Review of Veritas O1 Bench Chisels
I was very fortunate to have a friend from my local SAPFM chapter loan me some of the new Veritas O1 bench chisels to play with about 4 weeks ago. I have been using them exclusively in the shop since then to see how they perform. I have long been a Lie Nielsen chisel devotee and I was skeptical about even trying another chisel, but alas, the things I put myself through for you, my loyal readers. Normally I use A2 bench chisels and the only O1 I have is with my carving tools. So working with these was not only a chance to try out a new brand of chisel but to see what this O1 hullabaloo is all about.
I worked with these chisels in a variety of tasks. I cut dovetails, did a lot of paring, even chopped out a mortise (though I wouldn’t normally do this with a bench chisel). I worked with them enough that I needed to resharpen them but I can’t honestly say that I could tell a difference in edge life from my Lie Nielsen or Blue Spruce chisels. They definitely have a longer edge life than some of my vintage chisels but I think that is to be expected with a modern steel. I could tell a difference in the sharpening. I was able to bring up a burr on the edge in half the time it takes with my A2 chisels so that is a big plus.
The Handle Connection
I am a big fan of socket handle chisels so right out of the gates, I was biased against the Veritas tang style chisels. I like to be able to swap in a longer handle for paring operations, but honestly this is becoming a much rarer occurrence as I add dedicated paring chisels to my arsenal, sharpened specifically for that purpose. There is something to be said about the durability of socket chisels over tang chisels as the tang has the tendency to drive up into the handle and will split it over time. So if you have a tang, you need to pay close attention to the ferrule and the material of the handle. Veritas spares no expense in making this connection a superior one with a hybrid design that turns the ferrule into a tapered cone like a socket and an integral centered tang. This means your handles won’t come loose with the change in seasons and the handle is protected from splitting by the socket like ferrule.
Torrefied Maple Handles
The handles are made from baked Maple. Normally I am not a fan of Maple for chisel handles as the wood can be brittle and doesn’t react well to mallet blows over time. Just ask any baseball player about Maple vs Ash baseball bats and how they fracture vs splinter. Knowing that Veritas is an innovator, I was curious to see how the baking process would translate to a chisel handle. Baking wood is also known as Torrefied Wood. It involves cranking the kiln up very high over a longer period to reduce the moisture content to essentially zero. The kiln is then cranked up even higher to around 200 degrees Celsius. The high heat causes a chemical reaction of sorts and hardens and sets the fibers while carmelizing everything. This yields a deeper tone kind of like when you leave the chocolate chip cookies in a bit too long. Then as the temperature is lowered, moisture is reintroduced to the altered wood bringing back the natural flexibility. The end result is a highly stable and extremely durable wood. I have seen a bit of this stuff come in to our millworks at the lumber yard where I work and it mills very well. In fact is reminds me of turning acrylic on a lathe. The wood is very hard yet it mills like a synthetic material, very cleanly and consistently. This is an interesting application of a modern technique for a chisel handle and so typical of Veritas to try something new like this. I imagine over time these handles will take a beating without showing any stress at all.
I did not like the shape of the handles very much however. They felt too small in my hands and it was mostly likely the somewhat oblate or flattened shape of the handle compared to the round shape of the Lie Nielsen chisels I have been using for years. The overall chisel is very well balanced but I was left feeling like I didn’t have as much control over it because the flattened shape moved around too much in my hand. I’m going to chock this up to being used to one shape and just not liking change. If you are considering buying these chisels I wouldn’t hold this critique against them in other words.
The steel comes ready to work right out of the box. Veritas even goes so far as to already add the micro bevel to the blades. There is no additional honing needed and you can go right to work. They even go so far as to create a steeper primary and micro bevel on the narrower chisels to create a more durable edge. The 1/2″ and wider chisels have a lower 25 degree bevel as the wider blade can stand up to more of a beating. This is a tiny detail but no one else on the market has thought this far ahead, and it makes their chisels truly ready to work out of the box. The side bevels taper to a very thin flat and these chisels are agile enough to get into tight corners freely.
Would I Buy Them?
To sum up, Veritas bench chisels are great! Nice balance, ready to go right out of the box, good steel that holds and edge well while sharpening quickly. Designed to take a serious beating with an innovative hybrid tang/socket and torrefied Maple handles. But here is the rub. Veritas has already announced that they are working on a new powdered metal version of these same chisels. Apparently this powdered metal will change the rules of the A2, O1 game and make a revolutionary leap forward in edge sharpness and durability. Knowing that this is on the horizon, I don’t think I would buy the O1 versions. Really, these are a solid competitor to Lie Nielsen chisels with a few added bells and whistles in the ferrule and handle material. At a price point slightly higher than Lie Nielsen I’m not sure this is a good move. There isn’t enough difference to make me want to sway from Lie Nielsen. It almost seems like Veritas released these just to tease the market for the upcoming release of the powdered metal versions. I wonder how many like me are waiting to see the new chisels before they buy. Sure it is a great chisel that competes at the top of the current market but it feels like buying them would be like buying an iPad 2 the night before the iPad 3 comes out.