Years ago I had a set of Barr Tools bench chisels that I loved but were a little frustrating. I loved them because the steel was amazing – as good or better than any Japanese chisel I had encountered. But they were frustrating because the chisels were heavy. Chopping with them all day wore me out.
I reluctantly let them go when Lie-Nielsen began making chisels. The steel isn’t as tough as the stuff in Barr tools, but the Lie-Nielsens are lightweight and balanced.
Last year I decided I’d had enough of my vintage wide chisel. It was a beautiful specimen, but the steel was terrible. It folded like aluminum foil after a few minutes of use. I ground the edge back significantly to see if the steel got any better. It didn’t.
I pondered rehardening and tempering the tool, but then decided to stick to woodworking that week and bought the Barr 2” cabinetmaker’s chisel ($147) instead. After a few weeks of use, I remembered how much I loved the steel Barr uses. It sharpens in seconds and holds an edge for much longer than I think it should.
And when it comes to a wide chisel, the extra weight is welcome and appreciated. The weight helps when I pare with the chisel, much like the weight of a timber framing slick. The handle has a hoop on the end, which implies that the chisel can take a beating. It can.
I used this chisel to bash out all the mortises in my most recent workbench and I didn’t have to sharpen once. Crazy.
I love the tool so much that I bought Megan Fitzpatrick one for her birthday. (I don’t think that’s what she wanted for her birthday, but that’s how enthusiastic I am about this tool.)
The Barr tools are handmade, so there can be a little bit of a wait at times. But it’s worth it.
— Christopher Schwarz
18 thoughts on “2020 Anarchist’s Gift Guide Day 11: Barr 2” Bench Chisel”
“What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?”
“Steelm isn’t strong, boy. FLESH id stronger.”
God, but I hate spellcheck.
Again, I entirely concur, Chris – I ordered one earlier this year after your mention of it in the AWB, have already found it to be a great chisel, and am looking forward with much more confidence to when I shall need to do some serious mortise chopping and paring for my bench build!
What sort of crazy person wouldn’t want a Barr chisel for their birthday?
I believe making fun of me has become a trope. Of course I wanted one.
Whew. He really shouldn’t joke like that.
Well, at least he ain’t no cheap chiseler … 😉
Barr 1½” timber frame slick was my favorite tool when I was building a lot of timber frame structures about 15 years ago. Great edge retention, balance, feedback and heft made chopping and paring the timbers and joints a real pleasure. As far as working wood for a living paycheck goes, that was some of my most enjoyable time using my most cherished tool. Unfortunately life has a dark sense of humor and during the financial crisis of 2010 I lost my storage unit full of tools along with that most prized chisel. The upside though, is that I have gained the experience and memories of working with such a finely crafted hand tool. Glad to know that someone as accomplished as Christopher Schwarz also saw and appreciated the beauty in those chisels as well.
Anyone know how the Barr chisels compare to the Ashley Isles chisels? I’ve used the Ashley Isles chisels for years and find them great but who knows?
I want one of these so bad I put it on my wedding registry. No takers so far. We got a salad bowl. I don’t even eat salad.
If one doesn’t have a wide chisel, one way to make wide mortises with current width chisels:
(pictures are self explanatory).
One still might want a wide one for paring.
Looks like a great tool. Just ordered one. 8 – 10 weeks takes this out of play for Christmas. How about a bonus day of anarchists gift advise…
A relative newbie question. If the 2 inch chisel were to be used in a Roubo build for the big mortises, what would be the size/kind/weight mallet that would be the best? I think the ones I have now are too light duty. I saw the Garland mallets on the Barr site.
A mallet weighing 2-3 lbs. is what I use.
Meaning use a crucible lump hammer. Because it’s awesome. I have 2. I used to have 2 shops so had to have some redundancy of absolutely necessary tools. The lump hammer made the cut for multiples. It’s that awesome.
As far as the chisel, I’ve got an old Stanley 2” that I use all the time. I do have to sharpen it quite a bit, but it’s a darn useful tool.
Thanks much – I happen to have a Crucible Tools lump hammer
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