Best Dovetail Chisels | Budget, Pro & Japanese Styles

Best Dovetail Chisels

I still remember the first box I made using a dovetail jig. It could have been a little better, but I was proud of the result. Ah, the satisfaction of a good, strong dovetail joint. Over the years, I made a couple dozen boxes and drawers using dovetail joinery with my Porter-Cable jig, but I always wanted to make something with hand-carved dovetails. That’s when I decided to look into dovetail chisels to see if I could do it.

While it’s possible to carve out dovetails with just about any half-decent chisel, a few things should be considered when looking for the best dovetail chisels to help you get the job done.

Metal Quality and Hardness

Most chisels are made with steel, but there are different hardness factors to consider. Some are made from high-carbon steel, and some from chrome vanadium steel. Many manufacturers are boasting about a specific rating on the Rockwell (HRC) hardness scale. While the hardness of the steel does matter, you also must consider the pros and cons of each side of the scale. For instance, harder steel will stay sharp longer but is also more brittle. Soft steel may need sharpening more often but does not chip or break as easily. You’ll be okay with dovetail chisels between 57 and 62 HRC.

Handles

The handles also play an essential part in choosing the best dovetail chisels. You’ll find a mix of wood and hard plastics in most modern chisels sold today. If you opt to go the wood handle route, look for handles made from beech, ash, hornbeam, or boxwood. These hardwoods can withstand strikes from the mallet without cracking or splitting. Some are even equipped with metal ferrules, typically made from steel or brass.

Dimensions and Blade Thickness

The chisel’s dimensions are extremely important when looking for a set that will allow you to do dovetails. For instance, the thickness of the chisel blade at the bevel should be narrow enough to allow you to work in tight spaces. While the width of the blade plays a factor as well, it’s less critical than the thickness when it comes to a good dovetail chisel.

Best Traditional Dovetail Chisels

Thorough research, testing, and a few mistakes have led me to a condensed list of the best dovetail chisels on the market in several different price ranges. You may not need the most expensive set to get the job done. In fact, I’ve done just fine with a mid-level set for a couple of years now, and before that, a set of budget dovetail chisels which I still have and use occasionally. It all depends on your specific needs, how often you plan to use them, and whether or not you have the means to sharpen them correctly from time to time.

PRO

Sale
Narex 853600 5-Piece Boxed Set
Narex has been making some of the finest chisels out of the Czech Republic for over a century. These dovetail chisels are beautifully crafted out of forged Chrome Manganese steel and Ash wood handles. This 5-piece set is their nicest set to date. Here are some of the top features.

  • Set includes: 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 inch chisels
  • Steel Type: Forged Chrome Manganese (Cr-Mn)
  • Hardness: 62 HRC
  • Handles: European Ash with stainless-steel ferrules and leather washers
  • Includes: Wooden storage box

  • MID-LEVEL

    Stanley Sweetheart 750 Series 8-Piece Set
    The Stanley Sweetheart chisels are often considered the best chisels for the price. Many woodworkers choose them as their go-to set. With this Sweetheart set, you'll get chrome, hard-carbon steel blades with ultra-tough hornbeam wood handles. In addition, they are perfect for cutting dovetails. Here are some of our favorite features.

  • Set includes: 1/8, 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 5/8, 3/4, 1 and 1-1/4 inch chisels
  • Steel Type: Chrome high-carbon
  • Hardness: 57-62 HRC
  • Handles: Hornbeam wood
  • Includes: Leather storage pouch

  • BUDGET

    GREBSTK 4-Piece Chisel Set
    The GREBSTK chisel set is an excellent option for budget-minded woodworkers, beginners, or those looking to try handmade dovetail joinery for the first time. The quality of this set is actually quite impressive when considering the price tag. You'll get chrome vanadium steel blades and beech wood handles. The blades in the GREBSTK set are thicker than the other sets we're reviewing. The only downside to this set is that you may need to lower the bevel height a bit if you want to use them for smaller dovetail joints. Here are a few nifty features.

  • Set includes: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 inch chisels
  • Steel Type: Chrome Vanadium (Cr-V)
  • Hardness: Not listed
  • Handles: Beech wood
  • Includes: Oxford storage bag

  • Best Japanese Dovetail Chisels

    Japanese-style dovetail chisels are identified by their triangular front bevel, allowing for cuttings, chipping, and carving in very tight spaces. They are known in Japan as “Umeki Oire Nomi” and have been made by master blacksmiths for hundreds of years.

    While not all Japanese dovetail chisels are made in Japan, many woodworkers love this design, specifically those who hand-cut their dovetails. The problem is finding a good quality set at an affordable price. If you want an authentic set made by Japanese blacksmiths, you will pay good money for it. For this review, we’ll look at one set that will give you the best bang for your buck.

    PRO/MID-LEVEL

    Narex 852100 3-Piece Japanese Dovetail Chisels
    These Narex Japanese dovetail chisels are one of the best options for an affordable set. They are made in the Czech Republic, like their others, but following the style and design of the popular Umeki Oire Nomi. The blades are made of tempered chrome manganese steel, and the handles are made from European beechwood. Here are some notable features.

  • Set includes: 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 inch chisels
  • Steel Type: Tempered Chrome Manganese (CR-Mn)
  • Hardness: 59 HRC
  • Handles: European Beech wood
  • Includes: Wooden storage box

  • Final Thoughts

    Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or professional woodworker looking to take your hand-cut dovetails to the next level, any of these options will help you get there. If you’re looking for a good set that will last you for years without breaking the bank, I strongly and confidently recommend the Stanley Sweetheart 750 Series. Remember, the best dovetail chisel set is the one that fits your needs and is in a price range that you’re comfortable with.

    If you have experience with another set that should be on our list, we’d love to hear about it. Please comment below and let us know.

    Last update on 2023-02-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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    About the author

    Stephen Rice

    Stephen Rice

    Stephen is a hobby woodworker... a weekend warrior, if you will. Over the past 8 years, he's been tackling projects around the house and building furniture for family and friends. During his time as a woodworker, Stephen has tested and used just about every power tool out there, across multiple brands. He's not loyal to one brand, but simply chooses the best option for the job at hand. When he's not in the shop, Stephen can be found doing just about anything outdoors.

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