Canadian Woodworking

Stanley "Sweetheart" bevel edge socket chisels

post-thumbnail

The classic Stanley 750 — well-made chisels that are comfortable to use, have good edge retention and are easy to sharpen.

Author: Carl Duguay

Bevel-edge chisels (the generic ‘bench chisels’), are the most common style of woodworking chisels, in part because they excel at both paring and light-to-medium chopping tasks. They get their name from the three distinctive bevels on the blade – one at the front that does the actual cutting, and the long bevels along the edges of the blade that run from the tip backwards to the neck. This design allows the tip to penetrate into tight areas, such as when cleaning up narrow mortises or dovetails.

There are two handle styles of bevel-edge chisels – those that use a tang, and those that use a socket. When it comes to socket style bevel chisels, just about every manufacturer looks to the Stanley 750 design for inspiration – they’re esteemed for their ergonomic design, robust construction, and darn good looks.

First introduced in 1930, Stanley #750 chisels (marketed under the brand name ‘Sweetheart’) were in production for about 40 years. Much to the delight of countless woodworkers, the brand was reintroduced in 2010.

Manufacturer: Stanley Black & Decker
Model: 16-739 (set of 8); 16-791 (set of 4)
Price: $269 (set of 8); $134 (set of 4)
Made in: England
Source: Find a retailer

 

Features:

  • Sizes: 1/8″, 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″. 5/8″, 3/4″ 1″, 1-14″
  • Steel: high-carbon chrome steel
  • Rockwell hardened: 58-63
  • Bevel: 30°
  • Blade length: from 3-1/2″ to 4-1/3
  • Overall length: from 8-1/2″ to 10-1/4″
  • Handle: hornbeam
  • Handle diameter/length: 1-1/4″ / 3″
  • Includes leather tool roll
  • Limited lifetime warranty

 

Sweetheart socket chisels come in eight standard widths, from 1/8″ to 1-1/4″. They can be had as a full set of eight or a set of four (1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″ and 1″). Either of these sets would work well for a wide range of paring and chopping tasks. They come in a high quality durable leather tool roll that is especially useful if you tote the chisels to a job site. The chisels also come with a set of tip guards.

Stanley sweetheart chisels
Handy leather tool wrap and protective edge guards

These chisels are well machined, though they aren’t as refined as some of the higher priced chisels on the market. However they look so good you’ll want to display them in your tool cabinet or exposed on a shop wall.

Stanley sweetheart chisels
Good to look at – a joy to use

I checked all the chisel widths and they’re pretty well spot on. A few were out a measly 1/128″. Blade thicknesses are fairly consistent, measuring approximately 7/32″ at the shoulder and flaring down to 1/8″ at the tip. The side bevels vary somewhat, but are in the 30° range. The flats on the outside edges range from about 9/64″ down to 5/64″ at the tip.

The thin blades and the somewhat shallow side bevel angles make these chisels well suited for paring work, light to medium duty mortise work and for cleaning up all but the narrowest of pin sockets on dovetail joints.

Stanley sweetheart chisels
Cleanly machined tapers

I not only love the look of the Stanley hornbeam handles – I find them well-balanced for paring work and comfortable to use for extended use. They are, however, smaller than you’ll find on most other chisels. I have a medium size hand – 3-3/4″ wide across the palm. I think that if you have a smaller hand these chisels will fit your grip equally well. Woodworkers with much larger hands might find these handles a tad on the small size.

Chisel handles
Sweetheart chisel handles (far right) are smaller than most
Stanley sweetheart chisels
Comfortable to hold and use

I found the edges of the sockets on the sharp side. Some judicious use of emery paper will take away their bite.

Stanley sweetheart chisel socket
Edges of the sockets are a tad sharp

As on all socket chisels, the tapered cone of the handle is wedge-fitted into the corresponding socket at the base of the chisel. Often chisels handles have a layer of lacquer applied at the factory. This tends to make them more prone to slip out of the socket. I remove the lacquer with light sanding. To reinstall the handles just tap the handle a few times with a wood mallet to seat it into the socket.

