Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My littlest hammer...and gifts from friends

I bought a little Japanese hammer head from Junji (eBay seller: yusui ), ages ago it seems, but just now got around to making a handle for it. Yet another one of those projects that is so quick to do that you wonder what your problem is, why you didn't do it sooner.

Far and away, this is the smallest hammer that I own.

Mitsu-something,  not sure what the second symbol is. Hand cut symbols.

The small wedge shaped pein is hardened steel, forge welded to the body, but the opposite round face is not hard, actually rather soft. The entire head is visibly hand forged and is slightly asymmetrical, which adds to its charm.

This hammer is a mystery to me. It was so covered in rust when I bought it, I couldn't determine much of anything about its qualities, I mostly bought it because it was inexpensive, haha. I stripped the rust using the electrolysis method, then tried to blacken it back to looking normal again. Birchwood-casey super-blue looked all wrong, and my quick rust bluing method didn't work at all really. Strange.

It any event, the other day I grabbed a Waiwi (strawberry guava) stick from under the stairs, the only dry pile that I could find. I carved away the parts that I didn't want....

And now my little friend has a shapely new handle. The strawberry guava is an invasive pest, pretty well everywhere here, and once established it is nearly impossible to eradicate completely.


But it makes GREAT handles! If allowed to dry slightly with just a minimum of care, the bark will stick tenaciously, which is perfect for handles. The slightly textured bark provides an excellent non-slip grip. The wood itself is dense, moderately heavy and fairly resilient, much better for handles than the native Ohia trees (Which is too brittle for handles).



The little cross-pein head was originally a straight wedge shape, but I decided that this little guy might be an acceptable hammer to use for setting saw teeth. To that end, I filed small serrations across the face, but MAN, talk about hard steel!

I tried my hardest detail files but they just skidded...a first! I had to use diamond and even they were slightly challenged by the hardness of the welded insert.



I don't know what this hammer was originally intended for. Shown here with my small split end tack hammer that I've been using so much lately, you can see how small it is. I weighed them a while back, the tack hammer (w/handle) being 173 grams, while the tiny hammer head I used today weighed only 88 grams.

So...what was this hammer for? I bought it figuring that it would be a good size tap hammer, for adjusting plane blades, while the wedge/pein end would work well for ura-dashi. Now I wonder though....was this originally for saw adjustment? Sebastian has noticed numerous wedge shaped divots in many of the old Japanese saws that he has worked on, and this hammer would make that exact impression in the steel. God knows that the wedge steel insert is hard enough!


Anyone, anyone.....ideas? It should work just fine for asari, I figure.




We've got enough wood laying around. I figure I'll make a shorter anvil stand, so that I can do more work, while still being lazy and sitting on my ass. I've spent close to 30 hours so far, banging on saw blades, seems I could at least be sitting down.

First I scribe the base, then carve out a 1" deep recess for the anvil to rest in. If you throw in a handful of sand, then place the anvil on top, it will deaden some of the resonance. A ringing anvil isn't something that you really want to listen to, day in and day out.




 Another invasive species, BTW, haha.

The world's tiniest, cutest, baby gecko.





The poor little kataba Z-saw that I have been torturing......still working on it. All of my enthusiastic hammering induced a really nice dish shape into the blade, the dreaded oilcan dent ( poka-poka in Japanese ).

Easy to make, not so easy to un-make, but I'm learning that too. Essentially it amounts to equalizing the stressed areas by hammering around the perimeter of the dent. This slightly expands the rest of the blade, neutralizing and distributing the constrained forces that are what turned this saw into a potato chip. More to follow.....




Here is the now-again flattened kataba, right next to another long delayed project. Way back before we moved here to Hawaii, Sebastian sent me some saws, sent them all the way from Graz, Austria. One of them was a big 300 mm ryoba that Sebastian had tuned up, and all it needed was a handle.

8 months later, here we go.


It just so happens that I've found some weedy shrubs growing around here that bear a remarkable resemblance to Pawlonia, an extremely lightweight wood, widely used in Japan for small boxes, clogs, and saw handles too, I think. This might actually be Pawlonia, I suppose.

By itself the wood feels far too brittle, so I tightly wrap the handle with cotton string, then saturate the string with plain old wood glue. When the glue dries, it leaves the handle with a great grippy texture that won't get filthy and unravel after the first use. It's still very lightweight.

I also made the handle long enough for me to use the saw two handed. This is another first for me, two handed cutting, but this saw blade is nice and thick, very stiff and tracks perfectly. You can REALLY put the power to it now.


Thanks again Sebastian, for such wonderful gifts! Since handling this saw, I have been using it almost exclusively, and it is a pleasure.




Underneath the saws is another gift, this from our friend Peter, who came to visit us last week. Finally, the perfect pocket knife for me!

This friction folder knife has laminated blade (but you wouldn't know it unless you sharpen it using the proper stones. I love the feeling of discovery, sharpening these blades for the first time.) and was nicely forged. Perhaps more importantly, the heat treating is spot on. The steel is extremely fine grained and very hard, every bit as well done as one of my best kanna blades.


