View Full Version : Who still makes good metalworking chisels?

John Garner
05-21-2011, 10:48 PM
Good Evening, All --

The last couple of new, big-name, US-made cold chisels I've tried were so soft they might as well been made out of annealed lead, and my forty year old P&Cs are worn down to nubs. Can any of you recommend a full-line maker -- including cape chisels, diamond-point chisels, and round-nose chisels -- that still builds a quality product.

Thanks for your suggestions,

05-21-2011, 10:53 PM
It could be like with wood chisels: Manufacturers are so afraid of getting sued by ambulance chasing lawyers,many of them are making chisels softer to avoid chips coming off and injuring the user. Lawyers have ruined so many things.

Why not just make them yourself? Get some 01 drill rod,heat it up orange,flatten the end to rough shape & grind to finish. Heat to orange to harden,quench in oil. Anneal to a dark brown color. They aren't hard to make.

05-21-2011, 11:49 PM
Martin tool-


05-22-2011, 12:10 AM
Williams I believe, still makes a full range of chisels and punches. Also I think, Allen, the bolt makers.

Forrest Addy
05-22-2011, 12:32 AM
If you REALLY want super-durable cold chisels look into making them of S7 a shock resistant tool steel used for anything taking a beating. I believe it holds an edge well too. The stuff ain't cheap.

05-22-2011, 12:34 AM
I've got a cold chisel in my toolbox that has to be at least 30 years old.
I think I bought it from a Snap-on dealer. I used to use it to cut rivets off of ball joints with. Whenever it got dull or the end you beat on got mushroomed, I'd just grind it back to the correct shape....Nothing like that Chinese file I tried to make a scraper out of....I could dull it by running it across my fingernails.

O-1 drill rod does make a nice chisel, but you have to pay attention to the colors when you're tempering it.

05-22-2011, 10:41 AM

Getting OK to good results from O1 is easy. Getting really great results from O1 is slightly harder than advertised, but it seems worth mentioning. Here's where we see the knifemakers (like me) roll up the sleeves to try and explain stuff almost nobody really cares about.

For O1, the stated process was:

[H]eat it up orange,flatten the end to rough shape & grind to finish. Heat to orange to harden,quench in oil. Anneal to a dark brown color.

While not wrong, this recipe is not guaranteed to give the best possible results with O1 and does leave out a few details. I have heat treated dozens of miniature (1/2" wide) O1 chisels made by stock removal. From my experience, the very best results take a little more work. It may not be worth it for a chisel, but here goes:

Hardening: Most O1 should be heated to between 1400 and 1450 degrees and should be held at that temperature for 10-20 minutes. This is generally a red color - orange is hotter. Heating to less than 1400 or for less than the recommended soak time leads to incomplete hardening. Heating much above 1450 leads to grain growth, which reduces strength. I have a hard time seeing the temperature consistently (day versus night look very different, even shade on a sunny day versus shade on a cloudy day look different), and, although I have done it, I have a hard time holding any sizable piece of steel in that temperature range with a torch for a full 10 minutes.

Quenching: For complete hardening, you have approximately 10 seconds to go from full temperature to cooled below 500 degrees. This means the O1 needs to go directly from the heat into the quench tank and should be agitated to keep relatively cool oil contacting the surface of the O1. Ideally, the oil needs to be a fairly fast quenching oil. I have heard oil quenches best if warmed to about 140 degrees before quench (to reduce viscosity), but don't know how big an effect that has.

Temper: Tempering to brown should leave O1 with a hardness in the 59-60 range. If you have an oven you can use, this would be in the 500 degree (F) range (note: my toaster oven only heats up to 450 when set at 500, so just setting an oven to 500 does not ensure a 500 degree temper). Most manufacturers recommend tempering for two hours and performing the temper twice.

There, I feel better now.

05-22-2011, 11:04 AM
Old Forge used to make good chisels but I believe they were bought out by a company called Mayhew. I have no idea if the chisels they make are as good. Recently I bent a Snap On pin punch that was about 30 years old. It took quite a lot of force to do it. I got a replacement from a Snap On dealer and it bent like mild steel. The second replacement sits in my box looking pretty but unused for fear it may bend when I pick it up. Others have mentioned that US manufacturers have softened their chisels to limit liability and I believe they are right. We are going to litigate and legislate ourselves into oblivion if things don't change in the country. We are trying to replace common sense with lawsuits and laws.

Recently I replaced an Old Forge punch with a KD Tools punch, mostly because it had the closest appearance to the original and I believe KD to be a reputable manufacturer. The jury is out on how it will hold up as I have only used it lightly so far. It appears to be a quality tool though and may actually be made by Mayhew or another company.

A good punch or chisel is made so that the business end is hard yet still tough so it doesn't chip easily. The anvil end is softer so it will mushroom without fracture as it is struck. It is important to grind the mushroom off occasionally so chips of it don't fly off when it's struck as the mushroom expands and eventually cracks.

05-22-2011, 11:29 AM
Another reason to get rid of the mushroom is if you happen to miss the thing you are hitting and the punch goes through the hole formed by your finger and thumb it don't arf make a mess.:eek:


05-22-2011, 12:43 PM
My suggestion is basically little more than hearsay. I haven't used them, but maybe C.S.Osborne&Co.??

