Stanley Sweetheart Chisel Review
The socket type bench chisel has always caught my eye. In volume terms it’s a distant second place when it comes the tang design. Historically the socket was used in chisels that were going to take really heavy use like framing chisels. I always thought the bench/general woodworking version of the socket chisel made familiar to woodworkers by the Stanley 750 looked a bit awkward and unbalanced. I also did not like reading about handles falling off as the seasons change. I could not understand why I would choose a design that was likely to come apart at a critical moment.
I decided mid way through 2013 to give this type of chisel a go so I could decide for myself. Lie-Nielsen also make a version of the socket chisel but I decided to try the Stanley version. I went for the set of four with a leather roll, sizes were ¼” ½” ¾” and 1”. More than enough variation to cover most woodworking tasks. Price point is around middle of the road but not too much for someone who intends to use the chisels often and you get a leather roll to boot.
Everything was appropriately packaged and initial impressions were fine. The roll is nice and strong and things looked promising. The first thing I was struck with was the balance. I had expected it to be dreadful but in reality they are really, really good. Looking closer I became slightly disappointed. The back of the chisel had some pretty substantial machine marks form the manufacturing process. So much so that you can play them like washboards. You can see a little bit of that in the shot below although most of it is now gone. That amused me a bit but I became bored when working the backs. I’m not a laser guided flat back person, just sweet behind enough of the cutting edge will do me. But because the steel in these suckers is so hard it took more time than I would like. The blades themselves are quite thin so I find myself working the whole bevel at 30deg, much in the same way I find myself working Bailey plane irons.
So it is to the most critical part of any tool and that is how it performs at the bench. I have had these along side me for a while and given them a good run out on typical tasks such as dovetailing, paring and even a bit of light morticing. I must say they are rather good. That is tough for me to admit as I like my vintage stuff and I had initially thought the design a bit unnecessary. Paring is one area I really liked using them. The handles have a lovely shape that fits superbly into my palm with a huge degree of comfort. The edges of the chisels are more than fine enough for the work I do and again, importantly they are comfortable to hold. The edge lasts well too. In as much as honing was just part of a routine rather than an alarmingly regular occurrence.
Would I recommend them? I see no reason not to. To my mind this is the type of tools I would like to see Stanley making. No frills solid stuff that's likely to last. Sure there are "better" but these are more than good enough to work with. One caveat. My ‘shop environment is really quite stable, if yours varies perhaps you might suffer the loose handle problem. My advice would also be stick with only four to start and add others as required. The bigger set option would be overkill for my needs. The biggest tick in the box for me is that I often think it’s time to move them on. I only really bought them to satisfy my curiosoity but I just can bring myself to move them on. I’ll just have to keep them hidden, can’t have people thinking I like new shiney stuff now can I.