Marples Blue Chip Bevel Edge Woodworking Chisel Set

These chisels are well balanced, have comfortable handles, are easy enough to sharpen, and have good edge retention.


Marples Blue Chip Bevel Edge Woodworking Chisel Set

There are at least two well known tool makers who share the 'Marples' name, one that is still in production, and another that lives on in name only. Joseph Marples Ltd, founded in 1840, continues to make a variety of measuring and marking tools in Sheffield, England. William Marples & Sons, established twelve years earlier, also in Sheffield, is the company widely know for producing a classic line of planes, chisels, and spokeshaves. It's this latter Marples that is now part of the IRWIN family (which is itself part of the NewellRubbermaid family). The first set of chisels I ever purchased were Marples boxwood handled firmer chisels from Garrett Wade in 1979. They served me well for over 20 years, eventually being replaced by a set of 2 Cherries bevel chisels. So, I was very keen on trying the new Marples Blue Chip Bevel Edge Woodworking Chisel Set (M444SB6N) from Irwin.

The 'new' Marples chisel line: Woodworking, Construction, High Impact

The 'new' Marples chisel line consists of three styles of chisels: Woodworking (for fine woodworking applications), Construction (for general, medium-duty carpentry work), and High Impact (for heavy duty chisel work). You can find out more about the differences between these three models on the Irwin website.

The set comes in a convenient storage box

The chisels are available in 10 standard widths — 1/8" to 1-1/2" in 1/4" increments, and 2". The M444SB6 is a 6 chisel set, consisting of 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8", 3/4", and 1" chisels, packaged in a convenient pine box for storage and protection. There is a tightly fitting, plastic tip guard on each chisel.

You can tilt the box on its side and the chisels will remain in their slots, though they tend to rattle around a lot. This movement resulted in several of the pine dividers in the box breaking. The chisels still remain in their slots, but the box looks a bit ratty. There is no room in the box for additional chisels, so if you add to this set you'll likely want to consider building your own purpose built box - or some other storage option. 

As is the case with so many hand and power tools today, these chisels are manufactured in China. This, in part, accounts for the highly competitive price of $79 for the set, or an average of $13 per chisel. Of course, you might be wondering what you can expect from a $13 chisel. The answer is a fairly high level of quality and performance.

Overall length from 10-5/16" to 9-7/16"

These bevel edged (aka bench chisels) are essentially an all-purpose chisel for light to medium duty bench work. They're best suited for paring tenons, cutting shallow mortises, trimming dovetails, and light chopping and stock removal. The beveled sides make it easier to work in corners or trim dovetails.

They are not meant for heavy duty chopping, so avoid striking the handles with anything but the palm of your hand, a wooden mallet, or a dead-blow mallet that has a leather or polyurethane striking face. I used them to chop out 1-1/4" deep mortises with no problem. However, for a lot of heavy duty mortise work, particularly in dense hardwoods, I would likely revert to using mortise chisels.

Different handle styles: Irwin, Crown, Stanley

The four widest chisels in this set have an overall length of 10-5/16", while the two narrowest chisels are 9-7/16" long. This makes them fairly consistent in length with most other brands of bevel chisels.

I was surprised to find polypropylene handles on these chisels rather than wood. I think of a plastic handled tool as better suited for construction or renovation work, rather than bench work, for which these chisels are primarily intended. Still, polypropylene does have a number of benefits - it has high tensile strength, low weight, is rigid, impervious to moisture, and, is highly chemical, corrosion, and impact resistant. Which means that, given proper care, these handles should last for decades.

Overall, the handles are 4-5/8" long. They flare from 1-15/64" wide at the butt end to 57/64" at the bolster, making them look more like the kind of handles found on mortise chisels.

In use, I found the handles quite comfortable, and while ultra smooth, not overly slippery. I like the slight flare where the handle meets the bolster as it affords a comfortable, secure grip with forefinger and thumb. Except for the 1" chisel, I found the chisels very well balanced.

The butt end is almost flat, providing a large enough striking surface for the palm of your hand or mallet. I have a medium sized hand, about 4" wide across the palm, and I found the wide butt end provided a solid, secure grip.

Because of the round handles, you have to avoid placing the three narrowest chisels too close to the edge of a workbench — they have a tendency to roll about, and might find their way onto the floor. 

