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.
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.
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.
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 2023-06-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API