Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chisel rehab/therapy

I guess that I've been restoring too many of these old tools. I've noticed that periodically, when I'm getting a bit restless and notice a sort of itchy feeling..... It's time to sharpen something. Today feels like a chisel day.

Buying old chisels that haven't seen much action, then getting them ready for use, has turned into a favorite form of relaxation for me. If they haven't been used, they haven't been mucked up, most likely. This makes for a fast and fun(?) setup.

Junji sold me this nice old 36mm Toyohisa chisel. I set this guy up a few days ago.

There isn't much to show here, really. These chisels required..... not much. A good cleaning with a cleaner/degreaser (409 works well, and won't dissolve your skin, haha!), followed by a scrub with #0000 steel wool removes all of the grime and light oxidation. I have shown those processes often enough that I thought to spare you the details (or just forgot to take photos?).

On probably 75% of the chisels that I buy, I need to drive the chisel hoop (the kasura) further down on the handle . This chisel was no exception.

 I put shellac on my tools to keep them looking somewhat clean. Shellac, varnish, and polyurethane (I draw the line here) are all film forming finishes, and might not be the best choice for tools that get handled much. Oil finishes might be better, but they tend to go black over time, and often get sticky as well. Shellac is quick to apply, easy to renew, and simple to remove. I would prefer the handles to stay unfinished, but they get so nasty looking..... Vanity wins!

The ura side of this chisel was in really good (original) condition, so I get to shape things as I wish. Establishing and maintaining a nice shape to the urasuki is part of the fun for me.

Wow, I need to get a life, haha!

This is a high quality, older chisel. It has the stamp of the Tokyo chisel makers union, long since disbanded.

This is a 9mm by the same maker.

The ura side is looking nice. The better quality tools often are easier to setup, this being no exception.

Part of what I find so enjoyable about the initial setup, is that you are obligated to do your best work because the results will be visible for the life of the tool. The ideal isn't to do this as quickly as possible, but to do your best.

The bevel is not done yet..... saving some fun for another day.

A small chisel, short (6.5 inches, more or less) and narrow (3mm).

The handle is rosewood, presumably. It's so dark and dense that I can't be certain. The kasura needed to be set down more fully, because the dense wood doesn't compress as well as oak..... and they never seem to be set very well, anyways (the kasura/handle ring thingy).

No urasuki remaining on this guy, unfortunately. There is some rust pitting.

The back was fairly flat, but lately I've been trying to get my chisels VERY flat. I have this one most of the way done, but I need to check something else first.

So far, only artificial stones have been used, so I haven't gotten a look at the lamination line yet.

I've got a feeling about this chisel. I *think* that this chisel will have a very thin and delicate hagane, and as I'm working on this chisel, it reminds me of another chisel that I was working on a while back.

I bought a chisel quite a while ago, and initially it was one of those "What the hell was I thinking?!" kind of purchases.

As received, the chisel was.... Small. Also dry, dirty (The handle was so black from iron staining that I couldn't tell what type of wood it was made from. I had originally bought it thinking that the handle was ebony, haha!) and slightly corroded. But mostly it was small, and though I thought it a little bit, um.... un-manly, I tried it a few times and found it to actually be a fun tool to use. These little chisels fit right into my hand, and so small that you almost forget that you are holding them. The control is phenomenal! It's as easy to use as pointing your finger, and really feels as though it is an EXTENSION of your finger (if your finger was a super-sharp laser beam type of finger, haha!).

Anyway, I prepped this little chisel, and though I never finished giving it the full-on sharpening treatment, I did remember one impression in particular. The hagane seemed rather thin.

As I began cleaning up the little chisel, I figured out that it was a bit unusual and kind of nice.

I think that the style is called suminagashi (ink pattern), and it is similar to the more familiar mokume (wood grain), which looks like the even more familiar Damascus.

None of this was evident when I bought the tool, but only revealed itself after lots of scrubbing, de-rusting, chemical etching, and blackening.

I was surprised.

The ura side isn't too messed up, thankfully.

The ferule is hand forged, and a little rough, with lots of character.

The top ring is similar.

And here's that thin hagane that was previously only a hint.

Very thin for a chisel, the lamination line is clear and distinct. The upturned corners are very crisp and even. I was hoping for a ren-tetsu jigane, but you can't have 'em all, I suppose.