The chisels are covered with a lacquer film as well – likely to prevent them from rusting during shipping and storage. Yo can leave the film on (as I do) or remove it by soaking them in a tray of lacquer thinner overnight.

Stanley sweetheart chisels
Socket and handle

You’ll want to make sure the handle is tightly seated before using the chisel – I’ve had blades drop off their handles occasionally. However, I’ve never had a socket chisel handle split, as can happen with a tang handle – the angle of the tang and repeated force applied to the end of the handle can cause the tang to split the handle apart. This usually happens when you use bevel chisels for heavy mortise work (which they’re not designed to be used for), and is, in part, why you need a set of mortise chisels. Still, it’s a good idea not to pick up a socket chisel by the handle alone – make sure you grip part of the socket.

Stanley socket chisel handles
Handle in the foreground has been lightly sanded

The back of a chisel needs to be flat so that you can obtain a better formed cutting edge when sharpening and honing the bevel. A chisel with a bellied (convex) back is going to be a real challenge to flatten. A chisel with a slight hollow doesn’t pose a problem – you only need to flatten the 1/2″ to 3/4″ just below the cutting edge. While you can, of course, work the full back of the chisel to get rid of those milling marks, a mirror smooth finish isn’t, in my experience, necessary.

On the Sweetheart chisels I found that the backs are very flat – to the degree that you could dispense with flattening altogether and focus on the bevel. It only took me about 3-4 minutes to polish each back about 3/4″ down from the bevel.

Stanley sweetheart chisels
It’s only necessary to polish about 1/2″ on the backs.

The chisels are ground from high-carbon chrome steel and tempered to between Rc 58 and 63. I expect there are other alloys, possibly chromium, vanadium and manganese thrown into the mix to increase strength, hardness, temperature stability and make the steel more shock and corrosion resistant. The Rockwell hardening level is similar to what you’ll find on most bevel chisels – it  enables them to hold an edge well, yet makes them reasonably easy to sharpen.

They come with a common flat ground 30° bevel, a general purpose compromise grind for paring and light chopping. There are proponents for both flat and hollow grinding. Even those who prefer flat ground blades will usually add a secondary bevel, as it makes the cutting edge less fragile. I ended up regrinding them on my Tormek to a shallower 25° angle.

Stanley sweetheart chisel bevel
Flat ground at 30°

Before regrinding the chisel I used them over a four week period in the shop for a variety of tasks – chopping shallow mortises, paring, and cutting dovetails. Over that time period I honed them several times. The chisels held up well when cleaning up mortises – no flexing on the 3/8″ and wider chisels that I used. Edge retention is a key feature on any cutting tool, and I’m pleased to report that the edges on the these chisels held up about as well as other chisels I’ve used. Not as good as the wear resistance you’ll get with the PM-V11 steel Veritas uses, but quite adequate for the work I do. On the plus side they hone and resharpen more easily – and for me it’s all about how quickly I can back to work.

Time is the great arbiter, but, so far, I quite like these chisels. They’re well balanced and very comfortable to hold and use for both paring and chopping operations. The steel is hard enough to hold an edge for a respectable period of time, yet easy enough to sharpen and hone. Though bevel-edge chisels are usually not used for mortise work, I found that they could easily chop out the typical 1″ deep mortises I typically use.

A lot of chisel sets don’t include 1/8″ and 1-1/4″ chisels. The 1/8″ is useful for cleaning out waste in dovetails and in tight spots, while the 1-1/4″ is invaluable for cleaning wide tenon shoulders and mortise walls.

At under $135, the 4-piece set makes a great starter set for the new woodworker while the full set (at just under $270) is ideal for anyone who wants an upgrade from a mediocre set of chisels.

Stanley sweetheart chisels

Published:
Last modified: March 5, 2024

Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.


2 Comments

  1. Advertisement


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check out other tool articles
Government support acknowlege
Partnership ontario
Username: Password:
Clicky