In resurrecting the Sweetheart brand, there were high hopes for Stanley. But with the Premium planes, while the No.4 smoother was by and large a good plane if lacking finesse in a couple of areas, the block plane was a different kettie of lobsters, suffering from some pretty poor engineering throughout which the initial design stages as well as quality control should have picked up.
So now the vintage 750 socket chisels are back in the range, and I am a little apprehensive. Having been sent a set of eight to have a look at, ranging from 1/8in to 1/4in one of my first thoughts was that it was a goad move to bring in a 1/8th chisel for the finer dovetailing work. So the acid test: what’s in the box, and is it good, bad or indifferent?
The Looks test
Well, let’s start at the box before we go too deep. It looks pretty classy, a cut-out revealing a leather tool roll, but also a little logo stating ‘Made in England with global components’ which is pretty interesting!
This logo is replicated on the individual boxes the chisels are packed into within the box and could refer to the steel being of Sheffield origin, the hornbeam handles and the tool roll coming from elsewhere, or it could all be imported and simply assembled and packaged in Sheffield.
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter -they are very attractive chisels, certainly as good-looking as the Lie-Nielsens at first glance. So are they Lie-Nielsens in disguise? Well, not quite, but not that far away either; the handles are all but identical, but there are marked differences when the blades are compared against each other.
With Lie-Nielsen and other premium manufacturers offering A2 or 01 as the steels of choice, Stanley simply refers to high carbon steel — not a bad thing in my mind as it’s been the traditional cutting edge tool steel for donkey’s years; if it’s consistent and holds an edge… but more on that once the like-for-like comparison is finished with!
The blades are a little thinner than the Lie-Nielsens but the grinding work is satisfactorily defined, very smooth on the bevel side and more refined on the backs. But it’s the defining of the lands, or sides of them, that is a little disappointing. These aren’t as thin as Lie-Nielsen’s or other premium chisels from the likes of Ashley lies and Sorby for example, but they are still finer than their standard chisels.
This limits their use for finer paring work into acute corners such as dovetailing for example — but in general the overall performance is sound.
Checking for flatness during honing, there’s a bit of discrepancy amongst the set, with the 19mm (in) chisel not quite allowing an initial polish to go to the cutting edge, but not a huge amount of work to get there. It took about 20 minutes or so on my diamond stone to get the initial prep work done, which I was happy with.
Of all the chisels, there seems a decent consistent hardness throughout, and although the 32mm (1 4ln) felt alittle easier on the stone, there was a defined hollow on the back so minimal steel in contact.
Freehand honing all eight, with a quick strop on a piece of MDF with a polishing compound, they took a very keen edge, easily paring end-grain pine with no resistance as a first test before I moved on to some sapele for some shallow mortises and then back to pine to check durability. No sweat there either, the edge holding up pretty well and proving durable, still able to par albeit with less of a clean finish.
While not really a mortise chisel by design, they worked well, but I like them as parers and more controlled chisels for fettling and fitting of joints rather than cutting huge lumps away.
The handle design almost dictates this anyway, the short bulbous profile nestling in the palm and reliant on body pressure for the cut rather than a standard grip, and struck with mallet or hammer.
But the design does allow striking, with the handle self-tightening, although it can work loose quite easily, but it makes them easy to replace If they do get damaged, or to make your own styles even.
So with Lie-Nielsen resurrecting the Stanley 750 and Stanley now grabbing back its own design, are these Stanleys worth it?
If you hadn’t seen the Lie-Nielsen version, then the impression is view good, and it’s only when you compare the two that you see what extra you get if you pay for it. In Stanley’s case you get eight chisels for the price of five aside from the better finish of the Lie-Nielsens.
Even so, these are very nice chisels and occupy an area where Stanley should be with its tools, appealing to the true woodworkers. Assuming these chisels stay consistent — and the Sweetheart planes are tweaked! — then Stanley is going in the right direction to regain the trust of tradesmen and dedicated amateur woodworkers alike.
Typical price; £135.