Garrett Hack replies: Just as with women, there are some who like blondes, others red heads—it’s all about personal preference. The steel in most modern chisels is going to be fine; the real differences come in how the steel is heat treated and the refinement of the blade’s shape such as the flatness of the back for one. Beyond that some handles might appeal to you more, or the shape of the blade, the tool’s length or its balance. Some fancy alloy chisels might hold an edge longer, but common tool steel takes a keen edge and sharpens quickly. A safe choice is to go with a known maker such as Lie-Nielsen or Ashley Iles. Japanese chisels are very different from our western designs, but generally well made and worth a look.
Myrl Phelps replies: When it comes to carving tools, Pfiel (Swiss made) are deemed the best. On the flip side I have bought their straight chisels and do not care for them, they are too brittle, take a long time to sharpen and chip easily.
Joe Barry replies: It depends on how you work and what you want it for.
I have a couple of lovely (and expensive) Japanese chisels that are easily the sharpest tools I own. It is a very hard steel. The downside is that with that hardness comes brittleness. When I first got them I learned the hard way that I could not cut and pry the chip with them. The prying would snap off the edge. In fact, my largest Japanese chisel is missing a corner to this day from when my ex-wife used it to open a can of paint—and, no, that is not why I divorced her!
My beater or everyday chisel is a set of blue plastic handled Marples Blue Chip chisels that I got 40 years ago. They’re good enough for that kind of work.
My favorite for fine work are made by Lie-Nielson. I’m not thrilled by the handles but love their ability to take and hold a sharp edge when working in hardwoods.