Thank you Peter! I'm a difficult guy to find gifts for, but this is perfect.





When we first moved in, we had a significant rat population that was causing us no small amount of trouble. You want to know the only surefire way to get rid of rodents?


Get cats.....Lots of cats! We got one from the Humane Society in Keaau, and once we had one cat, then others began to show. Most notable was a new mother cat with a litter of 4 kittens, feral, but she knew an easy touch when she saw us, haha. I'll feed anything that keeps the rats at bay!


The cats are still wild, which is why you don't see any in these photos, but believe me, they are there. Renee is trying to teach them to hand feed, something that our daughter has proven skills in, but we aren't seeing quite the same level of trust.




The cats don't tolerate being pet, but they sure know who gives them food. When the rooster's calls wake me at 4am, I go downstairs to start coffee, then see that I am being watched by no less than 5 pairs of eyes (7 pairs, if the mother and her consort are around). That's a lot of cats.


Haven't seen any rats in quite some time though.


  1. I guess cats are better than rats. I just hope they don[t eat the birds and Ellie's lizards.

    Love you guys.

    1. Brandon!

      The cardinals fly up and demand food from me, the same way as the cats do. One female in particular lands by my chair and "Chip! chip! chip!"'s right at me, which evidently means that she has fledglings that need food, the feeding plate is empty, and she doesn't have all day to wait for me. These critters have me totally trained.

      Your big moment approaches, so exciting, I am envious!

  2. My connection deleted my comment the first time. Said something about what a beautiful handle in the hammer and my pleasure. anything so I don't have to see again that blue plastic monster around here. Now you know how to get more saws from me, just get a cheap western and I send you a better replacement :P

    Can you ask Elli to take a pic of you sawing two handed? I'd like to see where you hold the saw, that looks like a massive handle. I remember that was was real big, but now it looks perfectly normal with the handle.

    1. The hammer handle was such a fun little project, 15 minutes and now I have a useful tool. I have been making the tool handles from sticks just recently, but I am seeing the attraction finally. After all, assuming that you start with a stick of the proper shape to begin with, the resulting handle will have the perfect run of grain. Also, the air dried aspect of the wood retains more strength /resiliency over kiln dried stock. Oh is good, too!

      The camera photos of the saw/handle combo make the handle look maybe a little larger than it really is. I just measured it....445 mm long handle, 400 mm length of the saw itself, and the toothed portion is 300 mm. It is long, but most of the weight is in the blade still, and it can be easily used with one hand, so I evidently didn't get the balance too far off. It's a big saw, but it cuts straight and fast. Ripping two handed is a fun new experience for me. I wonder if this will lead to faster tooth wear due to increased loading....or less, because I only use 1/4 as many strokes?

  3. There's something about the simple act of making a handle for a tool that finally allows you to take ownership of it, it really becomes yours. One of the crosscut timber saws that I bought with my maebiki-oga had this great little stick handle. I worked really hard to repair it because I loved so much the thought of the hands that had worn it smooth.

    Have you seen warrington pattern tack hammers? I think they have a rounded face to the cross peen, but if I had to guess that little hammer of yours could have driven tiny little nails as well as adjusting saw blades. Perhaps it was a jewelers hammer. Did you wedge the head?

    1. Hi Gabe!

      I would guess tack hammer too, although I've never known a hammer pien to come to such a sharp point. Strange stuff, but there is SO much that I don't know, haha. It is the more normal face that gives me at least as much wonder. It feels so soft, but then compared to the side with the steel insert, most anything would seem soft. My little cheap China files that I use to guestimate relative steel hardness have never seen anything, short of freshly quenched file steel, that they couldn't cut, but that was the case here. Also....the iron body itself didn't rust blacken "normally" either, so it too seems to be some oddball iron type. It doesn't matter, it's a cool little hammer!

      No wedge necessary, it had the traditional hourglass tapered slot for the handle ("As he said, right 'fore the head flew off, killing him instantly!".

  4. I have a hammer that size and shape, well, smaller, which I bought from Robert Meadow the Luthier, back in '88, specifically for kanna. It wasn't ever pointed, but had a oval, arced face, about 1/16"x 3/16". Also got a mild steel block to go with it. The setting hammers I made with Yataiki were not made hard, used a yasuri to make grooves, so about as hard as the noko. I also had a setting hammer from Robert with carbide inserts that are grooved, so both work, but just recently recut grooves in the one.

  5. NakaYa uses pointed hammers to do hizumi, if you look at some of those saws, they have various shaped pricks from very sharp hammer pricks.

    1. Hi Mark!

      Those hammer marks are exactly what I was thinking of, and they would perfectly match the wedge face of this little thing. Some of the hizumi evidence that I see......well, I guess that they are common enough that it is obviously a valid technique, and I should try using the corner of this hammer the same way. The marks that are visible certainly disfigured an otherwise nice looking saw. It seems a less elegant way to practice hizumi. I need to give it a try though.

      Thanks for your comments!


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