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