05-22-2011, 03:13 PM
I use Proto cold chisels, and I like them.

05-22-2011, 03:48 PM
One thing that strikes me in all this is how the niche American companies make their distribution very esoteric. "Only sold through distributors," yet no link is given or anything else. How are you supposed to buy these things?! In the past in encountering such obfuscation, when I do get ahold of a distributor, they are quite unhelpful or non-responsive. I totally don't get that system of sales...

05-22-2011, 05:39 PM
In my drawer of chisels i have a USA made "MAYHEW" that seems to be excellent quality. Think i picked it up at a garage sale somewere.

"MAYHEW" if they're still in business seemed to make good chisel sets.

05-22-2011, 07:10 PM
Craftman chisel are surprisely good!! I bought a lot of different chisel and the craftman are the most durable!!


05-22-2011, 07:29 PM
One thing that strikes me in all this is how the niche American companies make their distribution very esoteric. "Only sold through distributors," yet no link is given or anything else. How are you supposed to buy these things?! In the past in encountering such obfuscation, when I do get ahold of a distributor, they are quite unhelpful or non-responsive. I totally don't get that system of sales...

Most of those mfgs are kept in business by industrial sales through industrial distributors,those folks aren't setup many times to sell to the general public hence the cold shoulder.

Your best bet in these situations is to throw yourself on the mercy of the sales staff,ideally with a female of the species.Women sales people seem to be much more helpful than they're male counterparts.

I do a lot of purchasing for work,and we buy a lot of stuff for a small outfit,but even still we get the cold shoulder from some distributors.The only saving grace is usually there are many distributors for the same item so you just shop around for one that will accommodate you.

05-22-2011, 11:57 PM
I don't know if I should offer 20 or so pounds of cape, diamond, half round, cold, and lots of them square shank, air hammer tools. I think my biggest is 1 inch across the flats.

As said above, the shank is soft enough to mushroom, the working end, at least in my time, was hard for about an inch, maybe an inch and a half, and TOUGH.

I probably should keep them. I don't chisel lots of rivets and bolts off, anymore, but who knows when you will need one.



05-23-2011, 04:16 AM
I've no idea who made my favorite cold chisel, it's probably Tiwanese as it came from the local Motor factor over 20 years ago. It's holds an edge pretty well and doesn't mushroom too fast.

My other chisels are either of completely unkown source and quality (very low in some cases), or ones I made from sections of vehicle coil springs. As long as you don't overheat it (you get hot shortness) coil spring steel forges well and make decent chiesls, punches, spade drills, etc.

05-23-2011, 10:12 AM

05-23-2011, 10:33 AM
I try to keep heat treating descriptions simple for the beginners.

Double tempering does no good unless you heat the second temper 25 LESS than the initial one.

The best way to know when the steel is hot enough for quenching,as many know,is to use a magnet on a wire. Quench when steel becomes non magnetic.

I use automatic transmission fluid,but even vegetable oil will do.

Kitvhen ovens can be 75 degrees off. I use a Brownell's high temp. thermometer inserted into a toaster oven. It's the best way to know what the temp really is.

There are different shades of brown,you can't say brown is a certain temp. Dark brown is hotter than light,of course.

Personally,I don't care for S7,finding it more suitable for screwdrivers. I know some recommend it for chisels,though. If I wanted to make a good chisel myself,I'd use A2,but it requires more advanced ways to treat it,such as stainless foil wrap(which costs bucks to get a roll of.)

05-23-2011, 10:41 AM
Mayhew is still in business, still american made-

The Proto Cold Chisels I like are the J86000 series "Super Duty", which are good steel, and come with nice knurled black oxide handles.


Williams still sells a line of chisels as well-
they are now owned by Snap On.

05-23-2011, 08:49 PM
John, if it's really top end chisels you're after, and aren't scared to try new things, take a look at the Japanese style of chisel. While they range down into crapolli-land, once you start looking at decent chisels they really are far superior to our western style tools in so many ways. If money isn't an object, they become absolute works of art. http://japantool-iida.com/chisel_bench/index.html

05-23-2011, 09:30 PM
Guess you missed out on the "metalworking" part, Pete.

05-23-2011, 09:44 PM
Guess you missed out on the "metalworking" part, Pete.
Ooops sorry, my bad, you're right. I just got in from work and have been up all night. I thought you guys were pretty keen to be making your own! ... still, if you want some really nice WOODWORKING chisels, some of the Japanese ones ARE nice :p


05-24-2011, 04:49 AM
If it is only a matter of hardness, you could always just reharden and draw to suit yourself. Then of course you could shop for price and still wind up with what you want.

05-24-2011, 06:37 AM
Mayhew is the OEM source for quite a few others, including Snap-On and Craftsman, to name just a couple. I've been in their facility out in the backwoods of western MA, and it's really "old skool" manufacturing.

05-24-2011, 12:31 PM

If USA made striking tools are your desire, I haven't seen Enderes Tools mentioned yet. Made in Minnesota so I'm perhaps prejudice.
Here (http://www.enderes.com/)

I have used their tools for years, after first purchasing their screwdrivers.