Sunday, October 13, 2013


Sometimes things come full circle. 25 years ago, I bought Toshio Odate's book "Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use". I read most of it and thought "Wow, this is cool, but not for me." I had a Japanese dozuki saw and liked it a lot even though it seemed to shed teeth worse than my dog shed her hair in springtime. This was mostly my fault because at that time, all I was trying to do was cut something as quickly as possible (patience, Grasshopper) and didn't understand that sometimes slow can be quick. And the planes. BORING! No fancy Victorian antique-y metal, no giant honking block of wood that you could use to block up your car and worst of all, no rare and colorful exotic hardwoods. I was deep in my Krenov phase at the time (if you don't know, ask a woodworker) and while I truly desired to be one with the work and to create small, jeweled masterpieces, I had no patience, less skill and also no money (mostly still true). I was 20 years old, after all. You might remember that it was hard/expensive to find stuff pre-internet.

Fast forward and Japanese tools are the GOOD stuff for me. What happened? Two things, Port Orford Cedar (POC) and a new/old chisel. POC is a wonderful wood to work, smells great and has a beautiful shimmer IF planed and worked with SHARP tools. Touch sandpaper to it and it is still nice but the shimmer disappears. And tear out? Let me tell you, just when you are on your last pass with the plane.....FIATH! My tools were not up to the challenge.

I have an old Stanley 60 1/2 block plane that I have had forever and I used it all of the time. I sharpened it as best I could, and it works. I am mixing my tenses here, but the operative is past tense. I also have some crummy Craftsman bench chisels that I use as seldom as possible. The handles are clear plastic and they have a metal cap for hammer hitting. They don't stay sharp, but they work great for opening paint cans. People sell them on Ebay as "Quality vintage chisels" for $50 (makes you wonder how bad the new ones are). So a friend gives me an old English Sheffield steel paring chisel, a nice tool but nothing special, maybe 50-80 years old. This thing cuts like a lazer beam....OMG! And when you sharpen it, it actually gets sharp. Good steel. Is this how tools are SUPPOSED to be?

This is embarrassing. I consider myself a knowledgeable woodworker. I subscribed to "Fine Woodworking" magazine for for over a decade (until economic pressures caused them to drop the old large format magazine size and I got tired of reading the same re-packaged articles like "Which $300 router is for you?"). I try to build something everyday. My tools are "Scary Sharp(TM)! And I have been living a lie. I thought that my tools were sharp. To suggest that a workman's tools are dull is a grave insult (but might be true), and here I am. The lowest of the low. Dull.

This chisel is effortless to use, it cuts where you want it to cut and if you want your own, you can get one equally as good on Ebay for $10 all day long (or get a Japanese chisel and get REALLY sharp).  You don't need the collectors item, super special, highly desirable whatever it is or the newest, expensive tool steel blah blah unless you are one of those people who think that if you buy really expensive tools, some of the quality will rub off on you and make you better too. It may, who am I to talk. I had dull tools. Ohh, the shame.

Today it rains.

1 comment:

  1. You've got to love that old Sheffield steel. In WWI a whole division from Sheffield was wiped out. A lot of good tool makers among them. I don't know if Sheffield ever recovered. Anyway, pre WWI tools can't be beat.



Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason