Friday, June 8, 2018

Stanley's 700 series chisels

The ones that became the inspiration for Lie-Nielsen chisels, and others Wannabe...

Recently I came across my first 750 chisels... or so I thought
Turns out, I already had one and I was a bit off mark, these new ones are instead No 720s  NOT 750s. And the difference would be?
In the length of the blades and the color finish of the handles.  Confused? You could be easily if you look at forums on line.   Don't be, I'll explain and cut thru the semantics arguments ...

The give away between the 720, 740 and 750 are
in the length of the blade and the handle.
The two (2) 720s have a 6 in blade and a red stained handle.

The Stanley 700s series chisels are true socket chisel with a loose wood handle, topped with a 3 layers thick, leather washer. They are Bevel Edge (BE) chisels and came in three flavours:

720 BE Firmer chisels, blade 6 in long, overall length new from 13 to 15 in depending on size. Made 1930 to 1969
(People argue that firmer chisels must have straight edge, not BE)

740 BE Pocket chisels, blade 4-1/2 in long, overall length new from 12 to 12-1/2 in depending on size.  Made 1930 to 1950 
(Sometimes referred to as bench chisels)

750 BE Butt chisels, blade 3-1/4 in long, overall length new from 9-1/2 to 10-1/4 in depending on size.  Made 1930 to 1969
(People argue that they are not true Butt chisel due to their length)

Semantics, semantics, semantics
These nomenclature's as used by Stanley in their catalogs, is the source of much debate and confusion on line. Nonetheless, other than their stated blade length, they are practically identical items, and as they are sharpened more and more, unless Model Nos was stamped (was not in later post war years) they would easily be mixed up, save for small differences in the handles.
Hence why collectors tend to snob the ones without the model Nos stamped, and goes for the full length chisels (unused).

The 750 in the middle has its No stamped between Stanley and the third line Made in USA.
The two post war 720s, on each other sides only have Stanley and Made in USA

These were never Stanley top of the line chisels, that spot was reserved to their EVERLASTING chisels.
They were marketed as a High Quality Chisels at a Popular Prices
And NO, the 7xx series never had a metal strike cap, always a leather washer.
Their handles were Hickory, not Ash, not Oak, nor Beech and were stained red with a lacquer coat.

The most popular were the 750s, and they are the most numerous out there. The 740 had a relatively short 20 years life, and the 720 were made as long as the 750s, until 1969

So what made these chisels so popular and beloved, that they were the basis for Lie-Nielsen chisels and have been re-introduced by Stanley as their new Sweet Heart chisels ??

In one word: BALANCE. How they fit and feel in your hand. The combination of the steel used, how grounded and the length and shape of the handle combine to give it an almost eerie light feeling as compared to many other chisels, which feels heavy and almost clumsy in comparison.
In that small sample of similar sized chisels, I assembled, the balance point, feel, and weight were all over the map.  The heaviest feeling being the Blue Chip Marples and the lighter being the Stanley 750
Day and night difference. Granted those are my own personal experience and results bias no doubts, but for what its worth...

A short sample of similar sized chisels.
The 750 besides the Marples has the shortest blade
The 720 (3rd from L) besides my Hills-Galt paring chisel has a comparable length blade

Extract from No 34, 1949 catalog description:

The blade and socket are forged in one piece (no welded socket) from the finest high carbon chisel steel.  Each chisel is carefully heat treated and tempered to hold a keen cutting edge.
Before packing the chisels are individually tested for correct temper.
The Stanley method of grinding assures nicely proportioned bevels with perfectly straight lines.
All blades are given a "high color" mirror finish.
All Stanley socket chisels have brown mahogany finished handles.  All are shaped, to fit the hand, from selected straight grain Hickory.
Three sole leather washers cemented together protect the wood.

A keen cutting edge at any point on the blade
The uniform temper throughout the blade of Stanley chisels has long been appreciated by craftsmen.
Not only will the blades hold a good cutting edge for a long time, but after years of use, when the blade has been ground and honed down nearly its entire length, this fine cutting edge is just as good.

There are a few others 7xx but these are mainly sets of the above chisels
726 is a set of 6 720s,
746 is a set of 6 740s, and
750A set of 3 750s,
750B set of 4 750s
756 set of 6 750s

There was also a No 766 which is a set of 6 No 1004 chisels, not the same shape as our 700 series chisels in question

Another point of confusion, is that Stanley made other similar looking chisels at different price points and there were not always identified by a model Nos

There are the 1740 Pocket chisel  (short lived 1939) and 1750 Butt chisel.(1939 to 1941) pretty well identical construction but they had mahogany stained handle, not red

The Four Square No 1150 from 1928 to 1935. Again similar construction except that the handle has no stain color, just plain lacquered with a Four Square decal.

The 1200 Series Defiance  chisels. These two lower cost lines (Four Square and Defiance) were later replaced by the Handyman series

Although theses lower cost chisels look very similar, except they never had stained colored handles, just plain local hardwoods lacquered, they don't have a good reputation for the edge retention of their blades. Some claims it was because Stanley used a different cheaper steel, but I don't think so. I am of the opinion that Stanley probably used the same cast steel, except that probably did not bothered with all the usual tempering steps for which the 700s are renown for, to the last inch of the blade life!
The same steel treated differently will never perform the same.
But whatever they did differently, Stanley sold these cheaper...

So how do I know, mine are indeed 720s??

Because I have a 750 (stamped) for comparison, and all the key features measured up.
Overall length, blade length, size and shape of handle, color (red), markings location.

These two I just picked up are indeed both 720s!!

720 = 6 in blade, 13 to 15 in overall length
Show some uses, has been sharpen a few times

750 = 3-1/4 in blade, 9-1/2 to 10-1/4 in overall length 
Not much uses on that one

Because of their long relatively thin blade, I will turn these into paring chisels. Low angle cut, about 20 degrees.
Here is for comparison, my only current paring chisel, a Canadian maker from Ontario, Hills-Galts.
It is a 3/4 BE chisel with a very thin blade and take a wickedly sharp edge. My all time fav.

Hills-Galt socket chisel with a vintage socket chisel handle.
Not quite a good fit, but close enough after a good rap of the handle on the bench.

And how will they compare to the new Stanley 750s Sweetheart or the similar Lie-Nielsen 750s??
No idea, I have neither, nor do I plan on acquiring some soon.
Quite happy with my vintages, thank you

Bob, happy with his earlier miss-identified chisels :-)


  1. Bob,

    Good run down. I have some of the new 750's, they are OK but mostly used for scutt work. They are a little short for most things I use a bench chisel for, but whatever the steel and handle are tough and stand up to abuse.

    In a week or so I'll post about my new to me Marples paring chisels once they arrive from the UK. I hope they are as nice as the photos.


  2. KI Ken
    Indeed the 750s have a short blade, I like the long blades of my 720s. The blade are thicker than my beloved Hills-Galt but should be fine, Thinner than the new Narex paring chisels anyway.

    These older Marples should be exquisite for paring, cant wait to see them

    Bob, who now has 3 sizes of paring chisels 1/2, 3/4 and 1 inch

  3. I wonder if they didn't do the stamping of model numbers as a cost measure? I like my Ashley Iles bench chisels but now that I got my old metric set sharp I've been using both now.

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