Repeating Myself (in a Good Way)

Two of my favorite mortising tools.

This year I am returning to hand-cut mortise-and-tenon joinery for my new book “The American Peasant” (I have a whole substack going about the book). All the parts for the projects in this book are processed, joined and finished by hand (using split stock when possible).

Why? Because now I can.

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When I left Popular Woodworking in 2011, Lost Art Press (LAP) was just me and John. The company didn’t provide much income, so I built furniture on commission for eight years (I now only build on spec). That meant I needed to use machines to process stock, and the joinery was a mixed bag. Lots of hand-cut dovetails. But also lots of Domino joinery (after I got rid of my hollow-chisel mortiser).

Today Megan Fitzpatrick is the editor here at LAP, and I have a little breathing room. I still need to sell furniture to make ends meet, but I’m going to fill any extra time with work I enjoy.

This week I’ve been banging out a lot of mortises with my Ray Iles English Mortising Chisels and my Blue Spruce Rectangular Mallet (24 oz. head). It was like catching up with old friends I haven’t seen in a while.

These handles have seen a lot of beatings and remain strong.

The Ray Iles, which I have written about many times, are perfect things. Their oval handles allow you to orient the tool properly and steer the cut. The shape of the blade allows you to scrape the walls of the mortise without getting stuck. They are tough mothers. (My only quibble is the steel. The D2 really needs diamond media to sharpen it right. Good thing we have a couple diamond stones.)

You don’t really need to buy a whole set of the mortisers (I know Joel, who sells them, disagrees – wink). I do about 90 percent of my work with the 1/4″ and 5/16″.

Anyway, these chisels still have my highest recommendation. I’ve used a lot of other mortising chisels, and they pale in comparison to the Ray Iles.

What I like about the Blue Spruce mallet in particular is the resin-infused head. The resin makes it nearly indestructible. I also love its leather-covered face, which helps prevent dents in nearly finished work. I’ve had this mallet for at least 12 years and use it every day. In fact, today I decided to be nice to it, and I scraped 12 years of glue and grime off the handle.

And let me repeat myself once more: I paid full retail for all these tools. No one asked me to write this review. If they did ask, I would probably tell them to “get bent” and refuse to write anything. (That’s the kind of weirdo I am.)

— Christopher Schwarz


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