When I bought a set of Lie-Nielsen chisels in the early 2000s, I had to sell my set of Barr Cabinet Maker’s Chisels. Our kids were young (Katherine was just 3), and Lucy and I struggled to pay the $1,200 monthly daycare bill for two kids.
I couldn’t justify owning two nice sets of chisels when I needed only one.
I rationalized selling the Barrs by saying the Lie-Nielsens were more suited for the work I was doing at the time – lots of dovetails. And I stand by that statement. The Lie-Nielsens are lightweight and have outstanding balance. And they won’t wear you out if you have to chop out 100 pin sockets.
But I regretted selling the Barrs. They were simply outstanding, and they held an edge better than any other tool steel I’ve worked with (including Japanese chisels). I wrote about my long experience with Barr tools here on my substack, “The American Peasant.”
The Cabinet Maker’s chisels are fantastic for heavy work and have a handmade feel, like my blacksmith-made scorp, adze and 2” Barr chisel.
This week I turned the clock back, and I now own a set of four Barr Cabinet Maker’s Chisels. After chatting with Ginger Quarton at the company, I learned that the company still makes batches of the chisels two or three times a year. I asked if I could get on a waiting list.
As luck would have it, they had a set of the tools on hand – a customer had changed his mind. So I purchased his error.
The four chisels – 1/4”, 1/2”, 3/4” and 1” – come in a heavy leather tool roll. They are exactly like my old Barrs. Beefy and easy to sharpen.
They are a good deal heavier than my Lie-Nielsens. The Barr 1/4” chisel weighs 145 grams; the Lie-Nielsen 1/4” weighs 65 g. The Barr 1/2”: 192 g. The same-size Lie-Nielsen: 95 g.
With no more daycare (or college tuition) bills left to pay, I am happy that I can keep both sets. Yes, I feel a little Anarchist’s Tool Chest Guilt. But I have room for both chisel sets in my tool chest. Hell, I still have quite a bit of space in my tool chest for other stuff if I wanted more planes or scorps or an extra brace or two (which I really don’t).
I spent an hour at the bench tonight tuning up the Barr chisels. (They didn’t need much – just a little polishing on the back because I’m a fussy guy.) I’m now in the middle of building several chairs, and I have some large through-tenons to chop. So these tools are going straight to work in the morning.
— Christopher Schwarz