Square edges, parallel sides, tapered thickness

These chisels are made from 100 CRV (Chrome Vanadium) high carbon, solid-forged steel. The 100 refers to the amount of carbon in the steel — in this case, 1% by volume, along with other alloys including chromium, manganese, silicon, and vanadium. The vanadium increases strength, hardness, and temperature stability. It also makes the steel more shock and corrosion resistant.

The chisels are hardened to Rockwell 58-61, which is similar to what you'll find on most  bevel chisels. Chisels hardened to this level hold an edge well, yet are reasonably easy to sharpen. 

On all six chisels the edges were square and the sides parallel along their entire length. The 1" chisel, for example, is 17/64" thick at the neck (near the bolster), tapering to 11/64" just above the cutting bevel. The 1/4" chisel is 13/64" at the neck and 8/64" at the bevel. I found the edges to be somewhat on the sharp side, though a few strokes with a diamond file took care of it.

The side bevels are lower on the wider chisels (25° on the 1" chisel) and steeper on the narrower chisels (42° on the 1/4" chisel). I still found the narrower chisels, particularly the 3/8" and 1/2", had sufficient side clearance to chop out tails without marring the edges of the joints. This is due in part to the fact that the square sides at the cutting edge are fairly narrow - 3/64" for the 3/8" chisel, and 5/64" for the 1/2" chisel.

The listed and actual widths of the chisels matched exactly — or as close as I could reasonably determine with calipers.

Top: factory back; bottom: honed

As expected, there were visible milling marks on the backs of the chisels. More importantly however, the backs were virtually dead flat. I placed a metal straightedge across the backs of all the chisels at three locations - near the cutting bevel, midway between the bevel and neck, and at the neck. No light was visible between the blade and the straightedge. 

On a plane blade, flattening and honing the back is fairly important, as it ensures that the tip of the chip breaker makes perfect contact with the back of the blade. Honing the back of a flat chisel isn't as crucial. However, most woodworkers seem to want to remove the coarser scratches left by the manufacturer’s surface grinding.

I honed the blades using
DMT Dia-Sharp benchstones, first on a 9 micron/1200-grit stone, then on a 3 micron/8000-stone. Honing was very fast, producing a near mirror smooth finish.

Top: factory bevel; bottom: honed

Likewise, there were visible milling marks on the flat ground cutting bevels. While the blades are sharp enough to use straight out of the box, you'll get a much sharper, cleaner cutting edge if you hone. I used the same set-up to hone the bevels as I used on the backs, and the results were just as good.

Overall I would say that these chisels were about as quick to sharpen as the 2 Cherries and Stanley Sweetheart chisels I currently use.

The cutting bevel on these chisels is at 25°, the standard angle for bench chisels. There isn't any need to reshape the angle unless you intend to use the chisels exclusively for paring. In this case you might want to lower the bevel to around 20°. If you use the chisels for a lot of shallow mortise work, then you might want to add a 3° to 5° micro-bevel to the cutting edge, which will hold a sharp edge longer.

Edge held up reasonably well 

To test the edges I made a series of chopping cuts on a piece of oak with each of the six chisels using a wooden mallet. I used sufficient force to drive the chisel about 1/32" into the oak. I checked the edge after every third stroke, stopping when I noticed the edges just beginning to degrade. The average for all six blades was 38 cuts. None of the chisels had any critical chipping, but they all developed a wire edge. Of course, the chisels could have lasted longer before needing to be resharpened. 

For paring cuts the chisels performed quite well. Their edges didn't remain sharp as long as the 2 Cherries and Stanley Sweetheart chisels, but, given the price point, they weren't a huge disapointment.

Overall, the chisels are nicely balanced and easy to control. While I'm not overly enamored with plastic handles, they are comfortable in the hand, and, of course, they are extremely durable.
While professional woodworkers and connoisseurs will likely pass these chisels by, DIYers, hobbyist woodworkers, and finish carpenters looking for a decent set at a great price need look no further.



  • 6 chisels: 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8", 3/4", and 1"
  • 100 CRV High carbon solid-forged steel blades
  • Hardened to Rockwell 58-61
  • 5-5/8" blades (4-3/4" for 1/8" and 3/8")
  • 4-5/8" polypropylene handles
  • Beveled edges
  • 25° bevel
  • Removable tip guard
  • Wooden storage box

SOURCE:Dealer Locator
 Carl Duguay, January 2013

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