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Tool Review: Narex Dovetail Chisels - Set of 3
By Jeff Fleisher

The Narex Dovetail Chisels are a set of three chisels that are designed for getting into the close corners of dovetails and are modeled after the traditional Japanese style chisels.

Narex Dovetail Chisels have a triangular cross-section that's excellent for removing waste between tails of a dovetail joint. The chisels are made from chrome-manganese (Cr-Mn) steel, which is treated to a hardness of 59Rc. The set comes with 1/4", 1/2" and 3/4" width chisels, all in a nice wooden box. The handles are 5-3/8" long and are European beech. Although they are designed as a dovetail chisel, they can also work as general-purpose bench chisels for other tasks such as paring and trimming.

Narex is a company located in the Czech Republic. Their website states "The hand tool factory now known as Narex Bystrice s.r.o., began in 1919, when the manufacturer Vaclav Richter founded a company producing augers, wood chisels, draw-knives, plane irons and other woodworking tools." In 2008, Fine Woodworking reviewed 23 different bench chisels and gave the Narex bench chisels the 'Best Value Western-Style' award.

These dovetail chisels have an upper triangular blade shape, hollow rear surface and wooden handles with a metal hoop. The blades are ground with a 35 degree angle along both sides which gives the blade the clearance to get into the corners of a dovetail tail board.

The picture above shows a comparison between a traditional bench chisel on the left and the Narex Dovetail Chisel on the right. The Narex chisel tapers down to about a 1/32" along the edge. Unlike the bench chisel, the thin edge will provide better access into the tight angles inside the tails of a tail board.

For this review I was interested in looking at two aspects of the chisel; how well did it sharpen and did the narrow edges allow you better access when cleaning out a dovetail tail? The Cr-Mn at 59Rc should behave very similar to O1 steel and be very nice to sharpen.

The hollow back should make flattening very easy and quick. In fact, the backs were pretty close to flat right out of the box and took only a few minutes to flatten. I used a set of fine, extra fine and extra-extra fine DMT Dia-Sharp Diamond Plates to flatten the back and then polished it with my Norton 8000x Waterstone.

I initially learned how to sharpen by hand without using a jig. The large, triangular shaped blade made it very easy to locate the bevel on the sharpening plate.

The chisel literally 'pops' into position and stays there while sliding it back and forth on the plate. This will be very natural if you are a free-hand blade sharpener.

My preference is to use a jig to sharpen my tools because of its repeatability. The jig was able to register and tighten down on the blade.

Given the length of the blade, there was not a lot of it clamped in the jig. The blade did not twist or loosen while in the jig but this was a concern.

The bevel required slightly more work than the backside. The bevel needed to be squared up, but again, this went very quickly on my Diamond Plates.

I worked through the same grits as with the back and then added a micro-bevel using my 8000 grit stone. This was followed by polishing the micro-bevel on a leather strop. The result was an extremely keen edge. I estimate that it took less than 15 minutes to sharpen the blade and that included taking the pictures.

While moving the chisel around to get the best orientation for a picture to show the micro-bevel I noticed how items in my shop were being reflected in the surface of the bevel. Here is an image of the bevel with a picture hanging on the wall reflected from the surface!

An interesting fact from the Narex website is that "Narex chisels are ground before being hardened, so you may find that edge retention improves significantly after the first couple of honings. This is completely normal and once the first couple of millimetres have been sharpened away you will begin to experience what a pleasure Cr-Mn steel is to use."

How are the Narex Chisels when it comes to cutting a dovetail tail? First, I laid out a tail board and rough cut out the tails.

I laid out the tail so that the bottom would be a 1/2", the exact size of the width of the blade. After removing most of the waste I set the blade into my scribe mark and began to cut down on the back wall of the tail. Here is what that looked like:

As shown, the edges of the chisel fit nicely into the acute corners of the tail. Since the chisel edge is not a sharp edge, but about 1/32" thick, it is not a perfect fit into the corner, but very close. I was very happy with the resulting quality of the cut along the back wall and the minimal amount of wood left in the corners of the tail.

It was very easy at this point to take a slightly narrower chisel and remove the final amount of wood that was left in the corners.

I was very pleased with the performance of these Narex Dovetail Chisels. They sharpened quickly and produced a very nice keen edge. Although I don't know how long they will keep that edge, I expect it to be very similar to a chisel made with O1 steel. In any case, if you rehone on a leather strap quite often, like I do, you can easily maintain a very sharp edge. It is a specialty tool, but one that will be useful in your shop if you hand cut your dovetails.

Find out more and purchase the
Narex Dovetail Chisels - Set of 3

Jeffrey Fleisher has been a woodworker for approximately 20 years and a professional woodworker for the past 6 years. He is the president of his local woodturning club, the Woodturners of the Virginias and past president of the Northern Virginia Carvers. You can see some of the furniture he has made at www.jeffswooddesigns.com. He can be reached by email at furnmkr@gmail.com

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