Tools for Working Wood
English Mortise Chisels by Ray Iles
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  Mortise Chisels
  Ray Iles

Quantity in Cart: none
 1/8" ($74.95) In Stock
 3/16" ($65.95) In Stock
 1/4" ($67.95) Temporarily Sold Out
 5/16" ($68.95) Temporarily Sold Out
 3/8" ($89.95) In Stock
 7/16" ($95.95) In Stock
 1/2" ($99.95) In Stock
 Pair - 1/4" and 3/8" ($149.95) Temporarily Sold Out
 Set of all seven sizes ($518.56) Temporarily Sold Out
We've wanted to sell real English mortise chisels since Tools for Working Wood began. The challenge, of course, was to make a tool as good or better as the old mortise chisels and not go broke trying. More than a year ago Ray Iles sat in my living room and stared at my collection of old mortise chisels for an hour, all the while musing on how hard the old tools were to make. Ray is a master edge tool maker and has been doing it since he was a teenager. Ray remembers living in Abraham Darby's house (now a museum) in Coalbrookdale as a boy, when his father worked as a foundry manager. This was before his father, Ashley Iles, set up Ashley Iles Edge tools. I offered to build Ray a time machine to go back in time and bring a few of the old-timers' back with me. Ray said he would think about it. He thought for a year. We cajoled him. We said if anyone could do it, he was the one (which was true). We offered to buy the entire production run. Then one day a small package arrived in the mail. It was the real McCoy. Ray figured out how to do it. He said the entire project was really interesting because it posed so many production challenges. So here you have it. Our major contribution to this joint venture was enthusiasm and a little research. Ray did all the work. It was worth it.

The last time anyone offered a real English-style mortise chisels was in the early 1960's. There are companies still making sash mortise chisels, and heavy duty sash mortise chisels, but the real thing has been elusive for awhile. Ray has nailed down the essential features of the tool. His chisel is mostly indestructible. It's designed for the ultimate bashing with a heavy wooden mallet. The ferrule-less beech handles transmit a huge amount of force directly into the heavy steel bolster. You can really see Ray's attention to detail and skill as a craftsman in the handles. They're oval, so you will automatically hold the chisel aligned with the mortise without even thinking about it. Traditionally, the best handles were tapered and proportional to the tool size, which made them a lot easier to hold. It just feels right. The oval shape gives a lot more strength in the pulling direction but still remains comfortable.

The sides of the chisel form a slight trapezoid, so that if your chisel isn't perfectly aligned with the cut you won't damage the sides of the mortise, and more importantly, there is a lot less of a chance for the chisel to get stuck. You just push the chisel in the mortise a little and it loosens up. Lighter sash mortise chisels are ground parallel but that's because they are designed for shallower mortises in window sashes which are usually in soft wood. Some manufacturers say that that parallel sides make it easier to guide and align the chisel with the mortise but in fact the alignment of the mortise is determined by the first stroke of the blade into the wood, long before the sides of the chisel can have any effect.

The primary bevel on the chisel is ground to a very narrow 20 degree angle. This of course is not a strong enough angle to hold up to vicious chopping, but it's historically accurate because the narrow angle lets a blow on the chisel push the chisel very deep. And that's what we want - to go as deep as possible with each blow. But of course we have to strengthen the tip or it will bend. So mortise chisels need a hefty secondary bevel at the tip or around 35 degrees. It turns out with D2 steel (see below) we can use a very tiny secondary bevel. It works great and it reinforces the shallowness of the primary angle so these chisels can get even deeper per blow than the old antiques. All you need is a tiny secondary bevel, even a 1/16" is fine. In general we recommend that when you sharpen just sharpen the secondary bevel and it will grow wider. If it gets annoyingly wide just regrind the primary bevel at 20 degrees.

On some early 19th century mortise chisels the primary bevel is rounded into the front edge of the chisel. This makes is easier to lever out waste on deep mortises. We recommend it but decided that since not everyone will want this feature and it's easy enough to add yourself we left it off the new chisels. Ray rounded the front edge of the chisels a little to make it easier to hold.

We did have a question about what metal to use. There were a couple of historically appropriate options: hammer-weld a cast steel cutting edge to a mild steel body, or make the entire thing out of cast steel. Real cast steel hasn't been available since the 1950's. So what do you do? Regular modern carbon steel would be okay, but we thought that the extra toughness of A2 might be better. But in England, where these chisels are made, A2 is hard to get in the sizes we needed. So we decided on D2, a slightly more expensive, more durable, overall better tool steel. Some people feel that A2 and D2 don't get as sharp as good traditional carbon steel, but this is less of an issue than it would be in, for example, a paring chisel, since mortise chisels don't need to be as surgically sharp. And the pummeling required by the mortise chisel's higher bevel angles makes the extra toughness of D2 a real boon. Ray thought that in D2, these chisels would stay sharp forever. He's off by a few years but the edge retention on these chisels is amazing.

We are as excited about these mortise chisels as any product we have ever offered. And we're not alone. Chris Schwarz, the executive editor of Popular Woodworking, had a chance to try the chisels out and had the following response:
"After years of working with perfectly adequate sash mortising chisels, the Ray Iles tool was a complete revelation to me. All of his traditional details -¬ the double-tapered handle, the blade's tapered sides, the mass ¬- add up to a tool that works astonishingly well. If you've never tried a traditional mortiser like the Ray Iles, you're missing out."
We are offering 6 sizes of the mortise chisel, singly or in a set.