The blacksmith who forged this tool was very skilled, and it is these types of details that I want to incorporate in my own work. I've got a long way to go though.

OK, back to the other chisel. The point that I wanted to remind myself of, was that before I get too carried away, I need to polish the bevel a bit. That reveals the steel lamination line (at least if you use the right stones).

It IS thin, as expected. If I make the back of this chisel (obsessively, compulsively) completely flat, I run the risk of someday running out of the hard steel hagane. It's flat enough as it is, so I give it a rest.

Yeah, I know...... Lots of words, but not saying much, mostly just showing off some pretty tools.

I suppose that if there *had* to be a point to this post, it would be to check the lamination before zealously flattening the back of a Japanese chisel. Sometimes the nice tools use very thin laminations, and if you go too far.....

This is a great chisel, an Umehiro 48mm tataki-nomi, and it's a brute.

A small problem, though. The hagane is too thin at the corner on the right.

This corner doesn't hold an edge very well....Let me clarify. The corner itself is great, but that little spot where the soft iron intrudes? That little spot dents almost immediately. It's like having a permanent chip in the blade.

I am sure that if I ground the blade back about 4-5mm, I would be back to an area that had sufficient steel to hold an edge. I am loath to do that, and would rather put up with the perma-nick, rather than shorten the life of the chisel by 5 years.

Still, it has a nice backside.

The hollow was perfectly shaped, and the various users over the years haven't messed it up.

This is a high quality tool, and the blacksmith forged this blade with care. The little problem with the corner wouldn't be an issue if the previous users had done ura-dashi on this blade.

 I enjoy ura-dashi so much, that I do my chisels, too.



  1. I love sharpening! I must have at least 200 chisels, planes, knives, blah, blah that all need sharpening occasionally. Sometimes I think I do a project just so my tools will need resharpened. I also rescue tools from the "undeserving" through ebay and garage sales. There is much satisfaction for me in returning a tool back to a usable and attractive state. I love your blog.

    1. Paul, you da' man!!

      I know exactly what you mean, about the enjoyment of the tools being *at least* the equivalent of the project itself. When I find an old used up tool that was obviously used by someone who cared....... It gives me the warm fuzzies, haha... Really!

      Here is something funny (or ironic, perhaps)...... I'm not a Japan-ophile, swear to God! The ONLY reason that I've gotten so obsessed with this whole Japanese tool thing, is that the blades get so damn sharp! At least that was so at the beginning, and it is only peripherally that I've developed an admiration for the other aspects, such as the subtle sophistication of joinery design, traditional blacksmithing, etc.

      I have always been a self-sufficient, do it yourself, "learn at every opportunity cause you might need it later", " don't buy when you can make ", kind of guy and it seems strange to me that it's only lately that I've bothered to REALLY learn how to sharpen stuff. It takes a lot more effort to work with a dull tool than a sharp one. Why was I working so hard?!

      People say, " Wow, you sure have a lot of patience. I could never do that! ", but it is actually more the opposite. I have become LESS patient, and also less tolerant of tools that don't work well, and I jealously guard what time I do have. For me it has become simple. Sharp tools are easier to use (and I need all the help that I can get) and dull tools suck. If I want to enjoy my time, I had better do a good job sharpening. It's an extra bonus that I've learned to love the act of sharpening itself.

      It is notable that of these many old, used, Japanese tools that I've bought, only the barest few (like 3, maybe) have been less than very sharp. I've only bought 1 used western tool that was sharp, and that was from an old European guy selling his dead father's plane. I read a fair number of Japanese carpentry blogs, and they are ALWAYS talking about the quality of the steel, ease of sharpening, and periodically have "sharpening day", where they go over all of the tools, sharpening, oiling the blades, repairing and tuning them, and so on. It seems like common sense to have respect for the tools that allow us to do the work that we love.

      I know that people read this stuff and think, "Well, duh! Of course tools need to be sharp! Why all of this BORING talk about blah blah blah....". Sometimes I agree, but I just can't help myself. I find it interesting that some of my most viewed posts are related to aspects of diamond sharpening stones (but still WAY behind fixing my broken Bosch tablesaw).

      Yeah, I guess it's clear that I like sharp tools, haha!

      Thanks for commenting, especially on such an esoteric (but important!) subject that perhaps only resonates strongly with a few of us. It IS nice to have company, haha!

      My name is Jason, and I like to sharpen tools.......


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