

Sorby is well known for their diamond-hard chisel blades. This particular model features some side relief, which helps the tool last for longer than you may expect. If you love Sorby and want a mortise chisel, this could be a great option. It’s the brand’s most popular mortise tool for a reason.

Pros

  • Side relief
  • Hard blade
  • Lifetime guarantee

Cons

  • Plastic handle
  • Some may prefer other sizes

Temple Carpenter's Blue Steel Mortise Chisel

If you recall, there are two types of chisel construction: Western and Japanese. The products I reviewed above are all Western style. This one is Japanese. That means that the Temple Carpenter’s chisel has a particularly hard steel in the blade.

A master blacksmith hand hammered this chisel and forged it using Yasuki blue steel. Unlike other Japanese-style chisels, this one works great on North American hardwoods. The handle is made of Japanese Red Oak.

Pros

  • Works on soft and hard wood
  • Beautiful wooden handle
  • Hard steel
  • Stays sharp for a long time

Cons

  • Price
  • You need to learn to use it first

Matsumura 1/8” Mortise Chisel

Finally, we can take a look at the Matsumura 1/8-inch mortise chisel. This Japanese chisel comes from a family that has been making high-quality woodworking tools for over 200 years. The experience shows in this well-crafted tool.

Mr. Matsumura makes the blade from fine steel. He crafts each one by hand and they are meant to last a lifetime.

Pros

  • Hand crafted
  • Hard steel
  • High quality

Cons

  • High price tag
  • Not always in stock

What is a Mortise Chisel?

As the name suggests, a mortise chisel is specifically designed to use when making mortise cuts. What makes it so awesome for these cuts? The unique shape. One look at one of these tools shows you that it is no ordinary chisel.

The unique shape is much like a dagger, with an angle that allows for more precise cuts. There is a second style of mortise chisel that is called a “swan neck” or “lock mortise.” It can be used with more traditional mortise chisels to clean up mortise cuts.

Mortise chisels can have different types of handles, construction, and steel. You can get these tools with wood or plastic handles, socket or tang construction, and Japanese or Western steel.

Who Needs One?

If you only make mortise cuts every once in a while, you may not need a specialized tool for this one type of cut. After all, you can accomplish the same thing with your basic bench chisels. However, if you have the extra cash and want to make your woodworking life a lot easier, why not give one a try?

If you are a cabinet worker or anyone else who needs to make a mortise often, first of all, good for you. That’s not easy! Secondly, you absolutely need a great set of mortise chisels. Not only will they help you get through your work faster, but they can also make your hobby more enjoyable.

How to Choose a Mortise Chisel?

Whether you just want a mortise chisel for the occasional need or you intend to use it often, you should find one that makes sense for you. The right tool can make all the difference in the world. Below are a few factors that I think you should consider before purchasing your new mortise chisel.

Size

There is no wrong size for these chisels. It all depends on the projects you do. Think about the size of bench chisel you usually use and factor in the thickness of the mortise chisel. If your plans leave you needing different sizes or you’re not sure what to get, you can get a set.

Handle

Some mortise chisels have wooden handles while others have plastic. I prefer the wood because it feels better and tends to last longer. That’s not to mention the fact that it looks better. However, beginners who aren’t ready to invest in more expensive chisels with wooden handles can get started with chisels that cost a little less and use plastic instead. There’s nothing wrong with that.

How It Feels

Think about your favorite chisels and why you love them. Are the handles particularly weighty or light? Are they thick? Whatever you love about your favorite bench chisels, find that in your mortise tool.

Japanese vs. Western

Just like with other chisels, you can find the mortise chisel in both Japanese and Western styles. Japanese tools are made with harder steel, usually by a few degrees. This hardness can be excellent for many reasons, but it can also cause hardwoods to crack if you’re not careful.

Reputation

When you buy woodworking tools, it’s not the time to go with the off-brand. You want to make sure that the chisels you invest in are of high quality and will last a long time. Otherwise, you may as well throw that money down the drain.

So, What’s the Verdict?

Although I do prefer a wooden handle, the Sorby 332 Mortise Chisel has one of the sturdiest blades of the bunch which makes it one of my favorites on this list. However, if you’re willing to spend slightly more coin, the Two Cherries Swan Neck Chisels are truly top-notch. They are well-crafted and you’re going to get plenty of life out of them. This is a case where you’ll get what you pay for. 

That said, the Narex 4-piece set is where I think you’ll find the best value overall. The brand is reputable and reliable. More advanced users may find this set slightly too novice for their tastes, but most woodworkers should find that it can handle most jobs with ease. Their wooden handles are high-quality and my experiences with this Narex set have been nothing but positive.

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