"The mortise chisels are some of the most well-balanced tools that I've ever used. The thick shank is solid without being excessively heavy. And, of course, they take and hold the edge. " - Lonnie Bird

"The best chisel I have ever used." - Paul Sellers

"Best New Tools of 2005," Popular Woodworking
Accessories and related items of interest:
 Custom Chisel Roll
Customer Reviews:

Ray Iles mortice chisel (1/4")

By: Jeremy (Mar, 2014)

What a great chisel. I reground it to a convex edge for ease of honing and because it was sticking just a bit in seasoned oak. Chops like a champ, levers like a crowbar, and pops right out of the cut. Three sharp strikes with my (too light) mallet sends it 1/2" into dry oak. Now I just need to make a heavier mallet to get it moving. And buy a couple more sizes of this masterpiece. Having top-notch tools makes woodworking such a joy.
I own this product.


By: Brad White (Jan, 2014)

I am not a newbie by a long-shot, but call me an experienced amateur and son of a master from whom I learned much. Not a professional by any definition but I build things for family and friends, plus years of old house renovations. Full disclosure. There is a joy in getting back to basics, the core of hand tool work after years of going along with the familiar. After watching the mortise work of Peter Follansbee, I came upon these almost by accident while in process of buying the more traditional and refined mortise chisels to replace my 35 year old Sorby chisels. On a hunch, I at first bought the 1/4" and 3/8" pair, which arrived barely 24 hours later, no less. The "look and feel", that intangible quality, jumped out of the box and into my hands. Naturally. Almost immediately I set to practicing several joints to get the hang of these. At once, I was taken by their mass and proportions. "Mass" does not mean "massive" here, but rather enough mass to do the job, enough heft to connect hand to wood and enough firmness to pry out the waste. The mass is equal to the task and yet is spare, to the line. The oval hafts are alone worth the price of admission. Indeed, they align the hand, wrist, elbow and eye in an uncanny way, provided you use a good stance. I liked the set so much, I purchased the 1/8" and 3/16" sizes, more suited to small cabinets I tend to produce. Equally beautiful in their simplicity. While robust enough for deep mortises, if your joinery wants to be more refined, I find that deeper scoring with a bench chisel is a good start and leave enough cheek mass for a crisp paring. But if a good, solid working mortise is what you seek, deep and without apology, these are the chisels you want. They give you permission.
I own this product.


By: Steve M (Jan, 2014)

I just finished using a 5/16" chisel for 8 through mortices in a rock-maple table. They were my first hand-cut mortices. I found the chisel easy to register in the cut and that it provided just the positive feedback about squareness that the handle is designed to give. I found it easy to sharpen and seemed to hold an edge well (I re-honed the edge after 4 mortices but remember I was chopping rock maple). I am impressed by the quality and recommend them to anyone interested in chopping their own. On a side note: I own an old 1/8" English chisel and the construction does, in fact, look identical.
I own this product.

This isn't a tool, it's a weapon

By: Jason (Aug, 2013)

This isn't a tool, it's a weapon. A weapon for cutting some serious mortises. Incredibly solid chisel with a nice beefy handle. The handle is oblong for easier alignment and the chisel is trapezoidal so that it's easier to remove. I recently pounded some 1" square mortises using the 1/4" chisel that I own in some 100 year old 4"x4" heart pine. The chisel plowed right through the heart pine. Also, when I jammed it in it was easy to remove. No regrets spending the bucks on this one. I will also add that when I first looked for this chisel it was out of stock. I emailed the fellas at TFWW and they offered to let me know when they had them back in stock. As soon as they received them, TFWW emailed me to let me know they were in stock. Kudos to bring back a level of customer service that went the way of the hand plane!
I own this product.

Best Mortise Chisels Made

By: Thomas Priest (Apr, 2013)

I own the 1/4" and 1/2" versions of the Ray Iles mortise chisels and must say they are awesome. They take a beating, can pry waste like you're using a pry-bar and just feel right in your hand. The beech handles are beautiful and the blade only needs a honing on the back to go to town on some mortises. I really appreciate all the work and research that went into these tools, they function exactly as they should and it shows the kind of quality the maker and TFWW care about. Highly recommended!!
I own this product.

Ray Iles Mortise Chisels

By: Erwin B (Apr, 2013)

I have been chopping big mortises for a workbench build, and small mortises (just for giggles) in the past few months. Based on my limited experiences with this chisel set versus a couple of others that I have, I'm more productive with this style of chisel. The big handle is super comfortable when hammering, the handle shape facilitates prying the waste out, and the chisel shape reduces jamming in the mortise. I have really good chopping control with this style of chisel (of course not as much compared to a bench chisel, but that's not an equivalent comparison). So far, edge retention is better than expected. It's a touch more challenging to sharpen because of the secondary bevel as (I hand sharpen without a jig. Nonetheless, they sharpen effectively on ceramic stones. Really, no complaints. I'm using the urethane padded Wood is Good mallet. Makes it easier on the arm and the ears.
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Ray Iles chisels

By: Rick Hackett (Apr, 2013)

Two of the best chisels I have. Now if I could just a 3/8's I have three of the best chisels I've ever had.
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