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Stanley's FatMax chisels are a very cost-effective alternative for the average woodworking shop.
Click image to enlarge

FatMax 6-Piece Wood Chisel Set

New thinking from an old friend

Text & Photos by Tom Hintz

   Chisels are one of the oldest tools in existence and the fact they can still be found in nearly every woodworkers shop is testament to their usefulness. Not surprisingly, the design of the blade itself has changed very little.
   The Stanley Works, in New Britain, Connecticut, one of the oldest tool manufacturers around, decided to take a fresh look at chisel handles. Their FatMax line is the result of those efforts.

Initial Impressions

   The FatMax chisels appear well made overall but the blades appear more coarsely ground than high-priced versions. The grinding is superficial and would prove to be a non-issue in our testing.
    The handles are the most notable part of the FatMax series with the rubber overlay and ergonomically designed grip. The initial feel of the in the hand is comfortable and promises ease of use and accuracy.

The Case

   The FatMax chisel set comes in a plastic carry case with a clear front cover. While not a new concept in packaging, in this case, the clear front is useful. The case has snap-in holders that keep the chisels secure and prevents banging together which could damage the edges. The clear plastic cover lets you know at a glance if any of them are missing. Those who have spent a couple hours trying to find a commonly used tool realize the value of this simple bit of case design.

Blades and Edges

The FatMax irons are relatively short to maximize control.
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   The FatMax one-piece blades, ferrules and tangs are made from a ball bearing grade high carbon chrome steel, a material known for taking and holding a keen cutting edge. Made in legendary Sheffield, England, the blades have a very traditional shape.
   The FatMax set is made up of chisels with ¼", ½", ¾", 1", 1 ¼" and 1 ½"-widths. The cutting edge on all of the chisels measured exactly square to the length and all were ground to a 22 ½-degree angle, which is a good compromise for all-around woodworking.

While the cutting edges are factory-ground and are reasonably sharp, like any good chisel, they benefit from a little honing, as we would see during testing.

Innovative Handles

Between the rubber overly and unique shape, the FatMax handles are very comfortable and easy to control.
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   Cast from an impact resistant cellulose acetate, the handles are longer than most for comfort and control. A steel hammer compatible striking button at the end of the handle increases their utility in the shop.
   The biggest departure is the ergonomically designed rubber overlay. The overlay material itself improves the grip on the handle over plain wood or plastic versions by adding "traction" between the hand and grip. The overall shape of the handle mimics the hand very well, giving a more natural feel.
   Indentations (top and bottom) at the forward end and grooves along both sides are designed to improve control during pure hand-held operations. These shapes also tend to index the chisel in your hand so the cutting edge is more naturally parallel to the surface.

In The Shop

(Top) We honed one chisel on a plain oilstone to clean up the edge. A few minutes really woke the cutting edge up!
(Bottom) Refining the edge further on the Tormek produced a very sharp edge that stayed sharp as long as any chisel we have used.
Click images to enlarge

   Right from the case, the FatMax chisels did well in common hammer-assisted chores. For shaving and smoothing operations, the edges needed some help, as most do from the factory. Some of the edges were a little ragged and most had a burr rolled up from grinding that showed itself most in the hand held functions.
   First, we spent a little time honing the bevel with a plain oilstone, taking a few swipes on the back side afterward to clear the burr. That little bit of elbow grease on the stone substantially increased the chisels performance in the hand held, shaving-type operations.
   I am no great shakes with hand sharpening chisels on a stone but after putting another 10 minutes or so into the 1"-wide FatMax, it's performance got better yet. The edge felt far more refined and it was beginning to shave oak and walnut cleanly.
   Last, I gave the 1 ¼"-wide FatMax the full Tormek treatment, refining the edge and scratch pattern to a near mirror finish. After the Tormek, the 1 ¼"-wide FatMax performed as well as any high-dollar chisel I have used. During the remaining testing we made a point of using the Tormek sharpened 1 ¼"-wide chisel as often as possible to check the durability of the edge and found it did in fact hold an edge very well.
   The handles are in fact very comfortable to use and afford a high level of control. Regardless of whether using a hammer or just the hand, all of the chisels felt very secure during use and were very easy to control.

The shape of the FatMax handles helps keep your hand properly positioned and makes using them surprisingly comfortable and accurate.
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   The ergonomic form of the handles works well in hand operations but have no adverse effect on grip or control of the chisel when used with a hammer or mallet. The length of the handles also seems to help improve feel and control in hand held and mallet type jobs.

Conclusions

   The Stanley FatMax chisels performed very well with minimal honing of the factory prepared edges. Spend a little time refining the edge, as you would any good woodworking chisel, and the FatMax chisels cut cleanly and hold their edge surprisingly long.
   The rubber overlay and ergonomic design of the handles really do enhance their feel and the amount of control. The shape makes the handles very comfortable even when applying enough pressure to shave hardwoods.
   The range of sizes in the FatMax set along with the unique design make this a good choice for many home woodworking shops. The street price of $59.95 (4-25-2005) sweetens the deal even more.

Visit the Stanley Works web site.

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